California Job Case

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Two type cases from the 1900 catalog of A.D. Farmer & Son Type Founding Co. The lower one is a California Job Case.

A California Job Case is a kind of type case: a compartmentalized wooden box used to store movable type used in letterpress printing.[1] It was the most popular and accepted of the job case designs in America. The California Job Case took its name from the Pacific Coast location of the foundries that made the case popular.[2]

The defining characteristic of the California Job case is the layout, documented by Ringwalt as used by San Francisco printers.[3] This modification of the Italic layout was claimed to reduce the compositor's hand travel by more than half a mile per day.[4] Traditionally, upper- and lowercase type were kept in separate cases, or trays (this is why capital letters are called "uppercase" characters and the minuscules are "lower case").[5] As printers became more mobile, a combined case became preferred, as it was easier to transport. The combined case became popular during the western expansion of the United States in the 19th century.



A California Job Case case consists of 89 compartments, most of which are assigned to specific letters. In variations on the layout, additional symbols are sorted in the unassigned compartments at the top of the case.[6]

Numerals and symbols are at the top; lower case, punctuation and spaces of various widths are on the left; and capitals are on the right. The position and size of the compartments for lowercase letters vary according to the frequency of occurrence of the letters. The compartments for uppercase letters are uniform in size and ordered from A to Z; (except for J and U, which were not used by early English printers, so they are assigned compartments following Z).[7][8]

This organization keeps larger quantities of the more frequently used letters in convenient reach of the typesetter, with ligatures and spaces of different widths nearby to improve efficiency.

A typecase with every character and space in its proper place is 'clean', while a ‘dirty’ case has characters mixed up, generally by careless distribution as they were returned to the case. A spilled case is 'pied.'

Each size and style of typeface is kept in its own tray (case), and trays are kept in a cabinet with slots making each tray a removable drawer. The cabinet may offer the typesetter a work surface at a convenient height, often a composer's work stand.

“Adman” cabinet for two compositors, with a supply of leads and slugs (thin strips of lead used to make spaces between lines) and assorted materials. such as brass and copper thin spaces

Regardless of who invented the case, in order to make typesetting more efficient, the inventor arranged the compartments according to the frequency of use of the letters. The more frequently used letters (t, n, e, i, o, r) are arranged in a rough circle directly in front of the typesetter; the less frequently used letters and characters are farther away. The arrangement of the letters in the California Job Case became so common that a skilled typesetter could "read" the text set by another typesetter, just by watching the compartments from which the letters were taken.

ffi fl 5/m 4/m k e 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 $ £ Æ Œ æ œ
b c d i s f g ff 9 A B C D E F G
 ? fi 0 H I K L M N O
 ! l m n h o y p w , en
z P Q R S T V W
x v u t 3/em
a r  ;  : 2 & 3-em
. - X Y Z J U & ffl
The California Job Case

In addition to placing the letters most commonly used in the easiest positions for the typesetter to reach, the compartments for different characters vary in size according to the frequency of usage. Thus, for setting English text, the "e" box is the largest, and the "j", "k", "q", "x", and "z" boxes are the smallest.

Other large compartments in the California Job Case hold spaces used to separate words or to fill out lines of type, including em and en spaces. An em space is the width of the point size of the type (i.e., as wide as it is high); an en space is half that width (i.e., half as wide as it is high; in most types, the numerals are the same width as an en space, to allow easy alignment of numerical data in columns). Typically, a 3-to-em space is used between words (three of these spaces placed side by side are the width of an em space).


  1. ^ Williams, Fred (Fall 1992). "Origin of the California Job Case". Type & Press. Retrieved January 31, 2015. 
  2. ^ Pryor, Lewis A., ed. "The California Typecase". Monthly Bundle Sample. Campane. National Amateur Press Association. 194: 1. Retrieved January 31, 2015. 
  3. ^ Ringwalt, John Luther (1871). American Encyclopaedia of Printing. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Menamin & Ringwalt, J. B. Lippincott & Co. Retrieved January 31, 2015. 
  4. ^ Bolton, David (23 November 2008). "Ringwalt's California Lower Case". Retrieved January 31, 2015. 
  5. ^ Eckersley, Richard; Angstadt, Richard; Ellertson, Charles M.; Hende, Richard (April 15, 2008). "Glossary of Typesetting Terms". Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press, Amazon Digital Services. p. 18. ASIN B001PGXBHM. Retrieved January 31, 2015. 
  6. ^ Bolton, David (9 February 2009). "Modern California Job Case". , after an original idea by JoAnn Rees, Otter Press.
  7. ^ Nevin, Eric C. "The California job case". One Art Design. Retrieved January 31, 2015.  adapted from Adapted from General Printing, by Glen U. Cleeton, Charles W. Pitkin, and Raymond L. Cornwell.
  8. ^ Cleeton, Glen U.; Pitkin, Charles W.; Cornwell, Raymond L. (September 1, 2006). General Printing: An Illustrated Guide to Letterpress Printing (Paperback) (Reissue ed.). Saratoga, California: General printing, Liber Apertus Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0978588144. ISBN 0978588142.