George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat Oct 29 21:17:58 UTC 2011

This term doesn't seem to be in the OED.  It seems to mean a workman -- a
printer -- who will work for about 2/3 of the pay expected by a Journeyman
Printer.  The article goes into great detail regarding how printers are paid
-- so much per thousand ems -- what this would amount to over a week, and
how likely it would be for printers of various skill levels to find steady
year-round work.  What is says about jourrneymen's wages and those of
two-thirders seems to be roughly in a 3 to 2 proportion.  But the article
doesn't explain the term.

I had the notion that I had come upon the term before, perhaps in the N-Y
Daily Express -- Brooks, it editor, frequently commented on the business
aspects of producing a newspaper.  But nothing turns up in my notes, going
back to 1835.

            ***  Printing is usually divided into three branches --
Book-Printing and Publishing, Newspaper and Periodical Printing, Card and
Job Printing.  These united departments of the art employ not less than
sixteen hundred persons, including regular journeymen, *two-thirders* and
boys.  ***

            Although there is very little, if any, regular apprenticing to
the business now, every regular Printing Office has its quota of boys,
ranging in number from one to twenty, or more, according to the method and
extent of its operations.  These boys receive from $1 50 to $2 00 per week,
for one or two years -- when, if they have become at all skilled in the art
of type-setting, they are permitted to work on their *own hook* as *
two-thirders*, at 18¾ and 20 cents per thousand, and thus oust from their
legitimate places regular journeymen.  ***

            ***  Through inertness and neglect,, as well as the competition
among Employers and the ruinous system of *two-thirders*, which the
[Typographical] Association could not break down, it [a labor agreement
reached in 1836] ultimately crumbled to pieces . . . , -- but one Book
Establishment and eight or nine of the Daily Papers paying what are
considered full prices.
            New-York Daily Tribune, September 11, 1845, p. 2, cols.
2-3(quoted passages are from col. 2)  From "The
Journeymen Printers." , No. XII in the series Labor in New-York: Its
Circumstances, Conditions and Rewards.  --


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ.
Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

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