Lost words of letterpress

A2 Letterpress printed poster of printing terms
Lost words of Fleet Street, Mick Clayton and Catherine Dixon, Printed at St Bride, 2019

For those of you who have been introduced to letterpress, you will be aware of the many confusing terms we use in the workshop. I’m sure you’ve already forgotten what a Quoin is. Well, let me confuse you further.

I am fortunate enough to work alongside others at St Bride Foundation who worked in letterpress when it was a larger part of the printing industry. One of the things I love about my role at St Bride is the wealth of letterpress history that I am taught through my colleagues. They’re constantly reminiscing about the good old days, in specific, the ‘words’ they used to use whilst on the job as seen below:

A.B.P. — anything but print (a lazy person)

Bang Out — celebration of retirement or conclusion of apprenticeship

K.D. — A private job (keep dark)

Knowing Your Boxes — Being aware of what you are doing or talking about

N.F. — a companion who hears or observes something intended for them and ignores it (no fly)

On the Coach — Not speaking to someone

Out of Sorts — running out of the type you need

Pieing Your Case — accidentally mixing the type so that they have to be sorted out

Putting up the Half-Double — ending a conversation on a particular subject

Quire — twenty-five copies / sheets of the same paper

Space Up — an argument

Stop Press — a small stereo added to a blank column, for breaking news while printing

Wrong Fount — a suspicious character

If you are interested in printing history, LCC archive have a fantastic collection linking back to its time at St Bride Foundation. St Bride Library holds one of the world’s most significant collections of books about printing. As well as many physical objects available for viewing, but not until the pandemic restrictions allow. Until then, please stay tuned for the next letterpress post and stay safe and well.

In the mean time, why not watch this short film Banging Out — Fleet Street Remembered a documentary film based on oral history interviews with former printers and journalists.


Mick Clayton and Catherine Dixon, Lost Words of Fleet Street, A2 Letterpress Poster part of the Collections and Collaborations event held on 14 May 2019 as a visual celebration of the St Bride Library. Available at St Bride.

Rowles, G., 1949. The ‘Line’ Is On. London: London Society of Compositors, pp.101-103.

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