Working in Edinburgh’s Printing Industry by Tom

Typeface image typeface in a box

Tom started work in 1956 at the age of 15 as a kilt presser for Sammy and Benji in Pilrig Street, Edinburgh. He had taken an exam which would allow him to work as a compositor and was awaiting his results so he went pressing kilts. Once the successful exam result came through he started work as a compositor for Sheppard and Company, Dundas Street, Edinburgh. The exam had checked for a general literacy and numeracy which allowed him to be considered for the compositor post. The company did printing work for Blesma Staff (British Limbless Ex-servicemans’  Association), the Royal Country Dance Society and printed polythene bags for advertising e.g. Kelloggs.

Working day
Tom had to make up a page or business card by collecting two trays of the chosen typeface- an upper case and a lower case.  There were hundreds of typefaces to choose from including Calligraphy. A wedding invitation could have a script typeface and then was sprayed with gold dust for every print to emboss it. If you dropped a tray you had to pick up all the metal letters and put them back in the correct place in the right order.

Once a page had been printed from it was cleaned throughly with paraffin and returned to the compositor for distribution. This was when each letter was placed back into its correct type case for future use and this process took a long time. Hand-cut wood or Lead motif could be added to the page for a specific customer of job.

Other links
A site celebrating Edinburgh’s history in printing
History of printing
Scran images of Edinburgh printing-for full information click on this link in a library or Scottish School.