HistoryBuff.com April 2009 Newsletter
To unsubscribe from the HistoryBuff.com newsletter, click here and enter your email address in the form. Your email address will be immediately removed.

Printing History Rich in Word Origins

It has always fascinated me how the meanings of some words or phrases change with the passage of time. Sometimes the technology that the word or phrase originated with no longer exists or is needed. Many times the phrase or word becomes archaic or extinct so is no longer used. Other times the phrase or word stays long after the technology dies but the meaning changes. While conducting research on other topics I have come across some interesting tidbits of information relating to these changes. Many of these words or phrases have newspaper or printing history originations.


There came a time in America, and the world for that fact, that there became a gap in the maximum number of newspaper issues a printing press could produce in a day and the number of issues needed in a day. One printing press could not keep up with the demand. To set type for an entire newspaper took many hours of manual labor. In some larger city newspapers, due to quantity of news, most of the entire day was spent by a crew of typesetters setting type for the day's newspaper. Adding a second printing press to double the capability of the number of issues printed was not practical.

As early as 1790 in France, seeing the future demand, craftsmen began experimenting with a quicker way of producing a duplicate matrix - an exact copy of the typeset page that could be placed on a printing press to print from. Many methods were tried. The one that worked the best was to prepare a paste made from paper and pour it over the typeset matrix. When this dried, it was removed and used as a mold. A metal alloy was then poured into the mold and allowed to set. It was this metal alloy plate that was placed on the printing press.

A stereotype plate enabled the printers to print enough copies of their newspapers to meet the need. All they needed were enough printing presses. It is from these printing history origins that we now use the term to mean "all alike or having similar attributes" in describing certain ethnic groups or occupations. For example, "All cops ever do is hang out at donut shops." We know it is not true but assign that attribute for all policemen anyway.


This phrase also has an interesting printing history origin. The term "broadside" literally means "printed on one side only." It derived its name from being printed on the "broad" (or largest) side of a sheet of paper. For example, early 4-page newspapers were actually printed on a larger sheet of paper on two sides and then folded to make four pages. Thus, a broadside was printed on the area of what would have been page one and page four or page two and three of a newspaper. As time went by and newspapers became 8-pages each, newspapers were still being printed on one large sheet but folded into an 8-page issue.

In early America, until the late 1800's, when anyone wanted something printed they went to a newspaper office. In addition to publishing and printing a newspaper, a newspaper owner would also print broadsides for other businesses to supplement their income. A prime use for broadsides was advertising.

As America's road system improved, a favorite marketing method of advertising agencies or businesses was to post broadsides on barns located near roads. When the circus or a patent medicine agent was coming to town, you can bet one would find a broadside posted on a barn to promote the "event." These were the forerunners of what we call billboards today. By the late 1800's some broadsides were several square feet in size. A favorite pastime of boys in this era was to stand back from a barn and throw rocks to try and hit the "broadside on a barn." As time passed, the term broadside was replaced with handbill or flyer. Also, these notices were no longer being posted on the sides of barns. Instead, radio and television became a prime medium for advertising. At this point the phrase "Can't hit the broadside ON a barn" became meaningless - there were no broadsides on barns anymore.

Thus, to make sense, the phrase was altered to "Can't hit the broadside OF a barn." At this time "broad" still meant "largest" side. One would have to have an awful aim to not be able, to hit the largest side of a barn with a rock or ball. The alteration from "on" to "of" made it a bigger insult.


In the 1700s papermaking mills there were three primary occupations. To make paper then, cloth rags were soaked in water and rolled into balls and allowed to ferment for six to eight weeks. At this point they were placed into vats and boiled into a mash. Next, a person with the job title of "vatman" dipped the moulds one at a time into the mash and carefully pulled it out. A thin coating of the mash would cling to the wire mesh screen of the mould. Once out, by careful rotations and twisting, the vatman would literally shake the excess water off. It took great skill to be able to only shake off the excess water and not disturb the rag mulch on the mold. Once the excess water was shook off, the vatman turned the mold over to a person with the job title of "coucher." This person would carefully peel the wet paper from the mold and place them in stacks with a felt sheet between the sheets of wet paper. Although I am not certain why, the coucher placed the wet sheets of paper in stacks of 144 sheets. For an unknown reason, this stack of 144 sheets was called a "post." It is for this reason, no doubt that many early American newspapers had the word "post" attached to the their title; Boston Post-Boy, Washington Post, St. Louis Post, and so forth.


Next, when the paper had dried long enough, the "post" was turned over to a layboy, or depending on age of the person, a layman. His job was to peel the felt sheets from the paper sheets and replace the now damp felt sheets with dry ones This process was repeated three times.

The layman was the least skilled job title in early paper mills. It is no doubt that this is where we derive today's "layman" to mean unskilled or lacking knowledge of a specific field.

It is interesting to note that in the early 1700's in America the vatman was paid about $9 a month in wages, a coucher was paid about $6 a month, and the layman received about 6 cents a month plus room and board.


Printing technology in 17O0s America also presented another problem on occasion for newspaper publishers. All newspapers were printed on one larger sheet of paper and then folded to make a 4-page edition. On occasion, when more advertisements came in than anticipated or some late-breaking news came in just prior to the printing time, it presented a problem. There was not enough news or ads to make it a 6 or 8-page edition. To solve the problem, the editor would print a miniature edition as an insert to the regular paper. This insert was called a "Post Script." Due to its nature of purpose - last minute additions of news - we still today assign a "postscript" to the end of our letters to mean "last minute thoughts or news."

A Teenager Gets Put in His Place

As a young pup of 19, I was a janitor at a local hospital. I often flirted with the female maids of all ages at work. One day, while waiting at the timeclock to punch out, I walked up to a female maid of about 50 years of age. I then took her hand, bowed, said "Your majesty" and kissed it. A look came on here face that seemed to be be the "I'll never wash that hand again!" I was shocked when she told me "I wonder how many toilets I scrubbed with that hand today!" To say the least, I was shocked and have never kissed a woman on her hand again!

A Policeman Made an Error

In the early 1970s I was a Den Leader for the Cub Scouts. The adults held a monthly meeting. At one of these meetings, somehow we started talking about our most embarrassing moment while on the job. One fellow, who was a police officer, related that as a rookie and on the midnight shift, he was driving down a street about 3 AM. Seeing a car coming towards him altered him because the car was going the wrong way on a one way street. He made a quick u-turn and stopped the gentleman driver. The officer told him that the reason he stopped him was that he was going the wrong way on a one way street. The driver replied that, in fact, it was the police officer that was going the wrong way on a one way street! The officer was so embarrassed that he did not ticket the driver.

A Judge on Duty

At this same Cub Scout leaders meeting, one of the men was a judge. He related an incident that happened in his court room. A man was on trial for assault. During the first recess, a jury member made an attempt to talk to the judge. The judge firmly told the jury member that by law he was not permitted to speak with any one involved with the case without both lawyers present. The jury member insisted that he HAD to talk with the judge and to go ahead and arrange a meeting before the recess ended. Relectantly the judge did and warned the jury member that if what he wanted to talk about was not strictly related to the current case, he would be in contempt of court. At the meeting, the jury member told the group that the about a month ago his custom cowboy boots were stolen and that defendant~ez_rsquo~s lawyer was wearing them! As it turned out, another client of the attorney had given him the cowboy boots as a down payment for his services.

HistoryBuff.com Update

In 1931, an employee of the Library of Congress compiled a list of newspapers that had been reprinted. His list was comprised of approximately 150 reprinted editions. In 1992 I conducted further research about newspaper reprints and was able to expand that list to almost 500 editions and self-published it. A print run of 500 copies was produced. Three-hundred of them went to subscribers to the magazine I was editor of, Collectible Newspapers. The remaining 200 sold out in about one year. The monograph was titled: An Annotated Index of American Newspaper Editions Kown to Have Been Reprinted. The monograph has been out of print since the first run and out of stock for sixteen years. With time on my hands, I have since added nearly 100 previously unknown reprint editions. It is now almost ready to begin selling copies. However, it will be a couple of weeks before it is available for purchase. I will be selling it in e-book form. Certainly, by the next issue of this newsletter, it will be online and ready for purchasing. I will provide link information at that time. In the meantime, if you desire to purchase a copy before the next issue of this newsletter, send me an email stating so and I will put you on the one-time email list to notify you. (Subscribers to this newsletter will not automatically receive this notice - Only those that requested that they be notified.)

As a result of my appeal for donations in the previous issue, several people made a one-time donation. They are Ray Forsythe, John H. Mather, Karen Sharp, George Wead, and Barbara N. Diehl. Thank you.

If you desire to make a one-time donation, utilize the link below. The dollar amount donated is up to you.

Help Support HistoryBuff.com

Another method to make a donation is a paid subscription for the HistoryBuff.com newsletter. If you feel the newsletter is worth $1, per issue, you may want to pay for a subscription. A paid subscription is totally optional. You'll never miss that $1 each month and it will greatly help to keep HistoryBuff.com online and free.

Those who paid for a subscription are: Peter Nichols, Virgil Jain, Vincent Amato, Ardis Armstrong, Donald Hupfauer, J. Jansen, and Charles Di Bartolo.

The HistoryBuff.com newsletter will continue to be free of charge.
A paid subscription is optional.

Subscribe to the HistoryBuff.com Newsletter - $1 Per month (Optional)

March Contest

CONTEST ONE QUESTION: Which wife of a president was the first to have a college degree?

ANSWER: Lucy Webb Hayes, wife of Rutherford B. Hayes.

CONTEST TWO QUESTION: Who was the only president that was unmarried when elected to the presidentcy and was married in the White House?

ANSWER: Grover Cleveland.

Seventy-three people entered. Twenty-seven people had errors in their entry. The most common error was not selecting a prize. There were also a few entries where they selected a prize from the Contest One prize list, but answered the Contest Two question or answered the Contest One question but selected a prize fom the Contest Two prize list. Nine had the incorrect subject heading. One prize went unclaimed.
The March Contest Winners Were:
  • Alexis Simich - Maryland
  • Zachary Reuther - Ohio
  • Jean Goldberg - Maryland
  • Steven Wyde - North Carolina
  • George Wead - Virginia
  • Maria A. Lecea - Indiana
  • Rod Zimmerman - California

This Issue's Questions:

To enter Contest One, answer the question: Which ex-sheriff of Dodge City ended his working career as a sports writer for a New York newspaper?

To enter Contest Two, answer the question: Which Indian Chief, who was victorious in the Battle of the Little Big Horn which led to the defeat of General Custer, also found fame as a member of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show?


Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Friday, April 17, 2009. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 24 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

  • To enter Contest One or Contest Two, email your answer to curator at historybuff.com

  • To enter Contest One, use "Contest One Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest One question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • To enter Contest Two, use "Contest Two Entry" for the emailed contest entry subject heading and answer the Contest Two question. Any other subject heading will be disqualified.

  • Subscribers may enter both contests, but only win one prize.

  • If entering both contests, entries must be sent in separate emails.

  • Each entry MUST select ONE prize from the appropriate prize list.

  • If answering the Contest One question, select your prize from the Contest One prize list.

  • If answering the Contest Two question, select your prize from the Contest Two prize list.

  • From subscribers entering the contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE contest prize they want to win, NINE will be selected to win ONE of the contest prizes below.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.
April Contest One Prize Selection
(Only one of each offered)

Hard Bound Book

The Warriors Seven:
Seven American Commanders,
Seven Wars, and the Irony of Battle
By Barney Sneiderman

Warriors Seven offers a fascinating collection of American commander "profiles" written in a lively and graphic style. The unique aspect of Dr. Sneiderman~ez_rsquo~s approach is that each essay sketches the ironic twists of fate that befell these men at or near the peak of their careers.

The book can be ordered from Amazon.com.

For information on all books published by Casemate Publishing visit their Web site.


45 Fantastic Fights of the Century

Including Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis,
Sugar Ray Robinson, Harricane Carter,
Rocky Grazian, Jersey Joe Walcott,
and Many More!

Apirl Contest Two Prize Selection
(Only one of each offered)


The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)

Starring Jackie Robinson



Classic 1950s TV Series

(This is the earlier series than one from the 1970s)

Original Historic Newspapers

The Atlas (Boston) historic newspaper from 1837

Original Daily National Intellegencer (Washington, DC) historic newspaper from 1843

Original Manchester America & Messenger (New Hampshire) historic newspaper from 1853

Original The New York Times historic newspaper from 1866
That's it for this issue.

Rick Brown

To visit HistoryBuff.com go to http://www.historybuff.com
To unsubscribe from the HistoryBuff.com newsletter,
click here and enter your email address in the form.
Your email address will be immediately removed.