PSC Investigates Type Size

A couple of weeks back, a colleague complimented our typing skills, and we said that we had started life as a typesetter. “What’s that?” he asked. “Exactly,” we replied.  Even in the time when typesetting was a valued skill, type rarely made the news. So an article from the Albany Evening News from 1937 jumped out at us, when a complaint about the type in telephone books made the news.

Type in Phone Book Attacked

PSC to Investigate Charge Printing is Hard on Subscribers’ Eyes

Size of the type used in printing telephone directories is to be the subject of an investigation by the Public Service Commission.

Virtually coincidental with an announcement by the New York Telephone Company that the issue of its Manhattan directory now being issued has more legible type than previously, the commission has received an informal complaint from City Judge Robert J. Summers of Buffalo.

While the exact nature of the complaint was not revealed because it was informal, a spokesman for the commission explained that it had to do with the legibility of names, addresses and telephone numbers in the Buffalo directory. The commission will inquire into the matter, it was said, to determine whether something should be done to make the print bigger and better.

State Senator Earle S. Warner of Ontario County today joined Judge Summers in a plea for larger type.

The J.B. Lyon Company prints many upstate directories, including those of Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, Newburgh, Glens Falls, Saratoga and Hudson Falls. The Manhattan directory is published by the Reuben H. Donnelly Corporation.

At the Albany office of the telephone company, it was said today that no change in the size of type used is planned at present. The next edition of the Albany directory will be distributed about Nov. 16, the book going to press Oct. 7.

Officials of the telephone company said that the principal change in type design in the New York directories was a reduction in the “line weight” of the letters. This, they said, was accomplished by removing weight from the inside of the letters only, thus letting additional light come through from the white paper.

Heretofore, the listings have been set in two type faces, gothic and Roman. The former was used in the name and the latter in the address. All the type in the new book is Gothic, the Roman was eliminated because its shading tended to darken the page.

We didn’t find the results of the investigation. There’s no indication that this had anything to do with it, but two years later, in 1939, the contract for the upstate directories went to a Buffalo firm, J.W. Clement, after being held by J.B. Lyon for something like 37 years.

We fully expect to have to explain to someone that there used to be books published with nearly everyone’s phone numbers and addresses, each and every year.

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