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 Alphabet Letters Wood Type,wooden Fount Printing Block,fontLetterpress Printing Antique Wood Type Font Cap's & Lower Marked Tubbs 158 PieceAntique Excelsior Pat. 1873 Cast Iron Small Printing Press For Business CardsLetterpress Alphabet Wood Type Letters,wooden Font Printing Block,fountLetterpress Wood Type Mixed Fount Wooden Font Printing Blocks Alphabet,lettersAntique Letterpress Printing Metal Type Ornaments & Border Graphic Design In BoxAntique Letterpress Printing 124 Piece Wood Type Set 1.3" 8 Line- Antyke Lot 841944 Ball Recording Sextant Mark I Mod 0 U.s. Navy Buships Mergenthaler Linotype18 & 24 Pt Roman Gothic Expanded Letterpress Metal Type FontAntique Letterpress Printing 92 Piece Wood Type Set 2" 12 Line- Antyke Lot 83Printing Letterpress Metal Type Alphabet, Gothic Extra Condensed 60pt. AntiqueLetterpress Printing Antique Metal Type Font Cap's & #'s Huxley Vertical 30 PtLetterpress Metal Type 36pt. Peignot Medium Cap/lc/fig Complete Vintage FontLetterpress Lead Type 18 Pt. Typo Upright Atf # 404 T872 Color Letterpress 'laurel' Border From Bb&s Type Foundry In The Early 1900'sLetterpress Slim Font,wood Type Letters,wooden Fount Printing Blocks,woodletterEstate Lot Letterpress Foundry Printing Type 8 Lbs 18 & 24 Point Antyke Lot 68Vintage Letterpress 2" Wood Type Alphabet Numbers & PunctuationAntique Letterpress Printing Metal Type Ornaments & Border Graphic Design In Box2 Bicycles, Antique Letterpress Block Printing Copper On Wood Printing Letterpress Metal Type 24 Point Alphabet, Antique Printers BlocksLetterpress Font,wood Type Letter,wooden Printing Block,grotesque Alphabet FountLetterpress Printers Sorts Borders Numbers Cuts Blocks Ornaments DecorationsLetterpress Printing Antique Wood Copper & Metal Type Graphic Design Letter A24 Pt - Cairo Open - Used Font Of Letterpress TypeLetterpress Lead Type 72 Pt. Stymie Extrabold T67Stephen Curry 1/1 2009-10 National Treasures Rookie 5 Printing Press Plate Rc SpLetterpress Lead Type 72 Pt. Bodoni Bold T68Letterpress Lead Type 72 Pt. Cooper Black Caps, #'s B, B, & S - Atf # 1590 T79Letterpress Numbers/figures Wood Type,wooden Fount Printing Block,font,woodtype Rare The Revenant Old Photo Book Press Kit Leonardo Dicaprio Tom Hardy Movie Letterpress Metal Type 60pt. Peignot Bold Cap/lc/fig Complete Vintage FontLetterpress Metal Type 24pt. Century Old Style No.61 Caps/lc Vintage FontVintage Letterpress Print Blocks Lot BordersLetterpress Lead Type 72 Pt. Franklin Gothic Condensed T77Letterpress Type Ornaments-18 PointAntique Letterpress Printing Patented 1878 Golding Slug Cutter - Antyke Lot 71Letterpress Font,wood Type Letter,wooden Printing Block,german Alphabet FountVintage Excelsior Kelsey Co 5" X 8" Cast Iron Bench Top Printing Press 1800s UsaLetterpress Lead Type 18 Pt. Huxley Vertical Atf # 596 T86Letterpress Printing Wood Type Graphic Design Punctuation / Tray Hamilton HandleLetterpress Lead Type 72 Pt. Stymie Light T78Vintage Letterpress Printing Block Metal & Wood Ex Libris Shelf Books Name SpaceAntique Letterpress Printing Wood & Metal Type Graphic Design Mix Fonts Numbers2 Fonts Letterpress Type, Outline Gothic #40j, 24 Pt & 36 PtType High Gauge (.918) - LetterpressAntique Letterpress Printing Soild Wood Type Tray Full Of BrassLetterpress Fount,wood Type Letter,wooden Printing Block,german Alphabet FontLetterpress Printing Antique Wood Copper & Metal Type Graphic Design Letter D30 Lbs. Linotype Lead / Scrap T4112pt Decorative Border And 4 Corners, Letterpress Type, Metal Printing Letterpress Printers Block, Private Mailing Card, Printers CutLetterpress Metal Type 18pt. Bernhard Gothic Medium Cap/lc/fig Complete FontPrinting Letterpress Antique Mixed Lot Megill Gauge Pins With BoxLetterpress Printing Vintage Wood Type Punctuation 4 Pieces Outlined - ! . ;8 Antique Letterpress Printing Solid Metal Cuts Ornamental Border DesignsVintage Wooden Letterpress Printers Blocks, 5 Pairs Flourish Ornaments,18pt Swing Bold, Letterpress Type, Metal Vintage Letterpress Print Block Copper Plate Wood Animal Gargoyle Gothic TowerLetterpress Slim Fount,wood Type Letters,wooden Fount Printing Blocks,woodletter