When you collect Linotypes for a hobby, the question of "why" comes up often enough. Here I'm going to be a tiny bit belligerent and ask why it is that someone might ask why. If you think that it is even the slightest bit odd to collect Linotypes, then you've got a problem.
Consider for a moment the hobby of collecting classic cars. That's a very reputable hobby. Many people do it. there are classic car collector magazines, organizations, and meetings. The classic car enthusiast is well-respected in our society, and this is, indeed, a good thing.
Now, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, to take a fine example, is 197 inches long, 73 inches wide, and weighs 3269 pounds. Nobody would think twice of filling their garage with one or two of them. By way of contrast, Model 5 Linotype is 61 inches by 62 inches and weighs about 2,700 pounds. In other words, a '57 Chevy Bel Air is three times the size of a Linotype, and heavier. Yet having a Bel Air in your garage is a mark of status while having a Linotype is weird.
But perhaps I'm being unfair here. As respectable as it is, not everyone has a classic car in their garage. Perhaps classic car collecting isn't normal after all. Let's compare Linotype collecting, instead, to something normal.
Collecting Linotypes and getting heavily involved in "hot metal" letterpress printing isn't just measured in square feet and pounds - it takes time (and lots of it). So what if, instead, I compare it to that most common of time-consuming discretionary activity, watching television? The average American watches 5 hours of television per day (so Nielsen says). I live in a valley without broadcast television reception, am unservicable by cable (I checked), and don't have satellite. I simply don't watch TV. I mess about with Linotypes instead.
Plugging oneself passively into an entertainment feed for nearly a third of one's waking hours is considered "normal." Yet except for a tiny fraction of it (yes, there are some good shows, but not many) it is an utter waste of a human being - you.
By way of contrast, if I spend five hours a day on my Linotypes, I'm not only being entertained (as indeed I am!), I'm learning about complex machines and their history, learning about good engineering by example, gaining any number of practical mechanical skills, preserving a historically important technology for the future, and creating type and printed works. Television can give me none of this.
The solution to this problem doesn't have to be Linotypes, or even letterpress printing. The solution is any activity which exercises your brain and which involves actively preserving or actually making something. Restoring that '57 Bel Air is a fine thing to do. So is amateur science, setting up a home machine shop, practically any art you might choose, or even reading a book that isn't ever going to make a bestseller list.
All portions of this document not noted otherwise are Copyright © 2010 by David M. MacMillan and Rollande Krandall.
Circuitous Root is a Registered Trademark of David M. MacMillan and Rollande Krandall.
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