To be “out of sorts” is to run out of needed letters in the hand-setting of type.
I operated a Linotype in the late ’70s, setting hot lead slugs of type. My coworker, Harry, would set up the Heidelberg windmills, get them both running, and then stand in front of the cases setting type by deftly choosing sorts (individual pieces of metal foundry type) from the California Job Cases with his free hand and placing them in the composing stick in his other. Harry was deaf, so the noise of the shop (we also had two offset duplicators running much of the time), or the jarring crash of a metal galley dropped on the concrete floor never bothered him.
When we’d throw in, that is dump galleys of type onto the granite counter to be replaced into the cases, he had no trouble distinguishing sorts. I was befuddled by the p, d, b, and q’s (they look like quadruplets), but they didn’t seem to slow Harry in the least.
“If I were to be sat down at a computer and told, ‘here, you can do whatever you want,’ I wouldn’t know what to do. There would be too many choices,” says John Kristensen, of Firefly Press in this gorgeous short film. No garish bitmap filter or clever vector technique can replace the artistry and craftsmanship in what Firelfy Press in Sommerville Massachusetts produces every day.