How many of you own metal types?

David Rault's picture

I was wondering, how many of you own metal types? Why do you still have them (apart from using them, if you also own a traditional printing machine)? Where did you get them? Which types are they?...


rjohnston's picture

I bought a set of metal type and an old hand press at Ludlow market (Shropshire, England) for £50 about 4 years ago. Unfortunately the press turned out to be missing parts and I never got round to fixing it, so I've never used it. It came with a big set of Caslon and some Copperplate. I can post photos if anyone's interested ...


Quincunx's picture

I don't have metal type, but I do own several wood types.

David Rault's picture

rjohnston: yes, please upload some pics, that's be nice.

What i mean is, we all use several typefaces everyday, but how many of us could have the luck to see the real thing? I do own a 24pts complete set of Mistral, and its something strange and beautiful to see a typeface as something real, nowadays.

I also have some letters from a Baskerville set, 14pts, and about a hundred capitals of Futura bold, 24pts. I'd love to put my hands on some Helvetica and Garamond.


writingdesigning's picture

"...see the real thing?"

Isn't that a slightly emotional response David?

Why should type be any less real in another application.... a printed page, photo-composed film, or if you'd like to respond to it as an object, the 3D letters on a beautifully crafted sign?

I'm not denying a certain magic when you hold metal-type, feeling its weight in your hands, playing around with its surfaces etc. I'm just wondering if its not emotional rather than 'real'.

Quincunx's picture

Well, I think you can call it 'real' in the sense that a lot of the classic fonts we still use today were once designed for / made in metal type.

pattyfab's picture

I have a few - but not for use. I have a beautiful set of my last name (alas the F has recently gone missing) a friend bought me in Paris - kind of a "better" Futura Condensed, and another set of a script that I got at a flea market.

writingdesigning's picture

"Well, I think you can call it ’real’ in the sense that a lot of the classic fonts we still use today were once designed for / made in metal type."

I'd think so if it were the actual punches. Where you'd have an almost direct contact with the designer's work.

...oops I'm going off topic. Sorry.

David Rault's picture

Well sorry but for me, a metal type IS the real thing, as well as the drafts and drawings from the typographer. I once saw the original drawings of Gill Sans, and It was unforgettable - I felt that I was in front of Gill Sans for the first time. I do respect today's typographers work which is sometimes entirely virtual, of course, but I am very much attached to the feeling, the touch, the smell.

I've been designing websites for 6 years, making litterally hundreds, and one day I woke up and I realized that all I did was putting virtual 0s and 1s in the correct order, that when the computer power is turned off, there is nothing left from all these years of hard working. Digital is great, but I feel like we lost something on the way.

I'm wondering, how many of you fine typographers would feel really happy to hold in their hands a complete metal set of your latest digital type in 24 pts?

So, yes, my answer is emotional, and I do believe that emotions play a great deal in what you love to do as a craft.


Nick Shinn's picture

I inherited a small hand press and some metal type (Gill Sans Regular and Bold, Times Roman, Bodoni Ultra, and Palace Script--also some lovely ornaments) from my grandfather when I was 17, and I worked with them for a few years before passing them on.

While I preferred working subsequently with phototype and now digital type, I still enjoy letterpress type--but as a bibliophile.

writingdesigning's picture

"So, yes, my answer is emotional, and I do believe that emotions play a great deal in what you love to do as a craft."

Well said! There's no arguing with those sentiments.

In spite of never having the great good fortune seeing anything as inspirational as the original drawings of Gill Sans (where do they sit?) I can identify with most of what you say.

My only reason for intervening was because I felt we sometimes tend to be rather backward-looking when it comes to these things. Not being a web designer, I still do not really miss the tactile element in my work, but I agree with you that an earlier era of printing/typography offered kinds of satisfaction that were qualitatively different (not necessarily better) from what we get today.

You'll surely agree that typography like any craft can retain it's robustness only if it redefines itself continually. And in that sense to call metal-type the real thing is to somewhat discount all the work that has happened post-letterpress.... the works of a Frutiger, or a Spekermann can't be any less the real thing just because the dominant reproduction process of our time is not letterpress

Again, as I said, I'm not arguing with what you say. Just another, not even very original, point of view :)

ebensorkin's picture

I had the great good fortune to make type with Jim Rimmer pantograph, molten lead & all.


The type from that exercise is all that I have.

As to realness, it's all destined to go away eventually. Some will take longer than others but in time it will all go.

vanina's picture

My mom was a copyeditor, so when I was a kid she'd take me to the press with her. One of the typesetters used to press my initial into my forehead. "See! Your letter's on your forehead now!" Little did he know where all that would lead me.

Sure wish I had those types, but I have a 10-pt lowercase "a" from the letterpress at school. I hope Tiffany doesn't read this.

loremipsum's picture

"Digital is great, but I feel like we lost something on the way."
David, I understand that blues about electronica killing heavy metal :-)

tamye's picture

I rescue metal type from Ebay when I can afford it... some people price it pretty outrageously per piece, aiming at the trinket market. My best rescue is a bunch of gorgeous big Egyptian metal type which was going to be melted down. I bought all the guy had, as I couldn't bear to think of it going away. I don't have a press of my own... maybe someday.

Vanina, what's with the stab at TIffany?

Miss Tiffany's picture

:^D Ah she is talking about BYU. Vanina I don't work for BYU anymore. You have no need to apologize to me. ;^)

Ehague's picture

When I was up at the printing museum in North Andover, the curator, Gardner Lepoer, told me that the museum was in the process of unloading more than a ton of lead type in response to a spike in the lead market.

crossgrove's picture

"I’m wondering, how many of you fine typographers would feel really happy to hold in their hands a complete metal set of your latest digital type in 24 pts?"

Well, I'm not what you would call a fine typographer. Will Powers, Kent Lew yes. I'm a type designer, hoping to be good at that. Middling typographer (very old-fashioned).

I have been fascinated with the idea of hand-cutting punches for a typeface and having it produced. It certainly isn't a practical idea, as it would take so much time and effort, but I appreciate the tactile attraction of the materials. I remember the way I felt when I first got a proof of my type off a laser printer (electric!), and I imagine I'd feel the same seeing my types chugging out of a Monotype caster.

Part of my fascination is seeing the 3 types that Rudolf Koch cut by hand for machine production; they really have something marvelous in them; there's something ineffable when type is cut at the same size it's cast. Each size has to be different, so they are more like versions; interpretations, like with Caslon.

I own a small press but it needs a part, and I have zero metal type. No room for that yet.

blank's picture

Sure wish I had those types, but I have a 10-pt lowercase “a” from the letterpress at school.

I had a teacher who loved letterpress, but had to stop teaching it because so many people stole one letter, and eventually the school didn’t have a full set of anything above 12 points.

Do what people who steal from the Petrified Forest do—mail it back.

Reed Reibstein's picture

I'm lucky enough to have access to the Pierson/Davenport Book Arts Center at Yale. I just finished my apprentice course there, but we have (literally) tons of metal type, with a whole new stash just arrived from another (maybe defunct) press. I was truly in awe the first time I saw it. I haven't had a chance to explore the "Type Library" room much -- yet -- but I did get to use some terrific Palatino Swash, which I'd never seen before.

I myself only have three letters of Packard that I rescued from being thrown out when someone pied a bunch of type. Pied, for anyone who hasn't spent time in a print shop (like me until three months ago), means that the type was jumbled; the printer decided it wasn't worth resorting it all.

If anyone's in New Haven in the future, I do recommend seeing if you can stop in for a bit -- we have seven presses, if I remember correctly, platen, hand, and Vandercook. It's really an ideal stomping ground for someone into this stuff.

Linda Cunningham's picture

I've got a small collection of metal type -- my name from a very old Linotype machine that my uncle had, set in Times (I think -- I haven't dug it out for awhile); a line of type of my name and the date from when I did the tour of the GPO in DC; some bits from a set of type I bought at a garage sale in NYC (also packed away in some box), and the five printer's ornaments I got from Jim Rimmer when I was out at the Wayzgoose.

If I could find a Kelsey in good shape and not outrageously priced, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

bieler's picture

David R.

I still have about a ton of metal foundry type. This is downsized to about 1/8th of what I once had. It's romantic as hell. So what?

Type is type. Good type is good type. Bad type is bad type. Doesn't matter if it is metal, film, or digital.

I print letterpress but now only with digital type.


The Bieler Press

David Rault's picture


From what I've read so far, it still seems some of us are feeling kinda nostalgic when thinking about this era, when you could touch type. I used to give typo lessons, and I remember how it felt to leave my house in the morning with types in my pocket. I mean, to most of the young typographers today, this sentence is surreal: "types in my pocket". Take a look at the limited edition Helvetica DVD: the most precious artefact in there, wrapped in a beautiful bag, just like diamonds in a james bond movie, is ONE letter from some Helvetica set... It became a luxurious curiosity.

Though, again, I want to make sure I'm not misunderstood: I love, admire and respect the latest typographer's job. I have no doubt that Erik Spiekermann and Adrian Frutiger also did the "real thing". I j ust... Well, you get my point.

I'd love to get some letters from the greatest types, I'm wandering around ebay or flea markets from time to time until I get the chance to do so at an affordable price. I'd be proud to own a little bit of Bodoni, Helvetica, Akzidenz, Baskerville...

Writingdesigning: you can see some of Gill Sans' original sketches at St Bride Printing Library, in London (yes in England - what a surprise)... If you have the opportunity, don't miss it.


Quincunx's picture

I do have a couple of loose characters lying around, but that's not really interesting to be honest. I do like whole cases with type though. At my school the letterpress workshop has quite a lot of cases of metal type; different faces in different sizes.

- Akzidenz Grotesk (Mager/Normaal/Smal/Breed in 6--48 pts.)
- Nobel Regular/Light (10 pts.)
- Grotesque called 'Annonce' (Bold, 12--60 pts.)
- Bodoni (Normal/Italic/Bold 10--36 pts.)
- A Garamond (it looks a bit like the one ITC based its garamond on, sort of ugly) (Roman/Italic/Semibold 6--36 pts. There are also swash initials and caps present for most sizes.)
- Helvetica (Light/Normal/Semibold/Cursive) Helvetica Extended (Light/Normal/Semibold in about 7--72 pts.)
- Volta (Regular/Semibold/Bold/ 10--36 pts.)
- A didot-like face called Arsis (20--48 pts.)
- a wide serif called Promotor (16--36pts.)
- Something that resembles (or is) Mistral (not much sizes),
- Gill Sans Bold or Black unfortunately only in 36pts.

Some intermediate pointsizes (in between like 10--36) might not be there, I'm not sure exactly.

Also Helvetica in wood in different sizes, measured in augustijn (or cicero), from relatively small to huge. Both Normal and Condensed. And one or two more woodtypes of which I don't know the name.

Steve Tiano's picture

David, thanks for starting this thread. Got me to thinking about some long-forgotten typesetting “experience” I have. But first, to answer your question, sadly, I have no metal types.

Back in the late 1960s, as a high school freshman, in New York, I had to take a sampling of “shop” classes, once of which was printing. For one-quarter of the school year we set real, metal type and printed stuff. Although I remember the awful wooden footstool I made in the quarter-semester woodshop (I later chose tech electronics as the shop class for the three years that followed), for the life of me I haven’t a clue to anything specific we printed.

I wish to God I’d appreciated it more—or, in fact, that I had chosen printing instead of electronics, which, it turned out, I really wasn’t interested in. Truth is, at the time, my plan was to be a novelist. So printing might have somehow made more sense and gotten me where I wound up a lot sooner.

will powers's picture

I've got a lot of California job cases full of Monotype and foundry type in a cold Minnesota garage. Anybody want it? Come see it and make me an offer. Mice love the little sections of the job case; they nestle into little nests there and soon the case fills up with mouse shit [can we say "shit" here?].

We hauled this stuff from California 20 years ago as we ended our long careers as letterpress printers. Why we still have this stuff is beyond me. I suppose it is some emotional tie to our fabulous younger days printing & publishing poetry and much else and rambling around San Francisco with the vibrant community of others the same age doing the same thing [and also hanging with our revered elders]. The garage has to be re-built, and I suppose this will all go to the scrap yard soon. Most of the typoe has mouldered some through wet summers and cold winters. I sure hope that font of Fry's Ornamented I bought from Stephenson Blake about 17 years ago is not out there. I have not seen it in years, though. Why did I buy it?

There's nothing special to me about metal type. I'm a typographer because I'm interested in the way type looks on the page, not in how it got there. Letterpress is different than offset, not better. Metal type to me is no more real than the type I am setting right now and that you may soon read on your screen. Offset is so darn good today, and so many text types are so well made: we are in a golden age of typography.

But as I look to the possibility of retiring from daily work in a few years, I think about getting a platen press and a Ludlow machine and doing some letterpress again. But I hope I never print letterpress from computer-generated type. To me the craft connection of setting type, locking it up, making ready the press, printing the sheets, and then distributing the type is the very essence of the work. I am happy to say I have developed a very different, but very strong level of craft connection as I work at a computer.


Koppa's picture

I've got a lot of metal type and a Vandercook in storage in my basement. Mostly ATF type, and mostly News Gothic and the Century family. Totally plain Jane, and in my opinion, totally classic, totally timeless. Totally, if I haven't said totally enough, perfect for my needs. It is my first love. I used to use it a lot, before I took a job as a high-tech digital designer, when we lived in a house that had a wonderfully convenient studio space off the attached garage...ahhh...good memories. Some day I will have a composing stick in my hand again, and I will cherish the moment. I figure it's about two years away.


Koppa's picture

> Anybody want it? (will powers)

I'm interested. Mildly. Please don't scrap it before calling me first. I'm over the river, about 45 minutes SE of La Crosse (an hour from Winona). Also interested in a cabinet, if you have one. 608-637-0550. Thanks.

David Sudweeks's picture

I just got into letterpress recently. Some type came with the press, a very complete set of 8pt ATF Copperplate; a 10pt Typewriter monospaced font; some awful 12 or 14pt advertising font that I haven't bothered to ID; and a few characters of what I think I've identified as ATF Flash in about 16pt. Since then, I've purchased some new and used type on eBay, including Century Schoolbook Italic, and some Garamond figures to go along with—ah yes; nothing. eBay's a mixed bag, and I don't recommend it unless your patience spans years and you are willing to occasionally be disappointed, but then again I'm talking to a roomfull of type designers.
The best thing to do for letterpress hobbyists is to make friends who have all the stuff and don't mind you dropping in and helping yourself. Relationships like these with schools or individuals are great and somewhat easy to develop.

ktinkel's picture

Cannot resist this thread.

Although I haven’t looked at it in years, I have a little Kelsey press and a few fonts of 8 to 12-point type, mostly Futura, maybe some Bodoni, couple of others.

In pre-DTP days (and up to the time that PageMaker learned how to hyphenate), I used the Kelsey mostly to set cutlines and photo credits for pasting up on mechanicals, usually shortly before the boards had to go to the printer. (Always forgot to order that small type when the job was being set.)

I also have a large type storage rack made of oak (an inch thick, maybe more) with 36 or 48 California type trays (guessing: two columns of them, anyway). It stands about four feet high and has a slanted top on one side for reading proofs, and space on the other for setting type. It has been disassembled, but is in good shape. Not all the trays are good, though.

I had been fascinated with type ever since I was a kid, so when I saw it, I bought the Kelsey and mastered the setting of small bits of type. Got some of the type from Kelsey in Meriden, CT (probably from Monotype output) and others by mail order from Quaker [something] in Pennsylvania.

Have to agree with Will Powers, though — I have always been more interested in setting type and seeing at it in words on the page than as bits of metal. I’m afraid I found hand-setting frustrating. Give me InDesign (or even good old PageMaker), and I’m happy.


Antonio Cavedoni's picture

Although my studio is right above a print shop, they got rid of all their metal types long ago.

I do have a bucketful of metal types which we got at another print shop nearby who was getting rid of them, earlier this year. We also wanted to practice a bit of hand-composition so we asked to the Tipoteca (an Italian museum of typography) if we could have a workshop just for our studio. We ended up there for two days, and took many pictures in the process. Of course it was awesome, in fact I’m going back there this saturday as they have a huge collection of wood type and a huge library where I can do more research.

bieler's picture

Actually, I do enjoy hand setting type, but the purpose of that exercise is to arrive at something, not just lull in some nostalgic zen pleasure-trip whatever (what the hell is that when you have to get the work out?), and that can be accomplished with just as much care on the computer. The computer isn't just for speed and convenience. It offers far more flexibility and options. . . far more than were possible with metal type. It's just that most folks won't take the time, and hand setting metal type forces you to do just that. That craft practice is actually transferable. If you are willing.

But it was a no brainer switching from metal to digital type for letterpress printing. Operating costs drop dramatically and one can actually achieve the same results if not remarkably better; and actually make a living at it instead of being constantly in debt.

New metal type was, and is, quite, quite, more expensive than digital type and when you are sick of it you can't just delete it or ignore it, it is there, in a cabinet taking up six-square feet of room space, that you are paying rent on.


sayerhs's picture

There are trays and TRAYS of metal type in the printing studio in my college. All of it catching dust, or getting pinched by klepto-students



dberlow's picture

" many of you own metal types?"
I do. and a few wooden ones too.

"Why do you still have them (apart from using them, if you also own a traditional printing machine)? "
I think this means "why do you own them if you have digital composition and output."
So I can hold them, sort them and think about which ones I wouldn't use if I had a press.

"Where did you get them?"
From people who sell them.

"Which types are they?"
Good ones!


franzheidl's picture

When i was an apprentice in the mid to late nineties, i was lucky enough to have been taught handsetting and letterpress as well, although the digital age was in full swing alreday back then. I still think that letterpress does have a high educational value, as it is the great way to understand how type works, no matter what medium you'll use in your career later.
I have a 12pt Futura Eszett which was a present from a teacher back then, as well as some Linotype matrices, can't remember what typeface though. One day there were buckets full of these in our school as they were going to be thrown away, so i grabbed a handful. I also have one of those devices you hold in your hand while handsetting, i don't know the english term (anyone?), in german it's called a „Winkelhaken“.
It's not much of nostalgia for me, it's more about being aware of the roots of what one does every day. And before anyone chimes in, i have a hammer and a few chisels somewhere too, forged especially hard for use on granite.

kegler's picture

I'm setting and proofing metal type today. I luckily have access to an amazing letterpress shop (Paradise Press) with hundreds of metal fonts and ornaments. Keeping this resource alive is part of the reason I am helping to found the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative. Without being too much of a pitch, I am happy to show anyone interested, this "mini working musuem" during Typecon next Summer.

dan_reynolds's picture

Winkelhaken = Composing Stick (?)

eliason's picture

I have one piece of type, a capital E that was a souvenir from a session at the Rare Book School in Charlottesville. It was hand-cast in front of me by Stan Nelson. In fact, it was still quite hot to the touch when it came into my hands. It still has the wedge-shaped metal chunk corresponding to the funnel-tube through which the molten typemetal was poured.

I love it. It's getting kind of beat up now, though, and the printing face is black from felt-tip marker from my "proofing" experiments.

pascal zoghbi's picture

i have recently bought arabic and latin metal type.
it was from an old printing press in the mountains of lebanon.

i have now 9 arabic fonts and 6 latin fonts.
what is amazing is that the arabic mattress is two as big as the latin one.

in the Latin i have Helvetica Italic in 48 pt
and i have one serif type names Romine and another Sans named Europe.
for each i have 12 pt and 18pt

in the arabic. i have one arabic Naskh typeface in 8pt, 12pt, 24pt Regular and Bold.

i also got one Composing Stick.

for the Latin a made a closet for them based on the traditional closet shape for the drawers...
and the arabic i am still thinking what is the best way to store or display them. or if i need to use them.

i am thinking of a metallic shelves system to put the arabic huge mattresses in since the wood will not be strong enough the hold them

i am now in the process of cleaning them from dust, so this is taking me hell of a time.
whenever i have some time off or need to take a brake from work, i clean some letters.

my next step is to get the printing press, but this will take more time for me to put aside the price for it...

and then maybe open a small press for educational use where my students can come a typeset type. and also i can use i to make some prints with it...

Linda Cunningham's picture

I've now signed myself up for two weeks of formal bookbinding instruction with an old school letterpress printer in PA in the spring -- I can hardly wait to take down my metal type and do some printing. ;-)

Sharon Van Lieu's picture

Linda, that's exciting news.

SparkyType's picture

I have a set of wooden Cooper Black stamps bought from the Hamilton foundry in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Sadly, It's never had an outing. One day though, one day!

- David

Linda Cunningham's picture

I'm also looking forward to the side trip to NYC. ;-)

Bleisetzer's picture

Well, I guess this is the right discussion to announce your chance to get metall type character sets...

First of all my answer:
Yes, I have some lead types. Approx. 30 empty cabinets, 12 tons of lead letters, several wood letter fonts. All together 378 articles at the moment :-)

Now the announcement:
Starting next Sunday on 9th of December at 8:30 pm (german time), I'll offer 37 full character sets of lead letters like the following ones on Ebay Germany:

All auctions will end after one week on Sunday, 16th of December, at 8:30 pa (german time).

The reason for my announcement.
I am a dealer for german lead letter articles.
And I need money.
But(!): In this case the incoming money is not for me. Every Cent will be paid to an organisation for parents of cancer children in Duesseldorf/Germany:

Why I do this?
Well, life is taking and giving. I took, and now its time to give. I organize these kind of auctions since three years in December, after I got into close contact to these parents. I cannot explain it in english, sorry. But I have to do it. I see it as a duty.

Now the rules:
Who's interested to place a bid (auctions will start at Euro 9.90) should send me his/her Ebay name, so I can allow him/her to place bids. And he/she should take care to have an access to my Ebay account at Ebay Germany:

Mh? If this posting is a commercial ad?
No, its just a social engagement, a charity project, alright?

By the way... my opinion is, that every professional working in the pre-press industry should own some lead letters. How will you know where you go if you do not know where you are coming from?


achipmunk's picture

I don’t have metal type, but I do own several plastic types.

Alessandro Segalini's picture

David, there are a bunch of Turkish metal fonts to rescue/order in Bilkent University (Ankara) if you are interested, you can ask there.

nycla3's picture

I have a full set of Garamond CAPS + numbers + a composing stick. They are the only remnants of the hot-metal Linotype shop my father owned in NYC. Cleaned the Linotype machines, tripped the Vandercook, set typositor, ran jobs and slugs around the city to other trade shops during summers.

Oh, and super-heated quarters on the rim of the lead pot and threw them from the fourth floor and waited for unsuspecting pedestrians to pick them up...learned that from the union guys...;-)

Bleisetzer's picture

Now it started...
May be the shipping costs are too expensive into foreign countries (seen from Germany).´

But who's interested in rare original character sets of lead letters:

I hope my posting does not disturb you...


John vanDemer's picture

The thing that is disturbing is that these are sets of only one of each character, making them useless to print with, unless of course you only print Pangrams.

Bleisetzer's picture

Yes, John, of course you are right.
These character sets were used to print examples for our collection, shown here:

In our online magazine we offer approx. 300 full-filled leadtype fonts:

The character sets are only meant as a choice of a nice present for typophile people...


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