The rule of... rule

About a week ago I hosted the Letterpress Guild of New England for a talk by Sam Ellenport of the Harcourt Bindery. He came to show a video he made about the last day of pen-ruling at the bindery. Though a homemade production, it was heartfelt in its effort to capture the end of an era, as it truly was.

So what is pen-ruling? Pen-ruling is the process by which straight lines were printed (rather, drawn) onto paper to make ledgers and such. The machine built to do this work is circa 1850 and looks like this:

"Pens" in varying widths were set up on the machine and then threaded with ink-soaked wool-yard (of a very ordinary sort) to draw the ink down into the channels. The tops of the yarn bits sat under another ink-soaked piece of felt, to which water-based ink was re-applied as necessary throughout the run.

Cams were set to lift some or all of the pens to stop lines at particular places.

Once the horizontal lines were dry (after being wound down and around the pen-ruler for about 70') the pages were run through the machine again to draw the vertical lines. Since each channel had its own thread, different colors could be run simultaneously (if only the Vandy were capable of such feats...).

The result: beautiful ledger paper for accounting, county registry of deeds, cemetery interment registers and other such things.

Of course nowadays, it's all digital.

Thanks to Sam for preserving a little bit of this history!

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