Metal and wood type, the cabinets designed to hold these blocky letters and numerals, and letterpresses themselves are among the pieces of hardware collected by fans of printing technology. These essential printmaking ingredients have changed relatively little since Johann Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press sometime in the 1440s. For 500 years, raised-and-reversed letters were inked and pressed against a sheet of paper to create an impression, though the quality of the type and the means used to ink the paper definitely changed.

Early screw presses, similar to presses used in winemaking, were tightened by the printmaker, causing a flat board, or platen, to be forced from above against the framed type, or forme, waiting on another board below. The sheet of paper to be inked was sandwiched in between. At first these presses were made of wood, but timbers were eventually replaced by heavy metal, culminating in 1800 with Lord Stanhope’s all cast-iron press, which featured counterweights and a T-shape base. Philadelphia inventor George Clymer’s Columbian press, which featured a fulcrum making it easier for pressmen to do their work, as well as decorative eagle and snake on top, followed a decade or so later.

Other 19th-century printing presses of note include Peter Smith’s acorn-shape device and Samuel Rust’s Washington press, of which some 6,000 “Improved” units were manufactured by Richard Hoe of New York after purchasing the patent from Rust in 1835. Hoe also manufactured a smaller Stansbury press, as did the Cincinnati Type Foundry, another popular pre-Civil War printing-equipment company.

R. Hoe & Company was also an innovator, devising self-inking mechanisms for both Columbian and Washington presses in 1847 (in England, John Chidley patented similar mechanisms the same year). But all of these hand presses with flat beds were ultimately shoved aside in the commercial printing world for Friedrich Koenig’s cylinder press, which heralded the advent of mechanized printing machines that could push out previously unimagined copies of publications like newspapers.

At the opposite end of the productivity spectrum was the jobbing platen, a small, self-contained press used to print single sheets rather than books, magazines, and other publications that required folding and binding. Daniel Treadwell of Boston is generally credited with inventing the first powered platen, but in 1818, he built one that was driven by a foot treadle. Another Bostonian, Stephen Ruggles, made a small self inking press in 1839, and in 1851, he built a “card and billhead” press, which featured the characteristic vertical (rather than horizontal) bed of the platen jobber.

Ruggles gave his presses names like Engine and Diamond. A contemporary, George Phineas Gordon, made a card press whose fixed platen and hinged bed closed so quickly on each other, it was given the name Alligator. More successful was his 1856 improved Alligator, the design of which, Gordon claimed, came to him in a dream that featured Benjamin Franklin. Although he named it after the great Philadelphia patriot, the press was better known as the Gordon.

After World War II, letterpresses fell out of favor for lithographic printing presses. Although lithography had been around since the late 1700s, and was popularized 100 years later when chromolithography was all the rage, it wasn’t until the postwar period that lithography became competitive in price with letterpress techniques. This shift resulted in a flood of unwanted block type on the antiques market. Today, most block type, especially the larger wood pieces, are collected for their decorative appeal rather than their functionality.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Briar Press Museum

Briar Press Museum

Gutenberg would be jealous of this incredible collection of over 200 vintage letterpresses. Classified by type but … [read review or visit site]

Early Office Museum

Early Office Museum

This site showcases pre-1920 office antiques, including paperweights, writing ink, paper fasteners, seal pressers, … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Letterpress Wood Type Alphabet Letters:wooden Font Printing Blocks:charactersLetterpress Wood Type 1.25" Full Alphabet Letterpress Type - Wood Type 2 3/8"Letterpress Printing Adana Large Block Beehive Honey Bee Bee Keeping Nectar BeesNice Lot Vintage Letterpress Type Fancy Outline & More Vintage Primitive Wooden Letterpress Printers Watchmaker 10 Drawer Cabinet Letterpress Wood Type Zig Zag Border: Wooden Printing Block Alphabet CharacterLetterpress Type - 120 Pt. Huxley Vertical (rare In This Size)Antique Letterpress Wood Type Aprox 1 3/4 Inches TallMetal Printers Type Set Letters Upper Typeset Letterpress Printing Blocks FAntique Cast Iron Bookbinding Book Press Letterpress Great Working Condition6 - 30 Pt Star Ornaments, Letterpress Type, Metal [#151]Letterpress Type Decorative Brass Rule,6 Pt Printing Blocks,borders,decorationAntique Schniedewend & Lee Challenge Printing Press36pt Garamond, Letterpress Type, MetalLetterpress Wood Type Mixed Font Damaged Alphabet Letters:wooden Printing BlocksLetterpress Wood Type Alphabet Letters:wooden Font Printing Blocks:characters24pt, Alphablox, Border's & Corner's, Letterpress Type, MetalLetterpress Type - 30 Pt. Huxley Vertical12pt Liberty Script, Letterpress Type, MetalGreat Antique Printing Press Ink Spreader With Wood HandleLetterpress Type - 84 Pt. Huxley Vertical (miscellaneous Characters)31 Piece Letterpress Decorative Border Design14 - 36 Pt Ornament Stars, Letterpress Type, Metal [#155]12pt Alphablox, Border"s & Corner's, Letterpress Type, MetalLetterpress Wood Type $ Dollar Signs: Wooden Printing Block Alphabet CharacterKluge Automatic 10x15 Platen Letter Press DiecutterScreen Printing PressLetterpress: Mixed Sorts: Wood Type Alphabet Letters:wooden Font Printing Blocks24pt Pt ( 2 Color )border & Corners, Letterpress TypeOrnate Brackets, Letterpress Type, MetalLetterpress Huge 4" Wood Type Letter A: Wooden Printing Block Alphabet CharacterToko R2 Printing Press Offset 2 Colors Vintage Hamilton Letterpress Furniture Cabinet With Contents (3) Vintage Wooden Letterpress Type Tray Primitive Printers Box Drawers24pt Body Alphablox,border's & Corner's,letterpress Type Letterpress Type, MetalMetal Letterpress Type Set Letters Upper Lower Typeset Printers Printing Block K72pt &12pt Holly Ornament Borders, Letterpress Type, Metal [#04, 36]Metal Letterpress Type Set Letters Upper Typeset Printers Printing Block L48 Piece Letterpress Decorative Border DesignsBaltimore Printing Press Vintage Antique Business Card Letterpress Type Gill Shadow 30pt.caps/numbers/punctuation Metal Printing TypeAntique Letterpress Printing Wood Type Ampersand Graphic Design In FrameVintage Solid Metal Letter Press Type Set - Misc. Mathamatics Signs - 1960's12 Piece Letterpress Decorative Border DesignLetterpress Type - 36 Pt. Huxley Vertical (miscellaneous Characters)Letterpress Printing Printers Block, Printing Press, Type Drawers, TableLetterpress Printers Adana Spare Chase For Model 8 X 5 Eight Five All Variants!Letterpress Type - 18 Pt. Anglo (antique)Kingsley Type, Foil Stamping Press And Rolls Of Foil... LetterpressVintage Wooden Letterpress Type Tray Primitive Printers Box Drawer Prd80212pt Pt (2 Color) Border & Corners, Letterpress TypeLetterpress Type - 60 Pt. Huxley Vertical (miscellaneous Characters)Antique Letterpress Printing Metal Type Graphic Design Fancy Ornaments & Borders12 Pt Ornament Border, Architectural, Letterpress Type, Metal [#162]Letterpress - Old H.b. Rouse Brass Line GaugeLetterpress Giant Wood Type Letter I: Wooden Printing Block Alphabet Character2015 Bowman Oswaldo Arcia Magenta Printing Press Plate #40 1/1 1 Of 1 TwinsAdana Five Three 3x5 Letterpress Letter Press, No Reserve!Letterpress Wood Type French Clarendon 2 Inches Complete Typeface