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    

Font/caps/lower/figures - Letterpress Wood Type, Printing, Fonts, Wood Block Kelsey Model N 3x5 Platen Letterpress Printing Press Ready To Print No Reserve!!Kelsey Mercury 8x5 Platen Press Letterpress Ready To Print Perfect No Reserve! Antique Vintage Letterpress Wood Type Blocks Printers Letters Lot ~ 30pcs Font: Letterpress Wood Printing Block,wooden Type,alphabet,letterform,letterPilcro And The Letterpress Green Pebbled Leather Handbag18pt. Congress - Metal Letterpress Type - Rare! - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&pMixed Font Alphabet A-z - Letterpress Wood Type, Printing, Fonts, Wood Block Font: Letterpress Wood Printing Block,wooden Type,alphabet,letterform,letter35+ Lbs. Letterpress Type / Lead ScrapAntique Oak Letterpress Shadow Box Cabinet Case Geo. Damon And Sons NycLetterpress Printing Block, Printer Working W Printing Press24 Letterpress Printing Antique Solid Brass Tag Holders For Type Drawers3 Boxes Font Press Lead Script Type Printing Letterpress Figures & BorderLetterpress Printing Antique Hamilton Spacing Material Wood Type Drawer Large9 Vintage Rouse Letterpress Printing Pica Sticktypesetting Composing Sticks18pt. Gallia - Metal Letterpress Type - Huge Set - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&pAntique Vintage Letterpress Wood Type Punctuation Lot In A Print Drawer 100pcs Letterpress Metal Type "borders, Designs, Images"14pt. Gallia - Metal Letterpress Type - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&p, KelseyVintage Letterpress Wood TypeSpeedball Model A Antique Block Printing Book PressLetterpress Metal Type Atf "lydian #666" 18 PointLetterpress Entire Drawer Large Lead Type - Large Number Of PiecesVintage Letterpress Wood Type4 Letterpress Printer Block Wood Type Ambigram 2 Sided Face Double10 Letterpress Antique Wood Type Shadow Matching Numbers 1 3/4 In Tall 0 To 9Kluge Letterpress With Foil Stamping AttachmentLetterpress Printing Block, Octopus Marine AnimalTwo Vintage Cast Iron "joyce & Co" Letterpress Case Drawer HandlesLetterpress - Challenge Type-high GaugeVintage H. B. Rouse Letterpress Printing 12"/60 Pica Typesetting Composing Stick18pt. Broadway - Metal Letterpress Type - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&p, KelseyLetterpress Printer Block Wood Type Border Frame Brass? Copper 4.5" X 2 1/8" Id3 Boxes Font Press Lead Type Gothic American Printing Letterpress Caps FiguresLetterpress Printing Antique Solid Metal Type Border 8 Matching Pieces FloralLetterpress Printing Block, Ornate Leaf & Flower BorderMissouri-central Type Foundry Specimen Book 1951-1952Letterpress Printing Block, Excelsior Printing Press Demonstrated By PrinterLetterpress Wood Type "gothic Condensed" 2 Inch 222pcsLetterpress Metal Type "news Gothic Extra Condensed" 24 PointLetterpress Type - 24 Pt. KabelLetterpress Antique Type Graphic Design Initial R Wood Copper Metal Has 55 R 'sLot Letterpress Lead Foundry Type Wood Furniture Reglets Assortment Small Press18pt. Skeleton Gothic - Metal Letterpress Type - Rare! -vandercook, HeidelbergLetterpress Printing Blocks, 2 Gorgeous Tall Daisy Flowers, DaisiesNew Anthropologie Silk Clutch Coin Purse Pilcro And The Letterpress Side TiedLetterpress Printing Block, Exquisite Lily Pad FrameLetterpress Printing Block, Two Mermaids W Entwined Tails & Flowing Hair62 Vintage Letterpress Ornamental Printing Press Stamps Lead18 Pt Bodoni Condensed Metal Letterpress Type Font Upper CaseVintage Letterpress Printing All Wood Slant Shelves Case Drawer 7 X 11 InchAntique Letterpress Printers All Wood Type Tray With Kramer HandleLetterpress Printing Block, Large, Bookplate W Owneth This Book ScriptAntique/vintage German Wood Type Music Box With Dome10 Old Letterpress Metal On Wood Printers Blocks ~ Tools2 Letterpress Printer Block Wood Type Chicago Police Crest Police Man Law BadgeAntique 1912 Copper On Wood Letterpress Printers Block Large Farm Horse NeatIndian Letterpress Printing Cuts Of Indians4 Letterpress Printer Block Wood Type Motorcycle Harley Enduro Dirt Bike Cruser