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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Letter from Your Friendly MLC Archivist

Miranda Vaughn
Reference/Archives Librarian

Dear Reader,

Today’s letter is all about stereotypes and cliches. No, not those stereotypes and cliches. Well, sort of. Let me explain.

A stereotype (also called a cliché) is a plate of metal used for making copies of prints. First developed in the 1700s in Europe, these plates were traditionally used for printing newspapers. Stereotypes were created from a “mat,” which is essentially a papier-mache mold containing the print that is to be turned into a stereotype. The dried mat was then used to cast the stereotype from hot metal. These metal plates were made primarily of lead and tin and were used on linotype machines or “slug-casting” machines to make the newspaper copies. Stereotypes made it possible to send casts to multiple printers, thus making more copies in less time. 

Purser Hewitt was a notable Mississippi journalist who worked for the Clarion Ledger for
47 years and retired as executive editor in 1973. He was appointed Chairman of the Mississippi
Library Week Committee in 1958 as part of the first annual National Library Week. Pictured here
is the mat containing his image, his image as a stereotype, and the final image in the
Mississippi Library News article featuring the announcement of his role as Chairman.

What does this printing technique have to do with the MLC archives? During the mid-20th century, the Library Commission printed Mississippi Library News, a quarterly journal produced by MLC and the Mississippi Library Association. Since stereotypes were commonly used in printing during this time, MLC used this printing technique to make copies of Mississippi Library News in house. Our archive has a number of stereotypes and mats of photographs used in these newsletters. We also have bound copies of Mississippi Library News to which you can compare these stereotypes. Mississippi Library News is no longer in print and has been replaced by the Mississippi Library Association’s Mississippi Libraries journal.

During the 1970s, more modern printing techniques began replacing stereotypes. Today, we are seeing a shift toward digital printing techniques as well. Despite the rapid changes technology brings, I’m sure there are printing and photography connoisseurs out there who can appreciate our little collection of stereotypes. 

I think it’s only appropriate to end a letter about clichés with an actual cliché: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Don’t you agree?

All the best,
Your friendly MLC archivist

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