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The Apprentice: 1917

The Apprentice: 1917

New York, February 1917. "Horace Lindfors, 14-year-old printer's helper, sizing up leads for the Riverside Press, First Avenue." 5x7 inch glass negative. Photograph and caption by Lewis Wickes Hine. View full size.


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I started in the printing trade in 1965 in the Darien Press as a gopher, started my compositor's apprenticeship in 1966 (in Oliver & Boyd, in Edinburgh, Scotland - completed my apprenticeship in T&A Constable).

Finally gave up on print in 2002 after my third redundancy - I worked in The Darien Press, Oliver & Boyd, T&A Constable, Mackenzie & Storrie, and finally in weekly newspapers in the Scottish County Press in Bonnyrigg, Scotland. From hot metal all the way to computer to plate. I don't really miss it, although I could go back to hot metal tomorrow if I had to -- I''m a bit rusty on setting type, but it's like riding a bike, you never forget. But I don't miss machine revises where you got covered in ink, and the heavy lifting of 32 page formes!!

A lost world

This takes me back. I grew up in an old-school print shop like this, which my dad owned. That's a Chandler Price printing press in the background, and the boy is setting Linotype slugs.


This takes me back to 8th grade, 1959. We were taught printing in shop and I loved it. Was it the California job case that we used? Yes, I think it was. Every gesture and action in the whole process of printing had a sort of Zen perfection to it. Just sitting there on a tall stool, setting type, letter by letter. Nirvana.

Riverside Press

If this is the Riverside Press I'm thinking of, it was an upscale operation that Hine might have approved of. As part of Houghton Mifflin, it produced artistically printed books with blocks of elegant typography on creamy pages with generous margins. Colored borders and initials were often used. Horace probably was paid quite a decent wage and had little danger of losing a limb in the machinery, but must have suffered eyestrain pretty early.

Man of letters

I, too, grew up in an old-school printshop. I learned to read at a preternaturally early age and to this day collect fonts almost obsessively. I remember once sitting at the kitchen table as barely more than a toddler spelling out the name of my Old English Sheepdog, Sir Ector, in Old English type, which was also my favorite lettering style at the time, and I learned to read in large part from a Letraset company poster showing names and samples of all their available typefaces.

Ahhh, ripe for practical jokes!

I wonder if this poor apprentice was sent in search of a word stretcher or box of halftone dots.


My mom and I ran a print shop until 1999. We made letterpress cuts, embossing dies and hot stamping dies with the photoengraving process. I used a press that looks like the two that are shown. It looks like a turn of the Price Chandler press. One sheet at a time. I loved that press, we had a little motor attached to it. I also had a hammermill windmill letterpress, as well as a couple of offset presses. It is a shame that we didn't stay in the business as the internet would have helped us retain the letterpress printing business. Love your site.

Surprising caption

Perhaps I'm jaded, but usually when LW Hine took a photo of a child working, the caption is loaded with judgmental language about pay, hours, and/or safety. Apparently, the Riverside Press met with his approval.

Those were the days

I grew up in my grandfather's composition shop in the early 1940s. As a 6 to 9 year old boy I got the run of the shop. I did odd jobs and ran errands. Can you imagine a kid that age running a Ludlow linecaster today? The only thing my granddad said was that if he ever found the type cases messed up, I couldn't use it again. I never messed it up. There is that special smell of a print shop that I miss.

Type galleys

This was a typical scene in print shops and composing rooms of newspapers until the 1960s and 1970s. Notice the clean, shiny new trays (galleys) of type, not yet inked. Alongside, in two or three-column width, is type that's been inked. Although my domain was the newsroom, I "lived" in the composing room a lot. Perhaps "1917=1970" will understand my pride in dummying a front page that only took three leads to lock up.


There's something very kind about this scene.

Lucky Kid

He must have been quite intelligent. Setting type wasn't easy, and printing was a good career to break into. These days, not so good.

1917 = 1970

When I started my first job in a print shop in 1970, absolutely everything looked the same as this picture. Same composing table, same quoins, same string, same leads, same aprons, same light fixtures, same presses ... and I even looked a lot like Horace!

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