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The Compositor In London

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The rise and fall of a labour aristocracy

Isidore Cyril Cannon
London: St Bride Library, 2011

In the early days of letterpress, every letter had to be manually selected, placed and spaced. Only a trained and literate worker could manipulate type into pages ready to print. The compositor was thus considered an aristocrat among the working men because his skill was essential.

In 1961 Cyril Cannon presented a copy of his PhD thesis to the St Bride Library where he had conducted so much of his research. At that time few predicted that the subject of his study would become a piece of history rather than an evolving industry, but over the years the thesis has been consulted many times by readers keen to understand the life of the men who worked as compositors. The decision to bring Dr Cannon's work up to date, by publishing both the original text and new material, was driven by the need to tell the story of a once valued skill which has now all but disappeared.

For 500 years the compositor's craft was fundamental to communication; the digital age has effectively changed the world of printing beyond recognition and it was important to complete the record while it was still possible to draw on personal experience.

Softback/Hardback availability, 24 x 17 cm, 285 pages, b/w illustrations.

ISBN 978-0-9504161-7-5