Kelsey co. lead type

Does anyone know the timeframe that Kelsey made type? I have a few job cases that have a label on them, stating that they are “Kelsey” type (one is a 10 pt. Donaldson, another is Condensed (16 pt, I think), I’m not certain about the third. I’m wondering what the timeframe of these was, and also what the job case style is. It is neither a california nor a hamilton. It’s got 2 sections (split vertically down the middle) - and there don’t seem to be any “sub sections” - or a section divided into 4 for punctuation. I can post a photo if that would help anyone.


Log in to reply   26 replies so far

Ther were many different versions of the type case made, photos would help, kelsey would but atf type and resell it, also a monotype type they bought and resold it. Dick G.

Kelsey actually had their own typecases manufactured and the style is listed as “Improved Excelsior Type Case.” It is divided into two main sections, left and right. This was also a 2/3 size case with no handle on the front.

“Hamilton” refers to a specific manufacturer of type cases (many different styles offered by them), while “California” refers to a specific layout/style of typecase. Many manufacturers offered ‘California’ cases.

Kelsey marketed type as either being Connectticut Type Foundry or New England Type Foundry in origin. I beleive that the Connecticut Type Foundry offerings were fonts cast for them on Monotype or Thompson caster and the New England Type Foundry offerings were actually ATF-cast fonts that were repackaged with a Kelsey label on them. The names of the faces were often also changed to a Kelsey designation.

The name Donaldson does not sound faqmiliar to me as one of their offerings, and as far as I know they did not offer any faces cast on 16pt. bodies. I’ll have to get into my library to take a deeper look into that.

I took a photo of the case (with my phone). I’ll get a photo of the labels tonight.

And it was Ronaldson - my bad.

The other… I should have run down and looked. It might have been 14 - I’ll post both of those this evening.

image: typecase.jpg


If I recall correctly, the Connecticut Type Foundry Stuff from Kelsey was the ATF material and the New England Type was Monotype & Thompson.

I don’t recall Ronaldson in the catalogs I received in the 60’s from Kelsey, but I’m certain they may have had it in their earlier fonts.

With Kelsey’s marketing plan, I’m sure they provided typefonts with their “kits” from the beginning, an instant printing factory in a box, but I’m not sure when they began the designations of the foundry names.

As Foolproof wrote, the case is a Excelsior design. here is a link to one fo Kelesy’s advertsiements for them from the 1890s:

Thanks John for posting the layout of the Excelsior case. I was going to give a row-by-row description. I have always been a little mystified by the row of tiny compartments across the top and have always assumed that odd-ball pieces would go there (ligatures, dipthongs, etc.).

I have several old Kelsey catalogs, but none going back any earlier than the 1940s. Ronaldson had disappeared by then. I’d love to see a picture of the labels posted here.

Here’s a photo of the label.

What do you think?

image: P4171320.JPG


image: P4171332.JPG


WOW! That appears to be an extremely old label. I’ve never seen one like it from Kelsey.

Ronaldson was first offered by McKellar, Smiths & Jordan in 1884 and the name honors James Ronaldson, co-founder of the first commercial American type foundry, Binny & Ronaldson (from whom McK,S&J descended). It has some fairly distinct serifs and was essentially ripped-off by ITC in the 1970’s and called Tiffany by them.

Someone else can probably offer a good history of Kelsey & Co. and when they made/sold type. I know I have the story of Kelsey in probably several different sources and books, but my library is a mess right now and I wouldn’t know where to begin to look until I get reorganized.

The oldest Kelsey catalog that I have has no cover. nor specific date, but I estimate that it was printed prior to about 1910. An interesting thing is that, listed with the ten-point type, it calls the subject face, “Ronaldson”. Where it is listed in the large-weight fonts, it is listed as 10-pt. No. 2 and in the text it calls it “Donaldson”. I don’t have a later catalog to compare it with, so that may be a typo.

Dave Greer

So, what the heck do I do with this type case? Do I donate it? sell it? I don’t want to let it get forgotten in my basement.

Thoughts? Ideas?

Also, I am completely amazed by your knowledge and resources! You guys are incredible!

kspuds -

Where are you located?

When I purchased my Kelsey Union Press in about 1964, it came with a couple cabinets of type, one cabinet was filled with the Excelsior cases and the other was full-size cases. There was a full case of 10pt. Ronaldson in a news case with a upper case with caps and small caps. There were a good number of special signs and zodiac figures with it. The type was well used and very worn, and in intervening years has hit the melting pot.

I am fairly certain that the fellow who owned the press prior to me was pretty tied in with Kelsey as a supplier, and most likely the type came from them.

I also have a Kelsey Eagle Paper Cutter, a hand-lever cutter (approx. 24”) which was totally made of cast iron. Dave, is that listed in your pre-1910 catalog?

I’m in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Since you are in Minneapolis, if you do decide to donate it a good home for it could probably be found at the Minnesota Center for the Book. They are practically downtown and should be in the phone book. It is also a very nice place to visit. You might be amazed at what all goes on there.

kspuds - It would be interesting to see these; I’ve been intrigued by Kelsey’s Excelsior case since I first read about it here on briarpress. (I’m just south of the Twin Cities). Foolproof has a good suggestion for finding a donation destination. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts has a web site at They are located a block west of the new Guthrie Theatre. And do go there. It is a very nice working “museum”. On the other hand, if you decide to sell, the briarpress site is a good place to start. Best of luck -Denis

Thank you!

I actually did reach out to MCBA before I knew so much about this type case (thank you for all the information).

I sent another e-mail today with more detailed information, hoping that they may be interested.

I love the MCBA, I’ve taken classes there and have found everything there (from their literary center to studio classes) to be most helpful - and what a space!

Anyway, I’ll see if they’re interested, if not, I may list it on here. I just don’t want it to end up in the trash! What a waste that’d be!

I thought that you might like to see the wood-type page in the old Kelsey catalog that I mentioned. Briar’s upload would not accept the photo, so I posted it on my Flickr site.

Dave Greer

Thanks Dave.

That is amazing. It seems like Kelsey deliberately tried to hide the real source of almost all of their type, whether it be ATF, Monotype or in this case Hamilton. A very good reason for this is that the thrust of their business was to deal with amateurs so they did their best to ensure that THEY were the source these people came to for buying type. They certainly would not want their customers to know that there are other resources to order type from!

That’s just my opinion, but it makes sense to me.


Dave, Nice photo! Not only are the prices astounding, but so are the styles/fonts! It’s intriguing to see how the style of the Kelsey catalogue itself changed over the years.

Rick, I think you’re right. Kelsey played their cards very close to the chest, not only for type, but for all their supplies as well. They were in the business of catering to the hobby printer, so their whole marketing focus was on the amateur client. My father dealt extensively with them in the 50s-70s; they were very customer oriented, but also knew very well how to target their audience.

Cheers! - Denis

Thanks, Denis!

Here’s the first page of the catalog, sans cover. It is uploaded, again, at my Flickr site—-
If I get a chance, I will try to shoot all the pages and upload them, but the catalog is crumbling as I write!

Maybe, instead of using a gold standard for figuring inflation, we should use Kelsey’s catalog! ;-)

Rick, I totally agree with your well-written synopsis of Kelsey’s motives.

Dave Greer


Thanks for posting the pic of the Kelsey Catalogue front page. I understand the hassle it would be, but it would be neat if you could post the rest, even if to simply preserve a small part of American letterpress history. Whatever one thinks of their marketing techniques, the Kelsey Co.’s catalogues certainly reflected the changing typographic taste and preferences of the 19th-20th century. And the company itself had a some impact on letterpress culture in the U.S, routing a significant number of hobby printers into the professional ranks. But that’s another topic…


I uploaded the Old Kelsey catalog and it can be seen on the same Flicker site: Here’s the URL of the first page—-all the other pages should be in order if you start here:

Paul Aken said that he has a complete catalog, with a cover, as well as several 19th-century ones, so they may be uploaded some day. I hope this is helpful!

I did not mean for my statement about Kelsey’s motives to seem bad—-I would have done the same if I were in his business.

Dave Greer


Many thanks for posting the catalogue photos. Very interesting indeed!

As for Kelsey, I didn’t interpret your (or Rick’s) statements as negative at all. For its many years in business Kelsey had its corner of the market and treated its clientele efficiently and with very good business savvy. They knew what worked and generated loyal customers, many of whom went on to become the proprietors of rather large printing concerns. Many of the latter were quite appreciative of what Kelsey had to offer them in their early days in the business.

I’ll keep my eyes open for future postings of older Kelsey catalogues.

Best regards,

kspuds- I can’t tell you when Kelsey started making their own type, but I can tell roughly when it all ended. I ran the Thompson Monotypes machines part time in 1978 - 1979. The rest of the time I ran the Kelsey machine shop, and assembling the presses. I left in 1979 and the type foundry ceased operation shortly after that. I was producing the New England Type on the Thompson. Kelsey did offer ATF type for sale, as I still have a few sets of ATF in my basement.


The covers, and missing pages 27 & 28, have now been uploaded to the circa 1909 Kelsey Catalog. Paul Aken supplied the copies. Thank you, Paul!

The catalog now starts at the following address:

Please feel free to post comments under the photos and I will try to respond as soon as I can.

Dave Greer