Q- Quoins?

Printing is an old art and therefore is full of terms and phrases that are odd and often puzzling. Take Quoins, for instance. Any idea? Yeah…I wouldn’t have known either.

Quoins are any of several devices used to hold a form in a chase by creating pressure against the chase and form. Clear it up? More questions? What’s a form? What’s a chase? It begins to boggle the mind, doesn’t it? So, I thought it might be useful to create post explaining a few key terms.

Let’s start with Type. Type refers to a set of metal or wood letters that a printer uses to compose a text. These are kept in wooden cases (California job cases, in my press). Each individual letter of a type is called a Sort (there is some speculation that the phrase ‘all out of sorts’ originally referred to printers running out of the letters needed to produce of text).

So, a printer/composer uses a case of type to create a block of text by place the type in a Composing Stick This completed block of text is called a Form.

This form, then, needs to somehow be placed into the press so it can be printed. This is accomplished through the use of a metal rectangle that latches into the bed of the press. This is rectangle is called the Chase. The form (block of text) has to be locked into place in the chase…here is where the Quoins come into play and wood filler pieces called Furniture.

The first picture here shows and empty chase. Next the form inside the chase…it’s not locked in at this point. Picture three shows the form with furniture placed around two sides and then the fourth shows the addition of quoins. Picture 5 shows the quoins expanded to lock the form into the chase so it can be placed in the press

The form is then carefully lifted into the Bed of the press (in case you’re wondering, if the form isn’t tight enough, the type can fall out of the chase as a heartbreaking pile on the table/floor—this is called Pied Type).

So, we’ve composed a form; locked the form into a chase using furniture and quoins, and placed the locked-up form into the bed of the press. I think that’s enough for one day. Tomorrow, we’ll continue with a post we’ll call, “Right–as if it’s not confusing enough.” Maybe we’ll even get to the point of printing something…


4 thoughts on “Q- Quoins?

  1. I find it fascinating how words like this fall out of use as technology changes. We’re constantly adding new words to the dictionary, but we don’t think about the ones that we don’t use any longer. Thanks for teaching me something new (or old, as the case may be)!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, clearly you win the award for most obscure Q word for a post in this blogging challenge! “All out of sorts” — As you can imagine, on the tallship we also have lots of expressions that originally meant something specific in our work, that have come into common usage with their meanings lost. Our ship has 6 miles — MILES — of rope rigging, and the first thing a new crewman needs to know what each one does … thus, “learning the ropes.” “Down the hatch,” “feather in your cap,” “three sheets to the wind,” also once had literal meaning in my world. Now I can add “all out of sorts” and “quoins” to my store of arcane knowledge.


    1. I love arcane words and phrases. One that surprised me in printing had to do with letters. At one point, typesetters used two case of type to set texts at a time. One case was placed above the other–Capital letters were kept in the Upper Case and non-capital letters were kept in the Lower case…thus uppercase and lowercase letters…cool stuff.


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