Origin of the
California Job Case
By Fred Williams
Editor-Publisher, Type & Press
Published Fall 1992
The origin of the California Job Case has long been shrouded in mystery. What little has been published on it is incorrect—mostly derived from the realm of hearsay, legend or speculation.
Over the years printers have believed that the California case was devised to facilitate moving type fonts in single cases from the East to the West during the California gold rush. Prior to this time text faces were stored in a pair of cases—the upper and the lower.
It wasn't until about 20 years ago that a tireless researcher, after three years of typographic detective work, offered a plausible explanation on the evolution of the California Job Case.
Documented evidence on Johann Gutenberg (1406-I468?) is scant and little is known of his equipment or methods of printing. But it may be assumed that he employed some sort of compartmented "trays" in which to store his type. Possibly the "boxes" were arranged alphabetically, but undoubtedly their lay underwent modification as some letters were used more than others, requiring larger boxes to hold more characters. These oft-used letters were placed nearer to the type plucking hand.
English printer Joseph Moxon in his volume Mechanick Exercises in the Whole Art of Printing (1683-1684), showed that the lower case lay of the cases of his time were almost identical to that of the modern type case. If the figures in the tier of boxes in the upper case were moved to the top tiers of the lower one, they would be very similar to that of our contemporary cases.
It is believed that the size and location of the boxes were originally based on the frequency with which each character appeared in The Bible.
In an effort to find the true background of the California case, Lewis A. Pryor, serials librarian at the Humboldt branch of the California State Museum at Arcata, began a long study. He contacted the St. Bride Printing Library in London, the Newberry Library in Chicago and the Edward C. Kemble Collections of Printing of the California Historical Society in San Francisco. He said at the conclusion of his quest: "I believe I have the story complete and beyond reasonable challenge." His theory on the subject follows:
Where large quantities of one size and face of type is used, a pair of news cases with their large boxes are the most convenient. The top case holds the caps, italic or small caps, fractions and lesser used characters. The bottom one holds the figures, points, spaces, ligatures and lower case characters.
Probably the most practical reason for the development of the single case was the early 19th century development known as jobbing, or commercial printing, as apart from the production of books and newspapers. The typefounders catered to this growing market with countless new faces, many of which were available in caps only. The two-case arrangement for such fonts was wasteful of space and hastened the development of the single case.
Before long printers got the idea of combining the lower case and caps into a single case. just what lay these cases took is unknown. As early as 1836 job cases holding caps and small letters were offered by printers' outfitting companies. In due time these cases became known as the italic job case. In England they were called a double case.
But the lay of this case had one serious shortcoming. Its 49 equal size cap boxes–each about 1.25x1.75" inside dimensions–were too small to hold frequently used wide caps of fonts larger than 24-point.
The early 1870s found the Scotch printing firm of McCorquodale & Company using an "improved double case" with only five rows of boxes vertically instead of the usual seven. As this company purchased most of its type from the celebrated type foundry of Miller & Richard of Edinburgh, researcher Pryor felt that it was safe to assume that the foundry added this improved case to its catalog featuring printers' wares.
The Miller firm had sales agents throughout the world and advertised the advantages of the new case. The Pacific Coast selling agent for Miller was Ellis Read of San Francisco. He was probably induced to stock the new cases.
Working as a salesman for Read was Octavius Dearing, an innovative journeyman printer. He had invented an all brass galley, an improved lead rack and a two-third case. Dearing also was editor of the enterprise's house organ, Type & Graver. The first issue of the publication featured our own style of job case (italics Pryor's). The researcher added: "This latter can only refer to what is now known as the California job Case." This was the earliest reference to it found by historian Lewis Pryor.
Years later when writing about double cases, Editor Dearing, in keeping with then current American usage, called them italic cases. He penned: "A variation of this case, introduced by our foundry (again Pryor's italics), is made by rejecting the 14 useless upper case boxes and making 28 of the 35 remaining boxes proportionally longer for the caps."… Dearing never claimed that he or anyone else at Read's foundry invented it. He remarked only that his firm introduced the new case. Not until 1884 did an illustration appear of the California job Case in Dearing's publication. This Pryor believes is definite proof that his theory on the evolution of the California case is correct.
Dearing continued to write for the company which became known as Palmer & Rey. In 1892, along with 22 of the largest type foundries, it was merged into the American Type Founders Co.
The California Job Case was immediately accepted by most Western printers and sold well. It was not until 20 years later that it became available to printers throughout the country.
Over the years a wide variety of cases with different lays have been introduced. A few of these have been the Yankee, Wells, La Crosse, Paterson, Two Rivers, Kelsey, Dearing, Wheeler, Stanhope, Clapp, Boss and others. But the California job Case remains the favorite of most compositors. Still manufactured, current production calls for a reduction in the size of the bottom row of capital boxes.
A full size News upper case will hold approximately 20 pounds of type while the News lower case will accommodate about 40 pounds of type plus 10 pounds of spacing material. Thus a pair of News cases has a capacity of 70 pounds of type and spaces.
In the 1960s many Letterpress shops switched to photocomp and much hot type equipment was disposed of. Eventually liquidators became overstocked with old type cases of all varieties. They could not give them away for the ridiculously low price of 25 cents each. Taking up space, truckloads of them were burned!
Thanks to the publication of stories in Family Circle, Good Housekeeping and other magazines, which pictured California typecases, displaying knick-knacks, the popularity of the case zoomed. At the height of their popularity they were selling as high at $30 each. One scrapper cried when he told of burning up over 10,000 of them before they returned to popularity!
This frivolous fad died down many years ago. Imported reproductions are available for $6 to $8. Second hand ones are readily available for a few dollars.