A nick is a hollow cast crossways in the shanks of types, to make a distinction readily between different sorts and sizes; and to enable the compositor to perceive quickly the bottom of the letter as it lies in the case, when composing; as nicks are always cast on that side of the shank on which the bottom of the face of the letter is placed.
A great deal of inconvenience frequently arises, owing to the founders casting different founts of types with a similar nick in each. Although this may, at the first sight, appear of little moment, yet it is attended with much trouble: and works are frequently disfigured by it, notwithstanding all the care of the compositor and the reader, as will appear from the following statement.
A printer has cast a fount, we will suppose of Pica, in addition to another he had in the house, and this new Pica is of a different face, from his old one; but not having given any particular directions, the founder casts it with a nick precisely the same as the other. The consequence is, when a compositor is distributing head lines, lines of italic, small capitals, or small jobs — in the hurry of business — through inadvertency — or carelessness — he frequently distributes them into the wrong cases, when it is almost impossible for another compositor who has occasion to use these cases next, to detect the error till he sees the proof; unless he is in the habit of reading his lines in the stick, which many are not. He has then a great deal of trouble to change the letters; and, with all the attention that the reader can bestow, a letter of the wrong fount will frequently escape his eye, and disfigure the page.
Even in founts that are next in size to each other; for instance, — Bourgeois and Long Primer, Long Primer and Small Pica, Small Pica and Pica, and Pica and English, head lines, &c., are not unfrequently distributed into wrong cases, where the nick is the same; and always occasion loss of time in correcting the mistakes, and sometimes pass undiscovered.
I would recommend, in furnishing a new office with types, that every fount, commencing with the smallest, should have a different nick from that of the next size: thus Brevier, supposing it to be the smallest, might have three wide nicks. Bourgeois two closer ones, and Long Primer one; Small Pica the same as Brevier, Pica as Bourgeois, English as Long Primer; and here it might stop, for there is difference enough in the sizes above English for the eye to distinguish them readily, without varying the nick.
By going as far as three nicks, which is now generally done, a sufficient variety may be obtained to distinguish one fount from another without hesitation; but I would strongly advise that the nicks should be deep, as it allows the compositor to see quickly how the letters lie in the box, and enables him to pick them up with greater facility, particularly by candlelight.
A single nick may be — low on the shank, in the middle, or nearer the top; two nicks may be close together — at the bottom, in the middle, or at the top, or they may be wide apart; three nicks may be — two at bottom and one at top, two at top and one at bottom, or the three close together, at the bottom, the middle, or the top, or wide apart. Where there are a great number of founts, it would add to the distinguishing mark, if consisting of more than one nick, that one of them should be cast shallow: but where there is only one nick it ought always to be cast deep.