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    

Antique Letterpress Table Top Printing Press Chicago No. 10 Sigwalt Baltimore Printing Letterpress Wood Type, Unmarked Wood Alphabet, Antique38 Vintage Letterpress Metal Type Printer's Blocks Initials, Lot 3Letterpress Hamilton Wood Type SetPrinting Machinery Materials Harold & Sons Fleet Type Specimen Book Letterpress12pt Typewriter, Letterpress Type, Metal 40 Vintage Letterpress Metal Type Printer's Blocks Initials, Lot 2Letterpress Font - Tudor Black No. 2 - 20 Point - 432 Characters19 Vintage Letterpress Metal Type Printer's Blocks Initials, Lot 118 Vintage Letterpress Metal Type Printer's Blocks Initials, Lot 4Printing Letterpress Wood Type, Double Sided Letter E Solid Wood, AntiqueVintage 36 Pt. Font Of Missal Initials For Letterpress Printing30pt Century Schoolbook , Letterpress Type, Metal 25 Lbs. Letterpress Lead Scrap / Mostly Type C278 Lbs Linotype Lead 8# Sinkers Bullets Reload Scrap Printers Letterpress14 Lbs Linotype Lead Sinkers Bullets Melting Smelting 14 PoundsLetterpress Wood Type Wh Page Die Cut SetPrinting Letterpress Wood Type, Decorative Letter T Collage, AntiqueLetterpress Vintage Printers Tray Wood Arts Crafts Boxes Antique Printing Press Baltimorean No 5 Origanal Paint Not CleanedVintage Lot Of 69 Letterpress Metal Printer's Blocks Border Lot 2Printing Letterpress Printers Block, Harley Davison Motorcycle, Printers CutLetterpress Wood Type 1 5/16" Alphabet 94pcs **very Rare Decorative Typeface**Antique Cast Iron Calling Card Printing Press - With TypeLetterpress Metal Type Atf " Bernhard Light #528" 18 PointAntique Printing Press Small Business Card Size 9 1/2" Cast Iron19+ Lbs Clean Linotype Lead! Spacer Scrap! Bullets! Casting Letterpress PrintersVintage Pewter Figurine Quite Detailed! Inventor Printing Press GutenbergBo Jackson 2006 Greats Of The Game Printing Press Plate Yellow 1/1 Royals Rare!!Letterpress Wood Type 2" Alphabet 65pcs **delittle Richmond Old Style Typeface**Agriculture & Farming – Small Letterpress Type Cut Printer Blocks - #agLetterpress Metal Type - Runic 30pt - Mostly Unused Full Font - Caps, Lc, FigsVintage 24 Pt. Font Of Missal Initials For Letterpress PrintingPrinting Letterpress Wood Type, Decorative Letter D Collage, AntiqueVintage Letterpress Printing Block Horse Copper RareIsaly's Dairy Co. Antique Copper Typesetting Printing Printers Block Art Deco Misc. Letterpress Wood Type A13Letterpress Wood 3 5/16" Ampersand Block **fabulous Colour & Italic Typeface**Typo Upright 16 Pt Metal Letterpress Type24pt Coronet , Letterpress Type, Metal Printing Letterpress Wood Type, Letter M Solid Wood, AntiqueLetterpress Wood 1 5/16" Ampersand Block **fabulous Rare Designed Typeface**Antique Letterpress Printing Brass Type Gauge Ruler Turtles Gauges 6 & 12 Pt Vintage H B Rouse & Co 12" Composing Stick Letterpress Printing AccessoryAssorted Linotype Ornaments—letterpress—over 10 PoundsVtg Letterpress Metal Type Printers Blocks - Five Star LotPrinting Letterpress Printers Block, Type Pendant Letter S For Necklace, AntiqueLetterpress Printing: Big Lot Of Kelsey Co. Publications [l635]Rare Victor - Victrola Nipper Logo Linotype Newspaper Print Block Circa 1920’s. Whittington Press - Matrix 9 - Deluxe Limited Edition In Slipcase - LetterpressLetterpress Metal Type " Onyx" 36 Point40 Vintage Letterpress Wood Printers Blocks Letters 1 1/2" Newspaper35 Vintage Letterpress Wood Printers Blocks Letters 2'' NewspaperPrinting Letterpress Wood Type, Double Sided Letter L Solid Wood, AntiquePrinting Letterpress Printers Block, Decorative Cat In A Chair, Printers CutPrinting Letterpress Printers Block, Type Pendant Letter R For Necklace, AntiquePrinting Letterpress Printers Block, Decorative Heart Border, Printers CutMisc. Letterpress Unused Lead Type & Spacers A13-aSergei Fedorov 2001 Pacific Ice Printing Press Plate 1/1!!Whittington Press - Matrix 21 - Deluxe Limited Edition In Slipcase - Letterpress