How to Be a Human Hinman Collator

In Joseph A. Dane’s Myth of Print Culture, pgs. 94-95, he describes how to be a “Human Hinman,” to collate pages from the same setting of type (or stereotype plates) without the aid of any external device. I learned about the process that Dane describes from Randall McCleod, who sent me an extensive email on the process. Over the past year I have adopted McCleod’s method for my own work, and with his permission I post his training regimen for turning one’s self into a Human Hinman here.

You may laugh. I laughed myself when McCleod first sent me this email on 31 January 2006 (which below I’ve edited slightly to emphasize method and discard most topical chit-chat) after I inquired about collating newspapers.

My collator has worked on Holinshed’s _Chronicles_, 1587, a bruiser of a book, but it is awkward. To work on bigger things, I have xeroxed parts of them and collated the parts separately.

What I suggest is that you use Mother Nature’s collator, which is totally free, once you have a xerox or positive microfilm print-out of your control copy printed to size. (It is possible to use this method with something printed slightly smaller too, but it is not very feasible if you go bigger).

Then you place a column of your copy next to a column of the copy you want to compare it to, and cross your eyes, so that the left eye sees the right column and the right sees the left. When you do this, you will actually see four columns, two will be transparent and two will be opaque. By adjusting the tracking of your eyes, the four will suddenly collapse to three and will be stable there. The two on the outside will then be the transparent ones and in peripheral vision, but the middle column will be opaque and will be in your foveal vision, which is where you want it to be. This central column is a superimposition of the two columns you are comparing, and if there is a difference between them it will reveal itself through the visual oddities you experience on the Haley’s comet, Lindstrand, or McLeod.

Don’t be afraid to try this simple way! I use if for almost all my collating now and it is the favoured way of geologists working in the field who compare aerial photographs of terrain taken a few seconds apart.

But start by practicing on simple things. Sit facing a wall ten feet away and look at a small object on it. During this time raise your two index fingers to a position slightly below the object on the wall, so they don’t block it. Let them point straight up about four inches apart from each other. Be aware of the appearance of your fingers while you are still focused on the object on the wall. You will see that there are actually four finger images — all of them out of focus. As you move the fingers toward or away from each other, you will come to a point where two of the images lie on top of each other, and your eyes will tend to lock on this arrangement. That middle image of three is what my collator would deliver to your brain. The trick now is to hold your eyes in this configuration, but shift your focus from the object on the wall to the middle of the three finger images.

Let me explain. There are two independent functions of the muscles associated with the eye. Those outside the eye do the tracking, making the eyeballs converge or diverge, for example. The muscles in the eye control the focal length. Once we are a few weeks old, we track the two eyes in tandem, instead of letting them go their separate ways, and we also learn to focus at the point of intersection of the eyebeams. But this association of the two muscular functions is totally arbitrary and there need be no pain with disassociating them as an adult.

Consider the following. If you look at a single finger held four inches in front of your nose, you don’t think of yourself as cross-eyed. But if you take your finger away while holding your eyes in that position, you will experience double vision of whatever objects lie behind where the finger was, and someone looking at you would think you were a cross-eyed person. Yes, your eyes are crossed, but you have no ocular disorder — for all vision at distances less than infinity entail eyes crossed in varying degrees. Almost all our vision in life is double vision. We tend not to be aware of this doubleness because it is present in peripheral not in foveal vision, where our attention is concentrated. But once you are aware that most vision is double, you can take foveal vacations there. (I do. It is like walking in a jungle full of strange creatures. It is a fearful symmetry.)

So, now on to a meaningful example (which would be simpler for you to absorb if I could show you, instead of resorting to painstaking instructions). Get two new dollar bills (or, if you can’t afford that, quarters with different dates) and put them in the position your fingers were when you were looking at the wall (and in the same orientation). Move them until the four images become three, and then work on getting your focus shifted to the plain of the bills, WITHOUT CHANGING THE TRACKING OF THE EYES (for if you let your eyes adjust the tracking, you will automatically go back to seeing only the two bills that are really there instead of the four images that are in your mental experience). When your focus is on the fused images of the two bills, you should get a visual buzz from the difference in the serial numbers. If ink spots are on one bill and not the other, they may seem to float, etc.

Now practice on some quarto pages, which are not so big that they will cause you eyestrain. If they are too big for comfort, you can shrink them on a xerox machine and/or hold them away from you at a greater distance — either manoeuvre entailing less extensive convergence of the eyes. To practise with, you can find variant title pages of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in the 1944 Variorum edition by Hyder Rollins (or in my late 1970’s) SB article on the same title (see the biblio reference on the University of Toronto in Mississauga website under my name, under Dept of English and Drama) — or Fletcher’s massive photographic study of the variants in _Paradise Lost_ — from the 1940s, as I recall. Also, the Huntington Library has just published a big book on Holinshed, coauthored by Clegg and McLeod, and I have four states of part of a column there with the variants made vivid.

Anyway, don’t give up trying. This kind of collation is not really a hard thing to do, as you have all your life been taking two visual images and merging them. The problem now is that you are trying to do it under instruction, whereas a baby does it just by fooling around and seeing what works.


PS As for your rash statement [i.e, I questioned whether McCleod’s stand-based collator could hold a newspaper]. What my collator can¨”hold” is not the same as what it can “look at”. The design breakthrough of my collator is that I dispensed with symmetrical optics. But I sell the machine with the possibility of symmetrical optics. On my machine, each train is chamelion like, and can swivel in any direction. One could thus sit in a corner and have one eye trained on a poster on the left wall, and the other on a copy of the poster on the right wall (i.e., there is not any longer a reading stand to “hold” the objects being collated). Size is not now a problem. If the objects are giant atlases or newspapers, supporting them on the walls and getting them flat can a problem. But if the images are merely projected from slides, exit problem. Another thing you can do with a collator or with crossing your eyes is to get e-images of the objects your want to collate and scroll down each screen to cover the height of the column in stages. I have collated an original copy of a few pages of Holinshed with a web version on my lap top.


That’s all there is to it, from one of the contemporary masters of sight-based collating. This method is necessary when you need to collate two impressions from the same setting of type and either a) have no optical collator available or b) have a book or periodical that won’t fit in a collator. It is the cheapest and fastest option even if you have a mechanical device at your disposal. Cheap is obvious: there’s nothing to buy. To get to the point that it’s the “fastest” option takes a few hours of practice. But the more time that you spend with this method, the faster it becomes. It took me about 25 hours to collate two copies of the 600-odd pages in John P. Jewett’s 2-volume 1852 edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Happy collating.

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2 Responses to How to Be a Human Hinman Collator

  1. Pingback: Collation in Scholarly Editing: An Introduction (DRAFT) « Fill His Head First with a Thousand Questions

  2. Pingback: Senate Bill 5: No union, no committee work? « Fill His Head First with a Thousand Questions

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