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    

4 Letterpress Printing Antique Solid Wood Type Matching Decorative Border 4 InchPrinting Letterpress Wood Type, Hamilton Alphabet 1891 Caps, Antique 1 X 1 InchLetterpress Lead Metal Type.18 Point Typo Roman...huge 32a-77a...complete Font. Letterpress Type - 60 Pt. Versatile Initiials/complete8 Letterpress Printing Antique Solid Wood Type Matching Decorative Border 1 Inch6 Color Atlas Screen Printing PressLetterpress Printing Antique Solid Wood Type Word And Fancy Rare 1 1/2 In SquareAntique 1885 Baltimore No. 11 Dorman Mechanical Printing Press Cast-iron SmallLarge 36 Pc.vintage Letterpress Wood Type Alphabet A-z And 0-9 Nice Old Type!!Letterpress Metal Type 48 Pt Franklin Gothic Extra Condensed. CapitalsC.1880s Type Foundry Printing Press Typeface Cut Catalog Antique PhiladelphiaLetterpress Lead Metal Type.72 Point Franklin GothicLetterpress Printing Antique Wood Type Letter Number 4 Extra Large Great PatinaOld/vintage Wood Typeset Printing Block Letter Press Shadow Box Drawer Tray2 Letterpress Printing Antique Solid Wood Type Matching Ornate Border 4 1/2 InchLetterpress Printing Antique Solid Wood Type Cloverleaf Rare 3/4 In SquareLetterpress Printing Metal Type Large Font Cap's Lower Case & #'s Includes TraysLetterpress Lead Type Unknown Typeface Ornate Initials Square Block1912 American Type Founders Specimen Catalog (very Poor Condition) Letterpress Metal Dingbat's ,ornaments, 1 Box, LetterpressRiley Hopkins 4x1 Screen Printing Press, Exposure Unit, Flash Dryer, ChemicalsAntique Wood Type Letterpress 5" Ampersand Awesome Old Symbol!!Miniature Wood Printing Press, Collectors, Display,letterpress True Vtg Vintage Grunge Rocker Soft & Thin T Shirt Tee Blue Small Typesetting!Letterpress Metal Type 30 Pt DevinneLetterpress Metal Type 24p Helvetica Full Font--lower Case Letters +punctuation Letterpress Metal Type 24pt 20th Century Medium. Full Font Upper/lower #'s Punc'Printing Letterpress Printers Block, Lighthouse On A Cliff, Printers Cut5 Letterpress Printing Antique Wood Type Letter W All Different Fonts & SizesLetterpress Metal Type 24p Typo Upright. Full Font. Uc-lc-numerals-punctuation.Obey Giant Shepard Fairey Chinese Banner Letterpress PrintLetterpress Printing Block, Winter Trees, Fir Trees Along Country Road, BirdsPrinting Letterpress Printers Block, Butcher's Beef Chart, Printers Cut82 Antique Wood Letterpress Numbers Letters Blocks 2" - 3" Avg.Printing Letterpress Wood Type, Ampersand Sign, Antique Printers Cut12 Letterpress Printing Antique Solid Metal Type Small Matching Ornate BordersPrinting Letterpress Metal Type Alphabet, 24 Pt. Alternate Gothic No.1, AntiqueLetterpress Metal Type 48-pt. 20th Century Ultrabold CondensedLetterpress Metal Type 36pt. Bold Latin Cap/fig Font Vintage Letterpress TypePrinting Letterpress Printers Block, Greek God Zeus, Printers CutPrinting Letterpress Printers Block, Small Detailed Tree, Printers CutPrinting Letterpress Wood Type, Question Mark, Antique Printers CutPrinting Letterpress Printers Block, Stork Delivering Baby , Printers CutO Scale On3 On30 Brass Steps Narrow Wood Style Passenger Car Psc 1186 O.p.Omega Steve Yzerman Printing Press Plate 1/1 Abstract Radial Root Letterpress Printing BlockLetterpress Metal Type Atf " Park Avenue #577" 14 PointLetterpress Wood TypeLetterpress Metal Type 72pt. 20th Century Bold Cap/fig Font Vintage Letterpress Letterpress Metal Type 24-pt. Lydian Bold Italic, Atf #674, CompleteLetterpress Metal Type 36pt 20th Century Medium. Capitals, Figures & PunctuationLetterpress Metal Type 30pt 20th Century Medium. Capitals, Figures & PunctuationLetterpress Printing Block, Words Fun For All ! In Decorative Frame, Type CutRare Satan Devil Ww Ii Era Printer's Block Engraving Letterpress Maurice Joyce?Printing Letterpress Printers Block, Ex Lbris Printer At Work, Printers CutBabe Ruth 2016 Topps Gypsy Queen Mini Printing Press Plate True 1/110 Vintage Lead Cut Solid Metal Letterpress Printers Blocks, Images, StampingKingsley Machine Co. M-60 Dual Line Hot Foil Stamping Printing Press Vintage Letterpress Metal Type 36pt Garamond Bold Full Font, Uc,lc, #'s, PunctuationJuno & Select Type Specimen Book - 1930 - Amsterdam Type Foundry - Typography