Cheap software at thrift stores - the best way to get good, cheap fonts

Dan Gayle's picture

I just wanted to share a technique I've developed for acquiring good fonts on the cheap: Find old, cheap software at thrift stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army.


I purchased Microsoft Greetings, software circa 2001, for $.50 yesterday. I pop it into my machine, and what do I find? A legit license for the Font Bureau's Hightower Text that would have otherwise cost me roughly $100 on

At the same time, I bought an old copy of Wordperfect for $1 that included a full family of Futura, of which I had only the default Mac set + the extra bold from Elsner+Flake.

Anyone else have any good finds like this? Also, anyone take issue with this technique?

Ria Anderson's picture

I've got to ask: for the type industry, how is this technique of acquiring type any better than piracy?

It's not piracy, of course, and it's perfectly legal, but the end result is the same: no money goes to the type designers, and no money goes to the industry that supports type design.

daverowland's picture

So buying second hand records is bad too because it doesn't support the music industry? I don't even see this as a grey area. At the time Font Bureau licensed their font to Microsoft, they would most likely have been paid for it very reasonably. To expect them to get paid for it again every time it changes hands is ridiculous. I understand that the nature of fonts and software means it's likely that the font hasn't just changed hands, but has in fact been duplicated, but that's the nature of letting your fonts get into the hands of OEMs.

Dan Gayle's picture

The fonts within the packages have already been legitimately licensed from the foundry, hence the money has already went to the type designer. While I think that a type designer deserves more than that, the fact is that they've knowingly licensed a font that I can now use. (Within the scope of the original licensing agreement, of course.)

Ria Anderson's picture

So buying second hand records is bad too because it doesn't support the music industry?

On the contrary; buying second hand records supports an aspect of the music industry: record stores. Are you arguing that there exists a comparable model in the type design industry: second-hand fonts?

To clarify my previous position, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with this method of acquiring type, but I do think it's a side-effect of a broken model for selling software. With the transition to more and more purely digital methods of licensing software, there will be no more boxes of second-hand software in thrift stores.

quadibloc's picture

It should be noted that in some cases, the software and the fonts will not be licensed. For example, the CD you buy in a thrift shop may be an OEM CD which someone received in a bundle when they bought a new computer.

There are various license conditions which apply to software which may not allow a transfer of license with the media. Aside from the obvious one of the software still being installed.

JamesM's picture

While it may not be good for the industry in some theoretical way, as a practical matter it doesn't amount to much.

Most folks who buy used software at a thrift store are not doing so to acquire new fonts; the fonts are just a side effect of their purchase. If the fonts cost extra for licensing, they'd probably just skip the purchase or chose not to license them. It's not the same thing as music piracy in which obtaining the music is the person's goal.

aluminum's picture

Libraries have destroyed the book publishing industry.


David Sudweeks's picture

It's been mentioned here multiple times that Corel Draw is a particularly good buy online or at a thrift store if you can find it. I'll extend that further to Corel Office, which has an unusually large amount of type from Bitstream, as well as several Adobe knockoffs like the very un-creatively renamed Lithograph, and Charlesworth. There are some surprises as well, like Gerard Unger's Oranda & Amerigo (both released by Bitstream), and an enormous selection of Scotch Moderns like DeVinne. The one thing you don't get with any of these old fonts is a workable set of figures or small caps. Still, as a reference collection, this is a fantastic deal.

Té Rowan's picture

Might want to check your old computer magazine CDs, too. Some mags were allowed to redistribute limited or old software versions. I recall spotting Microsoft Publisher (had a bunch of Monotype font files), StarOffice 5 (yucky, cruddy own-brand cooties) and Serif Publisher (fonts from you-know-who).

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