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    

Shepard Fairey Laws Of Physics Letterpress Print Obey Giant Star Art AndreAmerican Specimen Book Of Type Styles 1912 Printing Letterpress Typography AtfShepard Fairey Print And Destroy Letterpress Print Obey Giant Think Create ArtLetterpress Wood Type Titling Font,wooden Printing Block Alphabet,letters.numberAntique Letterpress Wood Type Extra Fancy Borders Graphic Design In Wood Box16 Point Goudy Village Letterpress New Foundry Type -- Dale Guild TypefoundryLot Of 8 Assorted Sizes Of Challenge Hi-speed Quoins Lockup Letterpress W/wrench18 Point Arrighi Ornaments Letterpress New Foundry Type - Dale Guild Typefoundry18 Point Williamsburg Ornaments Letterpress New Foundry Type - Dale Guild Lot Of 7 Challenge Hi-speed Quoins -- 7.5" Lockup LetterpressLetterpress Wood 1/3 Print Tray 51 Blocks **full Alphabet + Set Of Numbers**Huge Lot Of 90 Linotype Matrix Brass Border Slides Letterpress Ornamentals RulesVintage Wood Block Printing Press Printers Block Font 2 1/2" Wooden Letters96 Point Empire Letterpress Vintage Foundry Type Lot 2 Atf 59760+ Pounds Clean Linotype Lead Scrap Reloading Sinkers Free Priority Shipping!Melvins 13 Cd Box Set Letterpress Limited36 Point Empire Font 4 Letterpress Vintage Foundry Type Hammond Trim-o-saw Glider Tool Board W/ All Tools! Trim O Saw Letterpress BladeVintage Letterpress Printer's Block, Daughters Of The American Revolution Emblem72 Point Empire Letterpress Vintage Foundry Type -- Atf 59718 Point Bradley Letterpress Vintage Foundry Type Typefounders Phoenix57 Pounds Scrap Lead Linotype Weights Solder Free Shipping Sinkers Bullets18pt Stymie, Letterpress Type, MetalLot Of 4 Assorted Sizes Of Challenge Hi-speed Quoins Lockup Letterpress84 Point Empire Letterpress Vintage Foundry Type -- Atf 597Wood Block Printing Press Printers Block Mixed Font 2 1/2"-2" Wooden LettersAntique Letterpress Printing Metal & Wood Type Graphic Design Ornament & BordersLetterpress Lead Type 36 Pt. Kabel Light M27Letterpress Wood Type Spade,heart,wooden Font Printing Block Alphabet,woodletterLetterpress Wood Type Lower Case Font,alphabet Letters,wooden Printing BlocksWood Block Printing Press Printers Block Mixed Font Wooden Letters-473 TotalPrimitive Cast Iron Miniature Baltimore Printing Press Must See!!Protectoseal F883a Stainless One Gallon Safety Storage Can Solvent LetterpressVintage Hopking 1884 18" Butcher Paper Roll Cutter Dispenser Letterpress 60+ Pounds Clean Linotype Lead Scrap Reloading Sinkers Free Priority Shipping!Letterpress Lead Type 36 Pt. Cheltenham Bold L63Letterpress Wood Type Star,pentagon,wooden Printing Block Alphabet,woodletterVintage Advertising Chuck E Cheese Printing Printers Letterpress BlockLetterpress Lead Type 24 Pt. Goudy Handtooled M12Letterpress Metal Type 18 Point Perpetual Calendar Set *new Old Stock*24 Point Comstock Letterpress Vintage Type60+ Pounds Clean Linotype Lead Scrap Reloading Sinkers Free Priority Shipping!Linotype Star Parts (trade Mark) Matrix Re-shaper Station Tool ReconditionerLetterpress Printer Block Wood Metal Type Copper Fingers Pointing Special OfferLinotype Oak Matrix Tray Letterpress TypeLetterpress Wood Type Exclamation Lot,wooden Printing Block Alphabet,woodletterLinotype Oak Matrix Tray Letterpress Type #2Kelsey 3x5 Letterpress - Totally RestoredCarpet Binding Machine 3" Folder Nc Carpet Wide Binder Sewing Machine Carpet Letterpress Lead Type 18 Pt Typo Script Atf # 399 & Extendended Atf #400 M5Bacher Ink Brayer Roller Letterpress Type Inking Woodcut PrintmakingLetterpress Lead Type 14 Pt Typo Script Atf # 399 M4Letterpress Lead Type 24 Pt. Kabel Light M25Antique Letterpress Printing Wood Type 4 Pieces Fractions 1/2 1/3 1/4 % SignLetterpress Wood Type Same Font,26 Alphabet Letters,wooden Printing Blocks12 Point Caxton Initials Letterpress New Foundry Type - Dale Guild - Goudy AtfLetterpress Lead Type 24 Pt. Goudy Bold Atf # 446 M17Vintage Hamilton No. 3045 Quarter Size Rule Case Letterpress #2Vintage Hamilton No. 3045 Quarter Size Rule Case Letterpress Lot Of 3 Printer's Ink Knives Spatula Knife Letterpress Printing Russell Lamson