Damaged type

Damaged, or broken type, is defined as a piece of type, whose face has been damaged, and therefore cannot give a complete impression on the surface of the paper. The most common form of broken type involves a gap in part of a letter as seen in the letter ‘I’ in Fig. 1. Letters such as m and q, where the vertical joins a curve, would be usually damaged at the join. Letters known as ascenders and descenders, such as b and d, would be frequently bent or broken (Rasmussen 229). Many examples of broken type can be seen in Fig. 2. The ‘e’ and ‘b’ of the word ‘ebullition’ are both nicked, as is the ‘r’ in ‘arm’ and ‘for’.

Fig. 1

The text of a book can be damaged in various different ways. Pages can become stained, water damaged or torn quite easily. These damages are the result of incidents that occur after the book has been published. Damaged type, however, is not the result of mistreatment over time. It is a direct result of what happens during the printing process. During press work, the continuous pressing of type (first by the ink balls, then by the press itself) results in letters becoming misplaced and type becoming damaged. Another way type can get damaged is if the compositor slams the type case back into the cabinet. The cases must be slid carefully back into place. Type must also be placed back gently into the case when distributing. Some damaged types are less noticeable than others. Fig. 1 displays a small gap in the middle of the ‘I, whereas the word ‘thing’ below it, has a more noticeable error in the blurry ‘t’ and the broken ‘g’. Usually, such mistakes are noticed before the final copy is printed. When appearing in a printer’s proof it is marked by an X in the margin (Prytherch 228). However, not all errors are discovered.  Broken or damaged type is present in books that were published in the eighteenth century, and they are still present in books today. From the works of Harriet Beecher Stowe to Stephen King, some form of damaged type is present in almost all literary texts; “Probably more books than not have a broken letter somewhere, or a faultily printed letter which looks like one, just as there are few books without a misprint” (Carter and Barker 54).

Although damaged type can be interpreted as nothing more than a printing error, it can in fact be quite a useful tool in bibliographical research. The examination of broken types is a time consuming, tedious process, but it does yield effective results. Identifying broken type in a text can help the bibliographer trace the work back to the printer; “a printer is most reliably identified by his type fonts, and especially by the re-appearance of identifiable damaged types in several books which provides conclusive evidence of his involvement” (Weiss 154). Antique books that may have no publication details can be traced back to a printing house by comparing it with other books with similar damaged typography. Damaged type can also be useful in differentiating between states, issues and editions of a particular work. In some cases, it can even be used to distinguish original publications from fabricated copies. When Charlton Hinman investigated whether the A-text of Dr. Faustus was an authentic text or a reconstruction from a playgoer’s memory, he looked for broken type in the text to help him trace the origins of the text. Through tracking patterns of broken letters he identified the number of compositors that set the type and the number of cases that were used.

Fig. 2

Although damaged type can be useful in discovering the source of a text, it can sometimes be misleading. Inking flaws can give the impression that the type is broken, when in fact it is simply disfigured by an ink stain on the page. This is why when studying broken types, it is advised to use more than one text to base the research on. Overall, damaged type is an important bibliographic tool, to the extent that bibliographers themselves are sometimes referred to as people who study “broken types.” (Tanselle 1).

Prytherch, R. Harrod’s Librarians’ Glossary and Reference Book. Hants: Gower Publishing Company Ltd., 1987.
Rasmussen, Eric. ‘Rehabilitating the A-Text of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus’. Studies in Bibliography 46 (1993): 229. Web. 21 Oct. 2012.
Weiss, Adrian. ‘Watermark Evidence and Inference: New Style Dates of Edmund Spenser’s Complaints and Daphnaida’. Studies in Bibliography 52 (1999): 154. Web. 19 Oct. 2012.
Tanselle, Thomas. ‘The Use of Type Damage as Evidence of Bibliographical Description’. The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society 4 (1968): 368. Web. 21 Oct. 2012.
Bowers, Fredson. Principles of Bibliographical Description. Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1994.
Carter, John, and Nicolas Barker. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th ed. Oak Knoll: New Castle; London: British Library, 2004.
Greetham, D.C. Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. Garland Publishing, Inc: New York, 1994.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Films Inc. ‘Making Books’. YouTube. Web. 17 Oct. 2012.

Beecher Stowe, Harriet. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1852.

Contributed by Margaret Coleman.


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