POSTED ON Nov 27, 2010

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Have you ever heard of a galley proof? Wikipedia says:

In printing and publishing, proofs are the preliminary versions of publications meant for review by authors, editors, and proofreaders. Galley proofs may be uncut and unbound, or in some cases electronic. They are created for proofreading and copyediting purposes, but may be used for promotional and review purposes also.

Galley proofs are called for when you do mailings to pre-publication reviewers, or for serialization rights buyers, or for book clubs with long lead times.

But now you can hear people call just about any proofs “galleys” as the meanings of words associated with old or dead trade customs naturally drift as time goes by.


But “galleys” originates in letterpress printing and the technology available to book publishers at the time.

Up until the second half of the twentieth century type was set in metal, with letterforms either assembled individually by hand or, when the trade become mechanized, in automatic “casting” machines.

These would produce lines of type, either as individual castings or a casting of a whole line at once.

As the type accumulated, the lines became paragraphs and the metal had to be moved and transported around the print shop. The implement used for holding the metal type were galleys—sturdy metal trays with three sides. One side was left without an edge so type forms, wrapped with string, could be slid on or off the galley.

Some of these galleys were steel, but in earlier days they were made from brass. We had a small proof press in my living room when I was growing up, with two brass galleys polished to a mirror finish. The black iron base and brilliant brass were striking and a natural conversation piece.

The entire galley tray would be stored in cabinets built specifically for the purpose. Imagine how many galleys would fill a cabinet to produce a 400 page book. That’s a lot of metal.

The entire galleys would be rolled on carts to a flatbed proofing press. Laid on the bed of the press and locked into position, they were inked and proofed onto long strips of newsprint.

These strips, gathered together, stapled, and cut into convenient “pages” were the first galley proofs of the type that had just been set.

And that’s why we call them galleys today.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by heather.sabrina,

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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