The Wisconsin Job Case

I am in the process of redesigning the California job case.

OK, now that everyone has choked on his/her beverage of choice, lemme explain. I know the reasons for the original design of the California job case. At first it made no sense to me that the “k” and several other characters were located somewhere that seemed to defy all logic. I understand the reasons though and if one is trying to compose a 40,000 word book by hand with a composing stick using 12-point movable type, once the compositor has learned the case, the old adage “time is money” applies.

The thing is, almost NOBODY does that any longer. A job that large is invariably composed electronically, sent off to Boxcar and a few days later a polymer plate arrives by mail, saving all kinds of time. Most of us here, I suspect, are more hobbyists than professionals, though I may be wrong.

Now, I used to know the case… forty-odd years ago. I suppose that I could learn it again, but there are other things from the modern world that would have to be incorporated. Forty years ago, a printer might never use an “@” symbol. These days, its a rare printed document that does NOT have at least one “@” symbol, usually as part of an email address.

Also, I have several fonts that have ligatures in them. I have NEVER used a ligature in anything I have printed. Does anyone actually use them anymore? Ligatures could be eliminated with no real handicap.

In short, I will be updating the design of the case to better fit my own needs. It will not be in any way “backwards compatible”. It won’t fit in any traditional printer’s desk. So you folks who already know the California job case will not have much use for my innovations.

There are a few other things that do not fit into my Brave New World as well. A California job case is normally found in a printer’s desk with lots of other type cases. I don’t have such a thing in my shop. There just isn’t room for one. When I use a type case, I go get it from the shelf under the press and put it up on my work table where I get my stick and compose the work. Now, a case of type is fairly heavy, and there is always the very real possibility of tripping over the cat and spilling the entire case.

Then there is the construction of the case itself. I took a look at one with an eye toward making a dozen or so. The level of skill and the amount of time needed to build one of those things as they are traditionally made are unbelievable. It would be much simpler to make every compartment the same size. This would, of course, result in some compartments being much larger than they need to be and some being not large enough. Well, too large is better than not large enough, so my solution to that problem would be to make the entire case larger, and to make every compartment the same size; about 2 x 4 inches for each compartment. Then I would make each section identical to simplify.

What’s that you say? The California job case is already large enough? I agree, which is why the three sections of the Wisconsin Job Case would not be bound together. Each identical section would tentatively be about 23 x 17 1/2 inches. Depth is yet to be determined, but potentially about an inch. Each section could be moved individually and placed side-by-side on a work table.

My Wisconsin job case sections could be shipped three to a stack and form a package about 24 x 17 x 4 inches, which would make packaging and shipping much easier than trying to send a traditional type case to someone in fly-over country where I live.

Also, every California job case I have ever encountered is damaged in some way… most commonly broken dividers because they are generally only about 3/16 inch thick. As they have to be notched and pinned, they just aren’t very robust. My dividers are going to be 1/4” thick and ripped from oak. I don’t plan to pin them at every joint as I have much better glue than Hamilton had available back in the day and as production time is not an issue for me, I can afford to let the glue set for as long as I need. The bottom of my version will likely be 1/4” oak plywood as it is available locally as opposed to the 3/l6 inch stuff that is used in every one I have ever seen.

I have a tentative distribution schema set up, but I’m going to wait until I have something more legible than my pencil scribbling on three taped-together pieces of copy paper before I unveil it. Once that is accomplished, I’ll be putting it out there for anyone to comment on.

Now, let the lynching begin!

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I’ll start. I learned the case almsot 70 years ago and have not forgotten it—so what’s wrong with your 40 year old memory?
1..It is unlikely that anyone who already knows the case would want to learn a new one.
2. Seems to me your empty case would be pretty heavy with all that thick oak.
3. Ligatures should be used more often but my old eyes have trouble figuring out at what I am looking.
4. If you want to spend your time working out schemes for an obsolete art, what the heck, but I would rather be printing.
5. Next thing you know someone will come along and want to change the H pattern I use to shift gears on my car.

Oh, Oh. You really are asking for conflict. I find it interesting that your first two respondents should be from Iowa. Not to rain on your parade, but I believe there is already a Wisconsin departure for the type case. I think Bob Mullen may be able to throw some light on the name.

I do set book pages from the California cases, and like George, I’m all too familiar with the case and would be quite lost with another.

Ligatures may not be your cup of tea, but they do help the fit of characters, and with some faces, protect fragile kerns from breaking.

I’ll leave some room and bandwidth for other respondents, but will end with….If you feel the need to go to the trouble, take a leap and do whatever makes sense to you. After all, as you say, we are doing this for our own enlightenment and joy, and we should do what we might need to increase those factors for ourselves. Let us know how you come along with the project and post some pix of the finished layout.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

I would draw your attention to the UKs briefly popular”Rob Roy system ” type case with its individual plastic boxes
that cold be moved about. I still have a few of the boxes somewhere. It didn’t really catch on. I too hand set complete 16pp books or did until recently. And I do find a call for the dipthongs once in a while with words of Greek origin etc. Depends on how ‘learned’ the ms. is. Levels of education are getting to be a bit variable these days.

Thanks for the feedback. Yeah, my memory is not what it once was. Perhaps if I had continued to work with movable type, I’d still know the case. As it is, my ability in that area is about like my German; rudimentary at best because I just don’t use it much.

Harildplaten, your idea has some merit. I did not know of the “Rob Roy system”, but your description gave me some ideas. I ordered some cardboard “jewelry boxes” in bulk on Amazon. Now all I have to do is construct the outer sides of the case, put the little boxes inside… maybe glued… and I’ll have a nicely divided case without much time or expense.

The boxes come with fitted lids… which means that I get two boxes with each one. Some of my cases will need spacers to fit the smaller boxes, but I can live with that. As the cardboard sides will effectively be doubled up, they should be adequate. As I only have about $27.00 invested, even if it doesn’t work out as well as I’d like, it won’t break the bank.


where in Wisconsin do you plan to proceed with this Blastphomy? i am in Waukesha

I used plastic boxes, manufactured by Raaco in Denmark to make a case holding the wordspaces.

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This blasphemy will happen at Rockland in Brown County just a bit South of DePere.

I looked into plastic boxes, but none of them were cheap enough. Three sections of 35 each is 105 compartments. Even at a dollar each, that’s a lot of dollars. Finding some of a suitable size was also problematical. It would be nice if someone would introduce an injection-molded plastic type case, but I don’t suppose we will see that any time soon. Plastics also get brittle over time and cracks.

Initially I tried old plastic ice-cube trays. At twenty-five cents each, they were cheap enough, but not really big enough.

My cardboard boxes should arrive before the end of next week, so I’ll be able to break down my type and experiment with the layout a bit before I actually construct my three sections. I didn’t want to trust the manufacturer’s specifications on the boxes. If they are off by only 1/32nd of an inch, they would not fit into the section I might construct. Even 1/64th oversize would make for a very tight fit.

In theory, I would not actually need the three sections I’ve envisioned as the small boxes could simply be laid out on the work table in whatever schema I choose. The boxes all come with fitted lids, so I could box them up and put them away and set them all up again as needed. I may actually do that for a while until I hit upon the best arrangement.

It’s going to be a work in progress for a while I suppose… just like the California job case most likely was at first.

Hi Daleraby, just before you go too far with this, what about the balance of the fount? Vastly more ‘e’ and vastly fewer ‘z’ and the proper balanced fount assortment tables we used to work to.
And just in passing those tables are different for each language on the planet, and highly relevant to code cracking etc. In the trade of course they varied here and there eg that for a caps only titling fount differed from an otherwise similar in weight jobbing trade fount assortment. See the published tables.

I guess I never was all that concerned. As all the compartments in my proposed design are the same size, the “z” compartment isn’t going to be as full as the “e” compartment. I’m going to make all the compartments as large as the largest (“e” I think), so I will have enough space for everything. Yes, I will end up with a larger case this way, but as a single font is divided into three separate sections that are not physically connected, I see no issues with that.

Most of the fonts I have don’t fill the entire case. I just have no need for that much type in any one font. If I ever wanted enough type that the standard “z” compartment would be filled, then I would have to expand that font to a second or third type case I suppose, as my “e” compartment would overflow.

I don’t really see my design becoming especially popular and it certainly will not be practical for people who are doing this for a living, already know the California job case and are concerned with compositor time. Working out of the California job case is always going to be more efficient.

I’ve thought about trying to obtain, for example, a font based on the Cherokee language. I’m sure that they probably used a California job case for Cherokee language newspapers back in the day, but they could not have followed the standard distribution schema because Cherokee uses a syllabary developed by Sequoyah, not an English alphabet. I would suppose the Cherokee compositors developed some standard that worked for them. I’m going to do the same.

Most likely, though, if I ever want to publish one of my storybooks in Cherokee, I’ll be using an electronic font and a polymer plate. I’d have to have it translated as I do not read Cherokee, and the unfortunate Cherokee man or woman fated to work with me would need to transfer the translated text to the Boxcar via electronic copy.

Ummm…. not planning to do any code/ciphers. We have things like public key encryption and steganography to serve that function these days if you don’t happen to have a Code Talker around.