A Printer’s Reference Bookshelf?

Hi All,

Here’s an exercise I’ve wanted to see on here for some time. Suppose you were stocking a shelf of reference works for a letterpress printer. Let’s say the following conditions exist:

1. You’re limited to 10 books, 3 on type, 3 on printing, 2 on design, and 2 on any topic.

2. The books must be available in the market today. (e.g. You can’t recommend Mills and that book is out of print and out of the price range of most people who are printing as a hobby these days.

What would you recommend? After completing the exercise, you can recommend up to 5 used/out of print/hard to find books that people should be on the lookout for in the used book market.

I’ll start off the list.


1. Mac McGrew’s American Printing Types, from Oak Knoll Press. A catalog of all the known American typefaces at the time of publication, a veritable treasure trove of type information including histories of many faces.
2. Consuegra’s “American Type & Designers” which gives bio’s on a number of type designers.


1. “General Printing” Cleeton, Pitkin, & Cornwell. Thank you Liber Apertus Press for reprinting this gem. This is the first book any letterpress printer should buy.
2. Beiler’s “Printing digital type on the hand-operated flatbed cylinder press” for the polymer/vandercook crowd, this is an indispensable reference.


1.”Elements of Typographic Style”, by Bringhurst. A bit “fussy” at times, this is a critical choice for understanding book and printing design.
2. “the Non-Designer’s design book” by Robin Williams. an intro to good layout principles that anyone can understand.


1. Practical Type Casting by Theo Rehak. Even if you aren’t a typecaster, it will help you appreciate type.

Wish List of Used/Out of Print Books:

1. Old ATF or Monotype Catalogs of any vintage. A useful source for identifying types and cuts as well as seeing them in actual use rather than as an alphabet list.
2. George Mills “Platen Press Operation”. Is there anyone who doesn’t want this book?
3. Ralph Polk’s two books “the practice of printing” and “elementary platen presswork”. Written for high school education programs, the practice books gives a strong overview of printing and how to do it while “elementary platen” goes into detail on platen presses which many of us use.
4. Fred Hoch’s “pressroom problems and answers” and “handbook for pressmen”. Currently cheap in the used book trade, these were written for professional pressmen and describe known methods to known problems that occur during printing like slurring, or dealing with damaged forms or workups…
5. “The Ten Commandments of Typography/Type Heresy” by Paul Felton. This little gem is two books in one and tells you what the rules of printing design are that everyone tells you not to break, but can’t tell you what they are…
6. Stanley Hlasta’s “printing types and how to use them”. A brilliant book that takes you through a number of book and advertising faces and tells how to set them for the best effect including choosing the ideal matching types.
7. several books on the iron hand press are available including books by Rummons and Saxe. Valuable if you are using an iron hand press, but this is a niche for most people who print letterpress.
8. advanced typography and design students might want the books by De Vinnie and D.B. Updike on typography and printing types and how to use them. These were written in the 1800’s and the language and bias reflects that. Still, these two are the Deans of fine book printing on letterpress.
9. “The complete manual of typography” by felici. A modern book for book and web design, it has a lot of typography and design information that is timeless.

Alright, now it is your turn. Suggestions for additional books to round out the bookshelf and or to collect?


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I don’t know if anyone has checked it out, but google books has a lot of public domain type specimen and printing books.

Here’s a link to a few of the ones that I have found really interesting…





I’m really interested in the lists people come up with! I’ll try and compile one myself!

These are books I’ve found valuable in my initial learning forays. A bit outside the stated parameters in total numbers of entries, but I beg your indugence. ;-)


1. “Anatomy of a Typeface” by Alexander S. Lawson.

2. “Printing Types: Their History, Forms and Use” by Daniel Updike.

3. “First Principles of Typography” and “A Tally of Types” by Stanley Morison.


1. “General Printing” by Cleeton, Pitkin, & Cornwell. I agree that this is the first book any letterpress printer should buy. Excellent layout and clarity of instruction.

2. “The Case for Legibility” and “Printing for Pleasure” by John Ryder. Very concise and clear books for the amateur craftsman.


1. “The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design” by Jan Tschichold. More philosophical, but also lays down what the author sees as rules and traditions worth keeping.

2.”The Elements of Typographic Style” by Robert Bringhurst. I concur on the fussiness and abstraction, but definitely a book to regularly re-read.

3. “An Essay on Typography” by Eric Gill. A classic.


1. “Printing Poetry: A Workbook in Typographic Reification” by Clifford Burke. Not readily available and expensive on the open market, but I find this to be a very readable and helpful book. Very thoughtful and the author is not afraid to give his opinions.

2. “The Art & History of Books” by Norma Levarie

Used/Out of Print Books:

1. “The Practice of Printing” and “Elementary Platen Presswork” by Ralph W. Polk.

2. “Handbook for Pressmen” by Fred W. Hoch.

3. “Ornamentation in Printing” by Edwin Grabhorn.

4. “Modern and Historical Typography” by Imre Reiner.

5. “Printing with the Handpress” by Lewis M. Allen.

my 10 books are 3 playboy, 2 fishing books, 4 hunting books and 1 cookbook. dick g. it works for this printer


OK, I’ll bite. I am in agreement with all of the above suggestions. Other books from my own library that I would add to this list (in no specific order) would be:

Letters of Credit, Walter Tracy

Twentieth Century Type Designers, Sebastian Carter

A Short History of the Printed Word, Warren Chappell

Books & Printing, edited by Paul Bennett

Type The Secret History of Letters, Simon Loxley

A.T.A. Type Comparison Handbook, Frank Merriman

Modern Type Display, J. L. Frazier

Typologia, Frederic Goudy

The Book The Story of Printing & Bookmaking, Douglas C. McMurtie

The Crystal Goblet, Beatrice Warde

The Encyclopaedia of Type Faces, W. Turner Berry, A. F. Johnson & W. P. Jaspert

The Book of Oz Cooper, Society of Typographic Arts

Manuale Typographicum, Hermann Zapf

I also recommend Printing Poetry by Clifford Burke mentioned previously. This has a wealth of information. I don’t know if it was ever reprinted, but I have the first edition from 1980. My particular book has always amazed me for the fact that I would consider it to be very poorly printed!!!!! While great care was taken in the design and production of this book, there are a few signatures in mine where the ink is extremely light and weak. A real mystery as to how that slipped by.

I also recommend any and all type specimen books and books on lettering. Knowledge and appreciation doesn’t happen overnight and the more bits and pieces you can acquire and absorb over time only adds to the pleasures to be enjoyed in the world of typography and printing.