Pre ATF foundries, electrotype pics

A few days earlier I wrote about reproducing some early electrotypes/logotypes and got a lot of helpful information and generous assistance both online and off and am working toward that goal. I didn’t have access to the full case at that time and now do. If you like to look at the older stuff, you can view the entire case on my flickr site here:[email protected]/8670694362/in/photostream/
They were made at a wonderful assortment of pre ATF(1892) foundries:
A. Zeese & Co. Chicago; Johnson Foundry, Philadelphia; L. Johnson & Co.(same foundry, different time period?) Philadelphia; Boston Type Foundry(2 different marks, time periods?); Golding & Co, Boston; Central Type Foundry, St Louis; MacKellar, Smith & Jordan, Philadelphia; Phelps & Dalton, Boston; Marden, Luse & Co, Chicago; Dickinson Foundry, Boston. I am really attracted to this period for press, wood and metal type manufacture. I can’t get enough of it. The seller only had this one case and knew nothing about them. I can’t help but wonder what the shop looked like, where it was located, and what other treasures it contained or worse…….still contains!!!! I lose sleep thinking about this kind of thing.


Log in to reply   9 replies so far

Very Nice stuff. The decorative initials are great.

John Henry

John F, losing sleep is an old age thing, i believe you don’t sleep much cause you don’t want to miss any time you have left. Oh yeah, HAPPY BIRTHDAY.

> I am really attracted to this period for press, wood and metal type manufacture. I can’t get enough of it.

Then for the metal type and the history-of-typefoundries aspect of this, there are two books which can be recommended highly:

Annenberg, Maurice. _Type Foundries of America and their Catalogs_. Second Edition. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1994.

(The second edition has additional material by Steve Saxe. I believe that it is out of print, but Oak Knoll lists three copies for sale.

Loy, William E., Alastair M. Johnston, and Stephen O. Saxe. _Nineteenth-Century American Designers and Engravers of Type_. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 2009.

From 1898 to 1900, William E. Loy wrote a series of biographical sketches of notable American punch, patrix, and matrix engravers. I’ve put many of the originals online here:

The Saxe/Johnston book reprints these, but it does much, much more. In particular, Steve Saxe has gone through his extensive library of specimen books and illustrated almost every type mentioned in the book. He’s also compiled extensive material on design patents. This book is still in print from Oak Knoll, and is beautiful.

Neither of these sources do much with electrotypes. For wood type, the standard reference is still Rob Roy Kelly’s _American Wood Type: 1828-1900_ (back in print from Liber Apertus press).

There are other sources, of course, but these are basic references that everyone should have.

David M.

John: Thanks for the proofing paper-arrived safe and sound. Will be taking proofs soon.

Dick: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

David: Thanks for the reference material alert. I just purchased the second edition new as a start. I also purchased Rob Roy Kelly’s and Ruffa’s books earlier when you were helping identify a recent wood type haul.

Many thanks,



I’d say it was at least 25 years ago when John Henry and I were returning to Iowa from a wayzgoose in Ohio. John spotted an ad for “letterpress equipment for sale” in Amboy, IL. It was not far off of our path so we decided to check it out.

We arrived in Amboy at noon and went to the newspaper office. It had recently been purchased by a 30ish guy and it was now all offset. However the basement held all of the old letterpress stuff. John and I told him we were interested in type and he said that none of it had been taken yet. We asked him how he was selling it and he really hadn’t thought of that yet. We told him that (at that time) that 50-cents-a-pound was a reasonable price to pay for used type. He turned us loose in the basement. Lots and cabinets of handset type. Very exciting. The excitment soon waned as we started going through all of the cabinets. Pretty much worn-out/beat-up generic faces. John eventually gave up and wandered off. I was determined to look in every case. The bottom case of the very last cabinet I checked was the MOTHERLOAD! A full-full California case absolutely stuffed with borders/ornaments and dingbats from 19th century foundries. The sucker weighed close to 70 lbs.

I placed it on the floor in a better-lit section and pondered how I was going to tell John that he wasn’t going to get diddly out of that case simply because he had given up.

John walks back from another section of the basement with cases of wood type!!!!! GAME ON! We eventually found wood borders, Civil War era cuts, etc. This was truly an OMG day.

The guy eventually comes downstairs and has a scale. We weighed my case of ornaments and a few other things before we were going to start negotiating for the wood type and borders. Once the metal had been weighed, he asked “What are those other piles?”. We told him wood type and borders. He said “Put them on the scale.” I could have fainted.

Yes everything went for $.50/lb. I asked if there were any old foundry catalogs and he thought there might be a few upstairs. He brought down a ‘23 ATF and a ‘25 BB&S. To see if my luck was still holding, I thought I’d offer him $5 each. He gave them BOTH to me for $5.

Holy smokes, John and I loaded our treasures into my van as quickly as we could. We were tired and hungry as it was just about 1 p.m. There was a hamburger joint next door and we could smell them which made us all the hungrier. John says “We just have to stop and eat” and I tell John “No, we have to get the Hell out of Amboy, IL before that guy’s wife comes back from lunch!”

We finally stopped for lunch at another town about a half an hour away. I kept looking in the rear view mirror for flashing lights and sirens.

True story.



There’s still time for you and John to go to confession.


John, i think its too late for confession, they will be spending eterny in the smelting room.


Guilty as charged.

As I remember it, We told him the wood stuff should be a different price, and he said that he didn’t care, and was glad to be rid of it. We did try to set him straight, but it didn’t do any good, thank heavens!

The guy just wanted to get rid of it all — he thought it was junk, and if we hadn’t come, it may have gone to the landfill. At that point in time, they would not have cared about the lead content.

His pride and joy was a set of several spool cabinets (you know the type they used to have on dry goods store counters). Those he wanted good money for, everything else was “that letterpress crap”.

There was also a large newspaper press, I think it may have been a Babcock or Cranston and a linotype. It sort of looked like they ran the last paper and just let everything sit.

I did come away with some Civil War period electros of troops marching and a statue of a woman draped with a banner that said “Union”. There were some hand-cut wooden logos for local religious groups, too. It was a fun afternoon in a dirty old shop.

John H.

To ad a little postscript to this story. Several years later both John and I happened to be at a Typocrafters meeting in Chicago. We were all having lunch in Bruce Hesterberg’s back yard and Amos Kennedy was entertaining the throng with a tale of a marvelous treasure trove of type he had recently discovered in central Illinois. He was very secretive as to where it was at because he wasn’t done raiding the place. He also mentioned that he was buying everything there for 50-cents per pound.

John and I looked at each other and one of us spoke up and said “Amos, that wouldn’t be Amboy, IL would it?” The look of shock on Amos’ face was priceless. Then I really dropped the hammer and told him that it was John and I that the established the 50 cent price and that we had cleaned out all the jewels a long time ago!

I see Amos every few years and we both still laugh about that.