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Camera-ready copy for large scale
duplication, mid-late 20th century Britain

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The meaning of 'camera-ready copy'

In the 1970s, the publication of books, magazines and newspapers was going through a period of massive change. Whereas in the past, letters and symbols had been typeset for printing presses, now photographic reproduction was coming into its own. This involved photographing and reproducing from a paper original/master which was known as 'camera-ready copy'. There were strikes of newspaper staff in Fleet Street over its introduction because of fears that it would put their jobs at risk.

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Implications of camera-ready copy for publishers and authors

Progress cannot ever be held off for long. So the move among various book publishers was to require authors to supply their final manuscripts as camera-ready copy. Publishers did of course comment on and approve drafts during the writing process, and they also arranged for professionally produced front covers, so that prospective customers' first impressions were of a fully professional production.

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Camera-ready copy from a standard typewriter

For many authors, supplying camera-ready copy simply meant obtaining the services of an accurate typist. However the resulting appearance was inferior to that of the older typeset books and today's productions, as is obvious from the image. In particular:

Section from a page of a book produced on an old typewriter which had only one style, size and width of font

Section of a page of a book with its camera-ready copy produced on an old typewriter with only one style, size and width of font.

Nevertheless, camera-ready copy produced on a typewriter was cheaper for publishing houses. So, until superior technology came along, it was quite common.

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Electric and electronic typewriters

Around this time, typewriters started to improve significantly. Electric typewriters meant that typists did not need to press evenly on every key because an electric motor controlled the pressure.

Golf ball print heads

IBM machines achieved uniform typing by the characters being on a single ball of key heads which rotated and titled according to which key was pressed.

Selection golf ball print heads, showing the name of the font and the clip to fasten to the typewriter

A selection golf ball print heads. The name of the font is in white letters on top, next to the clip that opens up and snaps the font into position on the typewriter.

An added advantages was that there were no separate print heads to jam if the typing was too quick. There was also an arrangement whereby characters of different widths were proportionally spaced, i.e. for example, the m was given more width while the i was given less.

The print balls were known as 'golf balls' and were indeed about the size of golf balls. They were not permanently attached to the typewriters. Every time a new typeface was required, a new golf ball had to be clicked into position. I used golf balls a great deal for producing camera-ready copy for books that I co-authored in the early 1980s, and I had quite a selection of them in order to display different fonts.

Daisy wheel print head

A daisy wheel print head

Detail of part of a daisy wheel printhead

Detail of part of the print head

Daisy wheel print heads

In a later development of electronic typewriters the golf balls were replaced with lighter flatter, plastic print heads. These were known as 'daisy wheels', a name descriptive of their appearance, as is obvious from the photograph.

I had a selection of daisy wheels too, in order to print different font sizes and styles.

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Text editors and word processors

Section from a page of a book produced on an electronic typewriter or early word processor showing proportional spacing and bold, but a fixed font style and size

Part of a page from a book produced with an electronic typewriter or early word processor.

The printout is proportionally spaced with bold, but a fixed font style and size.

I had a consultancy with IBM around this time where operators workin g at separate consuls used an early text-editing system on a central computer, known as a main frame. Printouts were collected from a central printer. It wasn't quite what is now understood as word processing because it involved typing special symbols round what one wanted to be bold or italic, etc. However it was almost certainly the forerunner of word processing.

Computers dedicated solely to word-processing later became available for individual use, and most large organisations seemed to buy them for their typists. However use of these machines were short lived, soon to be replaced by word processing software running on personal computers - not that this was as sophisticated as what we know today.

The picture shows a section from a book produced this way. Note the proportional spacing and the use of bold type. However the print is only one size - possibly because the typist only had one golf ball or daisy wheel to hand.

If you can add anything to this page, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.