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,letter18pt. Congress - Metal Letterpress Type - Rare! - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&pPilcro And The Letterpress Green Pebbled Leather HandbagMixed 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 ScrapLetterpress Vintage Printers Type Case/printers Tray/printers DrawerAnthropologie (pilcro & The Letter Press) Top Xs18pt. Gallia - Metal Letterpress Type - Huge Set - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&p14pt. Gallia - Metal Letterpress Type - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&p, KelseyAntique Vintage Letterpress Wood Type Punctuation Lot In A Print Drawer 100pcs Letterpress Printing Block, Printer Working W Printing PressLetterpress Printing Antique Hamilton Spacing Material Wood Type Drawer Large3 Boxes Font Press Lead Script Type Printing Letterpress Figures & BorderLetterpress Vintage Printers Type Case/printers Tray/printers Drawer9 Vintage Rouse Letterpress Printing Pica Sticktypesetting Composing SticksLetterpress Metal Type Atf "lydian #666" 18 Point1.45" - 101 Pcs - Ultra Condensed Letterpress Wood, Alphabet Printing Blocks!!!Letterpress Metal Type "borders, Designs, Images"Two Vintage Cast Iron "joyce & Co" Letterpress Case Drawer HandlesVintage Letterpress Wood TypeLetterpress Entire Drawer Large Lead Type - Large Number Of Pieces18pt. Skeleton Gothic - Metal Letterpress Type - Rare! -vandercook, HeidelbergLetterpress Printing Block, Ornate Leaf & Flower BorderKelsey Mercury Model 6x10 Excelsior Letterpress Printing Press18pt. Broadway - Metal Letterpress Type - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&p, KelseyVintage Letterpress Wood TypeSpeedball Model A Antique Block Printing Book PressLetterpress Printing Block, Octopus Marine Animal10 Letterpress Antique Wood Type Shadow Matching Numbers 1 3/4 In Tall 0 To 9Kluge Letterpress With Foil Stamping AttachmentLetterpress Type & Cuts Graphic Design Theme Money Banking Dollars Large 75 + PcLetterpress Metal Type "news Gothic Extra Condensed" 24 PointLetterpress - Challenge Type-high Gauge41 Letterpress Alphabet Wood Letters Wooden Printing Type Numbers Vintage Letterpress Printing Block, Large, Bookplate W Owneth This Book ScriptLetterpress Printing Blocks, 2 Gorgeous Tall Daisy Flowers, DaisiesMissouri-central Type Foundry Specimen Book 1951-1952Vintage H. B. Rouse Letterpress Printing 12"/60 Pica Typesetting Composing StickLot Letterpress Lead Foundry Type Wood Furniture Reglets Assortment Small PressLetterpress Printer Block Wood Type Border Frame Brass? Copper 4.5" X 2 1/8" IdLetterpress Printing Block, Excelsior Printing Press Demonstrated By PrinterLetterpress Printing Adana Dozen 24pt Caslon Angle Quads For Typesetting 45 Deg.14pt. Broadway - Metal Letterpress Type - Vandercook, Heidelberg, C&p, KelseyLetterpress Printing Block, Exquisite Lily Pad FrameLetterpress Wood Type "gothic Condensed" 2 Inch 222pcsLetterpress Antique Type Graphic Design Initial R Wood Copper Metal Has 55 R 'sLetterpress Type - 24 Pt. Kabel62 Vintage Letterpress Ornamental Printing Press Stamps LeadLetterpress Kelsey 3x5 Chases (2)12pt. Law Italics - Metal Letterpress Type - Rare! -vandercook, Heidelberg, C&pAntique Letterpress Printers All Wood Type Tray With Kramer HandlePrinters Metal Type Letterpress Century Schoolbook, Garamond, Bernhard Gothic250+ Pc. 36 Pt Cheltenham Bold Letterpress Printer Lead Metal Type Full A-zNew Anthropologie Silk Clutch Coin Purse Pilcro And The Letterpress Side TiedPrinting Letterpress Block, Manual Typewriter