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 Hamilton Wood Furniture & Cabinet ( Full ) W22152pc Set Old Letterpress Printers Wood Type French Clarendon Upper Lower CaseVintage Tubbs & Co. 2" Wood Letterpress Type Full Alphabet Set W/ #'s-- 137pcsSmall Antique / Vintage Rail Printing Press - Baltimorean ? Chicago ?134pc Set Old Letterpress Printers Wood Type Complete Upper Case Sans Serif Font40 Lbs Of Lead Printer Foundry Type Casting Reload Harder Than Linotype LudlowAntique Salesman Sample Miniature Cast Iron Small Printing Letter Press SigwaltKelsey Letterpress 5x8 W/ Rollers, Chase And Much More No Reserve Press ExcelsorKelsey 3x5 Letterpress Printing PressBoston Type Foundry Specimen Book Catalog 1876 John K Rogers AgentLetterpress Lead Type 36 Pt. Stymie Bold W2342 Various Metal Letterpress Type Dingbats Wingdings Characters BookbindingLetterpress Lead Type 14 Pt. Packard Atf # 348 W202 Color Ab Dick Printing PressMixed Font Alphabet A-z - Letterpress Wood Type, Printing, Fonts, Wood BlockVintage 48pt Fancy Ornate Victorian Letterpress Type Initials Full A-zAntique Letterpress Wood Type Graphic Design Mix Letters All Lower Case In FrameTom Brady 1/1 $600+ Patriots 2008 Topps Chrome Framed Black Printing Press PlateAntique 5" 4" Lot Wood Letterpress Printer Print Press Graphic Art Block Letter Metal Letterpress Vintage Print Type Fancy Caps 25 Pcs.Letterpress Wood & Clear Acrylic 5/8" Alphabet 209pcs *rare Old Small Alphabet**Kelsey Excelsior Mercury 8x5 Platen Letterpress Emboss & Press Manual Perfect!We R Memory Keepers Evolution Advanced Machine Emboss Die-cutting LetterpressAssorted Damaged Letters - Letterpress Wood Type, Printing, Fonts, Wood Block2 Hamilton Letterpress Printer Drawers Type Cases 32x16" Industrial AntiquesObey Chinese Letterpress Shepard Fairey Sold Out Not Banksy, Brainwash, FaileHamada 665cd Printing PressLetterpress Wooden Furniture, Complete With CabinetLetterpress Type Cabinet And Type Letters Fonts3 Hamilton Letterpress Printer Drawers Type Cases 32x16" Industrial Antiques2005-06 Ace Authentic Yellow Printing Press Plate Roger Federer (1/1) RareGeno Smith 2013 Topps Strata Rc Rookie Jets Printing Press Plate Sp 1/1 $250Antique 1874 J.w Daughaday & Co. Pa Self Inking Model 1 Card LetterpressVintage Sigma Chi Fraternity Pin Emblem Letterpress Printers Block Stamp OldHamilton Letterpress Printer Drawer Type Case Industrial Antiques 17x22 No ReserLetterpress Wood 13/16" Alphabet 94pcs **rare Old Hand Carved Alphabet**Huge Lot - Vintage Letterpress Metal Type Plate - Letters, Numbers, PunctuationLetterpress Lead Type 10 Pt. Wedding Text Atf # 414 W24Letterpress Type 18 Pt. Bank Gothic Medium Atf # 533 Caps, #'s, Punct. W27Selection Of Antique Printing Press Letter Blocks LetterpressLetterpress Type 18 Pt. Bank Gothic Bold Atf # 534 Caps, #'s, Punct. W26Yasiel Puig 2013 Leaf Rc Rookie Dodgers Yellow Printing Press Plate Sp 1/1 $500Vintage Hamilton Wood Printers Typeset Letterpress Drawer Case Tray, Shadow Box36 Pt. Diamond Combination Monograms Letterpress Type18 Pt. Atf Spartan Meduim #680 Metal Letterpress Type - Kelsey C&p Lower Case Antique Letterpress Printing Wood & Brass Galley Tray Small 8 X 5 1/2 InchLinotype Lead 12 Lbs (12+ Pounds) Casting Metal For Sinkers, Bullets, Reloading4 Wood Letterpress Printer Blocks Type Flourish Border Ornamental. 2.5" & 2"9 Wood Letterpress Type Printer Blocks Accent Flourish Border Ornamental, 1-3"Howard Hot Foil Stamper Letterpress TypeBond Carpet Binder & Supplies Binding Machine5 Vintage Mergenthaler Linotype Books - Estate Found - Very Good ConditionLetterpress Gothic Wood Type, 1 5/16", 115 PiecesAntique Letterpress Type Graphic Design Initial X Wood Copper & Metal Type 38 PcAntique Letterpress Wood Type Large Letter E Measures 10 Inch Tall X 3 Inch WideSanta's Christmas Punch-out Book, Press Out, Tree Ornaments, Manger Scene, 1968Hamilton Letterpress Printer Drawer Type Case Industrial Antiques 18x26 No ReserVintage Letterpress Wood Printing Blocks, Mixed Fonts ~ Numbers 0-9, 3" TallAssorted Mixed Figures 1-0 - Letterpress Wood Type, Printing, Fonts, Wood BlockSingle Bold Ampersand & - Letterpress Wood Type, Printing, Fonts, Wood Block