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Letterpress Type

A Letterpress Library

I think it was about 1991 that I became actively interested in type. Interested to the extent that I began to draw letters for pleasure with the thought in mind that those letters could be type. At this point, it was not letterpress that caught my attention, but letters themselves. It took a couple of years of art school and reading for me to amble my way back through the history of the printed word far enough to discover letterpress. But the physical nature of it grabbed me and wouldn't let go.

Since then, I have collected old rubber stamps, scraps of metal and wood type, a showcard press, a font of 24 point Garamont Old Style, a Kelsey Excelsior 5 x 8 press, more type, two small letterpress shops, more type, type matrices, a Monotype composition caster, a pantographic engraver, another Monotype, more matrices, two more Monotype machines, and so on. All along the way were numerous books and printed matter, both new and old.

Here I document some of the letterpress printed items, books about letterpress printing, and other ephemera that I have been fortunate to acquire.

The Elements of Typographic Style

By Robert Bringhurst. It is difficult to say how important this book is for me. I could pick it up once every day and always find a new, succinct but lyrical, reminder that there is something in my typography that could be improved. Beautiful.

Find The Elements of Typographic Style

American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century

Mac McGrew's 1993 2nd, revised edition is an important book for any printer, collector, student or aficionado of letterpress type. Equally valuable as a typeface reference and an insightful history of the typemaking industry in America.

Find American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century

Hundert Kennzeichen

LS cross snake logo by Otto Scheiner

Mit Typographicshem Material Nach Eigenen und Shuler-Entwerfen Zusammengesetzt von Otto Scheiner

I tried to translate the title, and what I came up with is One Hundred Logos: interpreted from the originals and composed in typographic material (ornaments) by Otto Scheiner. That's rough, but it gives you an idea of the subject of this book, which was a surprise birthday gift from Casey many years ago. The book is undated and lacks a colophon, however the first 11 or so pages appear to be an introduction to the technique of building-up (Zusammengestzt) the logos with simple geometric shapes cast in traditional printers type. This introductory section includes a two page spread of examples illustrating the process of building up a logo. The following 200 pages show the 100 examples, one on each right facing page. Some are sublime, others fairly absurd, many are two-color--there are at least 4 spot colors used throughout the book. The collection as a whole is a treasure of modernism, and an unusual piece of letterpress printing history.M

—Ian Schaefer

Suggest a book... [2]

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Principal Sources of Letterpress Type

The casual observer or recent aficionado of letterpress printing may be surprised to learn that there are numerous sources of printing type available even today. Although letterpress printing may seem like a relic of history, it has in reality never completely ceased to exist as a commercial enterprise. The scope of its use in commercial printing has, however, gradually decreased to the point that it is now appreciated more for the "press" than for the "letter". For a very few, letterpress is still a worthy enterprise, and for these few, a supply of letterpress type continues to be necessary and valuable. Fulfilling this need is the work of a handful of active typefoundries around the world.

In the United States, Quaker City Typefoundry, near Philadelphia, and M & H Type, in San Francisco, are the most prominent. For these vendors—and for the numerous semi-private typefoundries that occasionally offer type—the current market for letterpress type is diminished and rarefied.

I will continue to expand this article to include other typefoundries and whatever details seem appropriate. If you think a particular foundry should be mentioned here, please comment on this article, or contact me.

For a look back at the history of American typefoundries, see Stephen O. Saxe's book, Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs.

—Ian Schaefer

Comment [1]

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The Elementary Constituents of Type Metal as They Appear in the Chemical Periodic Table


Here is letterpress card that I printed and submitted to the Amalgamated Printers’ Association in April 2002 on which the three elements that are alloyed to make type metal are arranged graphically to show the positions they occupy on the periodic table of the elements. The text explains the origination of each chemical symbol.

The elements are described:


Atomic weight: 118.710
Melting point: 449.5 deg. F
Density: 7.30 g/ccm

The symbol Sn derives from the Latin for Tin, ‘stannum,’ which comes from ‘stagnum,’ meaning ‘dripping’ — a reference to how easily Tin melts. Add Antimony to prevent malleable white Tin from becoming powdery gray Tin.


Atomic weight: 121.757
Melting point: 1167 deg. F
Density: 6.618 g/ccm

The symbol Sb comes from teh Antimony ore stibnite, which derives from Latin ‘stibium,’ meaning ‘mark’ — recalling its use as mascara in ancient times. Alloying with Lead yeilds a metal both hard and dense.


Atomic weight: 207.2
Melting point: 621.5 deg. F
Density: 11.34 g/ccm

The symbol Pb comes from the Latin for Lead, ‘plumbum,’ meaning ‘liquid silver’ and connotes both the ease of melting the metal and its lustrous look. Lead flows more readily into a mold when some Tin is added.

The Private Press of Ian Schaefer
APA 745—April 2002

—Ian Schaefer


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Plans for letterpress*.com websites

Namely letterpresstype.com, letterpresstypefoundry.com, and letterpresstypography.com