Metal Type: Home | Library | Forum | Free Ads | Store

Metal Type Size Names

Started by David, January 03, 2007, 08:34:52 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Printle: A Printing Word Game from Metal Type


Now here's something you "hot metal" types will like - old names for type sizes. They're taken from a "Dictionary of Printing Terms" published in 1962 by Linotype & Machinery Ltd.
AGATE - an American name for 5 and a half point.
BREVIER - the old name for a size of type, about 8 point; pron. breveer.
ENGLISH - an obsolete name for a size of type, about 14 point.
GEM - an old name for a size of type, about 3 and a half point.
LONG PRIMER - the old name for a type size, about 10 point.
MINIKIN - the old name for a size of type, about 3 point. Called Excelsior in America.
MINION - the name of an old type size, about 7 point.
OLD BODY SIZES (of type) - Pearl 5 point; Ruby 5 and half point; Nonpareil 6 point; Emerald 6 and a half point; Minion 7 point; Brevier 8 point; Bourgeoois 9 point; Long Primer 10 point; Small Pica 11 point; Pica 12 point; English 14 point.
PARAGON - the name of an old type size, about 14 point.
PICA TYPE - the name for an old type size, about 12 point.
Can anyone on the Forum suggest the origins of these most unusual names?

Dave Hughes

First of all welcome to the Metal Type forum David, I hope you find it enjoyable.  :)

You pose a difficult question. I would imagine these type-size names go back many centuries, and the origins of them possibly lost in the mists of time.
Printle: Word Puzzle for Printers Play Now

Keep in touch with Metal Type Get our newsletters


Quote from: David

GEM - an old name for a size of type, about 3 and a half point.

Gee, people must have had good eyes in former times  ::)
I can't provide an explanation, I just can point out that in German there were special designations, too.
Maybe some "secret language" between typesetters and printers to appear more wise?

Dave Hughes

My initial research suggests that some type-size names might have been taken from the religious books that used that particular size, for example, Brevier used to produce a Breviary (A book containing the hymns, offices, and prayers for the canonical hours).

However Bourgeois seems to take its name from the class system!

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) says:

QuoteBourgeois \Bour*geois"\, n. [From a French type founder named
   Bourgeois, or fr. F. bourgeois of the middle class; hence
   applied to an intermediate size of type between brevier and
   long primer: cf. G. bourgeois, borgis. Cf. Burgess.]
   A size of type between long primer and brevier. See Type.
Printle: Word Puzzle for Printers Play Now

Keep in touch with Metal Type Get our newsletters

Steve Young

No ... but when I was an appy they were used almost exclusively without reference to the point size ... "oi, go and cut me some nonpul reglet boy" ... translation: 22 inch long 6pt wooden strips for cutting up into 11 and a thick strips for spacing out columns of type in a page. Then the next morning I had to pi the forme, racking the chases and sorting the thicks, thins, mids and wooden nonpul into racks for later use for the next paper.

Thick = 3pt
Thin = 1.5pt
Mid = 2pt
Nonpul = 6pt


Wasn't Agate and Ruby the same size, I seem to remember that Agate was American and Ruby was English



My understanding is that the point size name actually refers to the smallest body size on which a particular size of type will fit and and the type is always slightly smaller than the body size.
Back in the 1970's, at the Sydney Morning Herald, when column inches were scarce I did manage to get 4 3/4 point Adsans onto a 4 1/2 point body. I have no idea what 4 3/4 point is called.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast


Agate and Ruby

From American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking (1894):

QuoteAgate: A small size of printing-type, between pearl and nonpareil, half the size of small pica. A little over thirteen lines go to the inch. By the point system, it corresponds to five and a half points. Its chief use is for advertisements and market reports in daily papers, on which it is generally the smallest size used. It is also largely employed in time-tables. It was unknown before 1822, when George Bruce, who was endeavoring to have a truer relation between the bodies of type than then existed, saw the gap between pearl and nonpareil, and introduced this size to fill it. In England it is called ruby. Hansard's Typographia, published in 1825, says that a few years before it was by him absolutely necessary to give some distinguishing appellation to this size, as the founders had him one-nick pearls of two bodies, one of half small pica and one of half long primer. He therefore called the former ruby.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Quick Reply

Please leave this box empty:
Type the letters shown in the picture
Listen to the letters / Request another image

Type the letters shown in the picture:

Shortcuts: ALT+S post or ALT+P preview

Printers' Tales - Over 30 stories from the pre-digital age. Buy now on Amazon/Apple Books

☛ Don't miss our illustrated newsletters. Click here to see examples and subscribe. ☚