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Monday, December 5, 2016

Memories of the Montreal Gazette's "Addressograph Department"

The other day I was scrolling through the contact information on my iPhone and for a few seconds pondered the drastic changes that have occurred with information technologies since I was a highschool student. What's all the more startling is to realize how much has been replaced, discarded and forgotten while making this journey from the not too distant past to the present.

My first 'real' job came in winter-spring 1970, albeit on a part time basis, and landed me in what was unofficially called the "Addressograph Department" in the Montreal Gazette's Circulation Department located on the 7th floor of the former Gazette Building at 1000 rue St. Antoine.

The former Montreal Gazette building located at 1000 rue St. Antoine in Montreal.

These are a few fading vignettes from those experiences and the impressions they made upon me, and as I make this nostalgic journey back into the past, I do wonder how many of the once young people who may have once worked there are still around today; many people came and went during my three-year tenure.

Anyone and everyone stepping into the lobby were soon greeted by elevator operators Roger Tessier or Hermos Wagner; those two Gazette ambassadors always knew where everyone worked and where everything was.

At 08:00 that first Saturday morning, I started my learning under the tutelage of Muriel Rutherford; a seasoned veteran whom I thought was probably my grandmother's age. Miss Rutherford ran the Addressograph Department and she also seemed to live there.

Through careful hushed whispers I often heard her referred to as an old battle-axe, so I quickly learned that most people seemed to be afraid of her, but I never perceived her in that light during the brief time I was one of her fledgling peeps. 

Anyway, that first morning she patiently taught me how to use this ancient machine and what it was used for.

The keyboard was identical to that on a typewriter. Instead of typing on paper, this machine stamped out letters and numbers on small metal plates. The machine's words per minute speed was slow; maybe 20 to 30 at best. Although I was not a typist by any definition of the word, I was soon able to type faster than the machine could accommodate.

A metal plate as seen from the back
This example of a typed metal plate is actually as seen from the backside. Plates were typed backwards for one obvious reason; so that printed impressions came out forward.

Reading backward soon became second nature because doing so was much easier than removing and re-inserting the plate into the machine's carriage to read them from the backside.

Spelling and other errors were easy to correct on a metal plate. The error would simply be "blanked" by using the key (Just like a delete key today) that would flatten offending spots that would then be typed over.

The metal plate inserted into a metal frame
New plates were relatively clean to work with but almost all work involved existing plates which were coated in ink from their usage. In seconds one's finger tips would be blue from handing them. 

When taking a break or when work was finished, a special hand cleaner was required and that ammonia-laden smell was overpowering for anyone unprepared. The challenge during the day was to avoid touching or scratching oneself anywhere... otherwise telltale blue smudges would be left behind everywhere... and I mean everywhere.

The finished plates were inserted into a metal frame and collectively this too was usually referred to as a plate. As this example details, the typed plate has been inserted face-forward and a yellow cardboard impression has been inserted above in that spot to hold it. This format made reading, finding, handling and filing thousands of plates much easier.

(to be continued)

The Oddblock Station Agent