Josna Rege

320. Quoin that Phrase

In blogs and blogging, Stories, Words & phrases, Work on April 22, 2015 at 2:53 am

atoz [2015] - BANNER - 910


In letterpress printing a quoin is a metal wedge which fits into the space between the type and the edge of the chase, and is tightened to fix the job in place. In architecture a quoin is one of the corner blocks of a building or the keystone of an arch. The printer’s quoin is a variant spelling of coin, also spelled coyne, coign, and coigne.


After composition comes imposition. You tie up your type and make a galley proof. Then you transfer it into the chase. You fill the space around it with furniture, fit the quoins into the gap between the type or furniture and the metal edge of the chase, and lock everything up tight with a quoin key. Now your form is ready to put to bed. Alluring, isn’t it, this mysterious—and alas, endangered—letterpress lingo?

letterpress lockup (from

a job locked up in a chase (from

Here’s a good 20-minute video on locking up lead type, which defines the printing terms above and shows you all sorts of quoining action. The printer-narrator says that laying your quoins around a print job is called “quoining a phrase” and claims that that is where the expression, “to coin a phrase” comes from. I found some support for this here, but most sources disagree, saying that it originates much later than the advent of letterpress printing and that “to coin” as in “to create” comes from the coining of money by stamping metal discs with a die. Apparently back in the 14th century a coin was the wedge-shaped die used to stamp the blank discs, also called coins.

Biased as I am, this counter-claim didn’t make a good impression on me. Now that phrase does come from letterpress printing (See TMA # 312).

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atoz [2015] - BANNER - 910

  1. I don’t think the letter press and it’s terminology are quite on the verge of extinction. There are a lot of people doing it just for fun. I hope they learn the right terms for everything.

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