This was an interesting thing that came up at work last week. The story below, was copied from our blog on the Stumptown Printers site, written by Brian.
The pica pole pictured above is a piece of Portland, Oregon printing history uncovered recently by Dee of Magpie Messenger Collective. When Dee first came upon this treasure discarded in the street, he recognized it for what it was most recently used for: a "slim jim" (tool for breaking into cars) but what caught his eye was that this tool was crudely fashioned from a printer’s pica stick. It’s an old one, and has a name engraved on it in several places: “WM S LINTO”. Upon referencing old trade journals and an old phone directory that we have here at Stumptown Printers, we discovered that Linto (William) was a prolific local hot-metal era printer born in 1885. He started working in the printing trade at age 19.
On top of that, the printer’s tool was supplied to Linto from the Portland American Type Founders office, one of 4 such offices west of the Rocky Mountains during the early twentieth century (Fellow printing geeks will appreciate this - American Type Founders were the King-Daddies of type founding and design for much of the twentieth century). Linto was a compositor at the Oregonian newspaper, but is also known in the world of stamp collectors for his private press work, in particular his printing of cachets. Most of the examples that we could find were of World War II era propaganda (if you search for it, be warned: some of the stuff is a bit over-the-top and can be offensive) but we did find earlier examples of cachets commemorating local events such as the Portland Rose Festival (Pictured Above. The image was lifted from this website).
So how did this antique pica pole get into the hands of someone who is more interested in breaking into cars than typography and small press? That’s the mystery. Anyone who has worked in a print shop knows that printer’s pica sticks and line gauges are not to be messed with, once a printer claims his/her pica pole, it stays with them. Printers rely on their own, if they were to use another, they may find their measurements off by a half a point, so it’s best to stick with the tool that they are familiar with. Linto knew this: his name is engraved in 3 places on this pica stick. Undoubtedly he kept this trusty tool close to him, which aided him in creating an estimated excess of 5000 different cachets (source).
This American Type Founders pica pole is roughly 75 years old, why did it surface now? The person who was using it as a slim jim was no craftsperson, the conversion is very crude and the “rope work” making up the lanyard is bungled. So I’m guessing that the assumed thief isn’t a former printer looking for a new livelihood. But you gotta hand it to whoever appropriated this printer’s tool. It does appear to be the right size and shape for breaking into cars. Pretty clever. This use of a pica stick is something that has never occurred to us. We had better keep an eye on ours. But the real question is: How would Linto feel about his precious tool being used in this way?
Thanks to Dee for sharing this find, and for having fun researching this bit of Portland printing history with us