Poorly Misuse of Letterpress Tools

I am and have been active in the Printing Industry for over 35 years. I first learn the trade on a Golding Pearl NO 3 in high school and went on to offset from there. But the founding principal of printing was taught to me through Letterpress. Since then, I have retired from printing and became a Letterpress Collector. I have had the privilege to obtain some extremely good and rare equipment and tools that I use in my shop as a Hobby Printer.

I buy small shops, small packages and any letterpress I can find for my use. With what is left over, I funnel back into the community, sometimes I have profited but mostly to get the tools back to work even at NO PROFIT. I have donated tons of tools, presses, type etc. with hopes to keep the industry alive. Ask anyone who has purchased items from me.

This brings me to my concern. What motivates people that have nothing to do with the Community, DESTROY our tools of survival for PROFIT?

Example - People like to use the word REPURPOSE?

The last I checked, the word Repurpose means to make use an item that no longer had a purpose?

It pains me to see the morons of the world use the Letterpress Communities Tools for profit in a ridiculous manner.
See the ebay ad below.


This idiot is making Christmas Ornaments from good usable wood type.
Others are making Key Chains, Frames, Gluing the letters to wood so it can never be used again.

I am all for the American dream but why destroy an active industries tools for profit?

These pickers, resellers and Art Designers are taking perfectly good Letterpress tools and turning them into their Art for profit.
I guess I am just frustrated to see these idiots buy our tools at auctions, estate sales, flea markets BEFORE we can get to them and destroy their actual purpose.

My favorite is the jerks that PAINT the letterpress cuts, type and dingbats flat black, polish the face to cover up any imperfections one may see before a purchase. I mean, good for them because 99 percent of a sale is presentation. If anyone is buying into this crap, they should be aware.

AM I THE ONLY ONE? Just curious and quite frankly I’m angry at these idiots.

I welcome any thoughts and would appreciate them. Again, maybe I am just seeing too much into this than it has to be.

Log in to reply   17 replies so far

Sadly this is nothing new. “Type Breakers” have been breaking up perfectly good sets for perceived short term gain—never minding that they could probably do better selling to the community. However, many of them either don’t know about letterpress printing, or don’t care.

It may be grim comfort, but still it should gladden the heart that we still have people cutting new wood type. So thanks for Virgin, Moore, and Mr. Petrescue (sic) (in Romania!) who are willing to take the time and effort to keep us supplied with new type.

Ditto. But I’d like to add one thing. For those of us who do this as a profession Journeyman Printer, the pricing of some items have gone CRAZY. Especially when you want to expand with it, I.e. Adding a press, etc. suddenly they have a goldmine. There is only a few of us that know how to use it.

I can appreciate Virgin Wood Type and Moore Wood Type to prevail and offer the community a newly brand of type for their productions. These companies do a great justice to the trade. Unfortunately they are reproducing the items out there that are original. To a collector like myself it doesn’t help much. To a printer that would like to authenticate the process with original equipment, it diminishes their chance to offer an authentic printed piece.
Unless the community bans the Arts and Crafts entrepreneurs, we lose. Our tools will be sold 1 piece at a time.

Hi Pete and all:

I do have this discussion at flea markets and antique shops with anyone who will listen. Not too many people listen or care. But I know you do, and I expect most of the wags on Briarpress care.

If I might offer up one or two tiny grains of hope…this is probably going to sound like fighting fire with fire.

First thing, is the 3D printing industry. Which I will say is not yet an actual industry, but it is heading rapidly in that direction. The capability to make *copies* of printing history, provided it can be done on the cheap, will appeal to pickers and other rapists of the letterpress movement since it reduces their cost of goods. Flood the market with cheap knock-offs that the enablers of this problem (unwitting crafty type buyers and calculating, soulless sellers with no idea of the cultural value that was destroyed by that typecase coffee table their cousin made) don’t know from the real thing, and they will go for the knock-off every time. After all, if someone has a piece of fake chipboard wood type that would be crushed to smithereens in a proof press, and they are only going to hang it on the wall, I think we can allow them that. There is a certain irony here, as I’m suggesting we tap into their greed - which pickers have plenty of - and kind of solve the problem the same way it’s been created. Hopefully there will be more of the real stuff left for you and I to save and use and it won’t be as likely to be floated out there at completely unreasonable prices.

Self-manufacturing (Just like self-publishing in the last decade) has the potential to be the biggest thing since movable type. I am serious about that. A few years ago I had to get some custom-designed inserts for my flat feet, to get rid of a problem where I could barely walk. The podiatrist wanted around $350 to make the mold, using a decidedly non-technical process involving a lot of silicone. The guy in California that actually made the inserts wanted another $500 if I remember right. All of this stuff can be handled by 3d scanners and printers, and it could also be handled completely outside of the medical establishment. I don’t know if that’s ultimately good or bad, but as a medical man myself, I can say that many people - possibly most people - cannot afford orthopedic inserts made using the traditional medical/lab process. 3D printing is a disruptor to this established method, in the same way that Uber and Lyft is a disruptor to traditional cab services. This is happening all over the medical industry, and will happen just about everywhere. If you think we have a cheap crap from China problem now, it is going to get a lot worse - it will be cheap crap from Billy’s basement. As long as no one is actually buying 3d printed lungs and kidneys on the black market, this disruption is a good thing, because it topples the monopoly the US medical cabal has enjoyed for centuries. FDA can suck it. Power to the people. At least people will have an option to get around the system.

Here’s a good example in the letterpress world: the C-shaped type-high measuring devices. I think they were made by Challenge in New Haven Michigan. The real deal goes for an average of $65. Some greedy bastards have them with an opening bid of $89 - ridiculous. Even on auction sites these things go for usually over $50. My brother in law says he can make a knock off (though still out of metal and still completely useful) for about $7, and if I had something to 3d scan mine, I could run down to the basement and knock a plastic one off in an hour. Put enough of these out there on e-bay, or whatever site you want, and I am hopeful that what’s left of the real thing would be too expensive to end up in a shadow box typecase hanging in someone’s bathroom - but at the same time, less likely to trigger the greed gene in these people. Disclaimer: any money made in any type of venture like this would be plowed back in to letterpress curation and actual USE of the bountiful resources left to us by our moms and their fathers and grandmothers, and the legacy of people like Otto Merganthaler and all of the old type foundries that had to close.

The other thing I want to do is just get more young people interested in printing as a hobby, rather than just being a wanna-be with a $150 Cricut plastic toy. (No disrespect meant, you gotta start somewhere!) The renaissance of letterpress has both helped and hurt the treatment of printing relics. I am betting as more people come to respect this hobby as an actual art or trade, depending on your bent, the less likely we’ll see the stuff being offered for “ammo.”

Secondly, true story: my dad’s last trip to the hospital, 2003, the one when he apparently knew he wasn’t coming back. He whispered two things to my older brother who was with him as they loaded him up. First, he said, don’t let mom go into the printshop without disconnecting all the batteries (he was an avid experimenter with all sorts of DC power sources - very dangerous!), and second, he said, don’t let anyone make bullets from my type. That’s exactly how he said it. To this day, I don’t know if he had a pacifist bent (he probably saw a lot of bullets in Korea), or if he just didn’t want his type melted down.

I don’t really have any problem with bullets and buckshot, but dammit, they should be made of lead, not priceless type metal!

I’ll probably join the discussion later on. I could talk all day about the underbelly of society that e-bay has become.

Mike Moore
LetterKraft Press
Union, Kentucky

I concur with the comments in this thread. One thing to consider, however, is that not every eBay lot of wood types or two-pound bag of pied types came from a complete 20A/32a font that an uniformed or uneducated crafter dismantled. In many cases, letterpress artifacts for sale online or in antique stores are longtime orphans that would take too much of an investment to become united as a full font again.

While it would be great to have a full complement of that ubiquitous and gorgeous 8-line ornamented Tuscan uppercase “T” that we have all seen grouped with some other equally rare singletons and sorts, chances are it is just a one-off.

In addition to some beautiful and full-up wood fonts, I have numerous wood type sorts that I hang on to, for no particular reason other than knowing if I get rid of them, they will never be replaced, and just because thetpy are so darn old. Still, I will never print a job with an uppercase “B,” three figures and six or eight random lowercase letters, but nevertheless, I hang onto them.

The same is not so much true with odd metal types that I come across. While I have gathered up some almost full fonts and sold them , I generally end up throwing orphaned lead types into a hell bucket, unless they are extremely rare or more likely, marked with an interesting pin mark or other manufacturer’s mark.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a website for widowed and orphaned fonts that one could search to find missing characters, or to put one’s sorts up to sell? I suspect that if it was something with which one could make money, it would be done by now. I suspect, however, that it is hard to turn a passion for completing fonts into a comercial venture.

Jim DiRisio
The Norlu Press
Fayetteville, NC

Thanks everyone for sharing. I guess this is an unstoppable train wreck. I am a firm believer in Karma. This entity will circle around.
Mike, John and Jim, thank you very much for your thoughts. It does help.

As a parting shot, can I just share some things on auction sites that stick in my craw? Yes I’m looking at you, E-bay type seller that measures type in inches!

The good -
Selling a font complete, LC, uppers and figures all in one auction

Not calling it a font if letters are missing. If letters are missing, or the schedule is way out of wack, it’s a sort, and it’s pretty much useless to a working printer unless you have time to determine the letters you are missing and what’s shown happens to have those letters.

Floating a reasonable opening bid price and letting the market decide how much it is worth.

Sellers who stand behind their product - not necessarily guaranteeing it, because you know, it’s type. But providing some indication of how well it’s been treated, how well it prints, and not just “look at the pictures”

The bad:
My dad would have hit the roof if he saw any metal even just resting on top of type. Measurements are important, so sure, I like to see the pica ruler in the picture but put it NEXT to the type, not ON the type. Same thing for the dime or quarter. If you accept type treated this way, you’ll pay for it in makeready time later on.

In the same vein: brand new type that’s not type high. Bent, crushed, ruined, but clearly never inked. My only conclusion is they foil stamped with it, or had a pile of fonts or heavy galleys laying on top of the type, or it was damaged in transit at some point.

I have absolutely no use for a lowercase font, when I can’t have the uppercase and figures. If I were still an e-bay betting man (never again), I would only bid on an LC font if I actually was missing an LC font. Similarly, no one is going to print a wedding announcement using Park Avenue capitals only.

The ugly
When I see printing history on display like this (see attachments) I am confused and more than irritated, not that there’s anything I can do about it. I guess they must be selling these type mishmashes, or the sellers would not keep auctioning, but aside from gluing this type in a frame and putting it up on a wall, all I can think of is idiotic neckbeards posing as letterpress enthusiasts. Dear Lord I apologize for calling anyone who chooses to not shave their neck an idiot. But honestly, who is buying this crap??

And then there are the e-bay retailers that basically dump out the contents of a hellbox and want $55 for it, plus shipping. What the hellbox?

I would also like to point out, there ARE good sellers of type on E-bay. For example, I have never received type from Perfection Type in Minneapolis that had any problem whatsoever. I just choose to avoid E-bay because it really pops my gaskets every time I start browsing.

Thanks for reading my rant. That’s all I have to say about that.

Mike Moore
Letterkraft Press
Union Kentucky

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Jim DiRiso of the Norlu Press in Fayetteville NC, wrote:

Wouldn’t it be great to have a website for widowed and orphaned fonts that one could search to find missing characters, or to put one’s sorts up to sell? I suspect that if it was something with which one could make money, it would be done by now. I suspect, however, that it is hard to turn a passion for completing fonts into a comercial venture.


I think a sort clearinghouse is a dandy idea, and actually think it could work given the almost pathological need to keep foundry type in case we every run short, like that essay on Syzygy or the odd reference to Chluthu horror.
Printers like me need a way to marry sorts into usable fonts, otherwise we just sit on them, and then our kids end up junking them one day. I know of what I speak, because I was one of those kids. Recycling my dads printshop in 2003 was the dumbest mistake ever, and as it turns out, also a very expensive mistake.

I’ve been open around 4 years and somehow scored a lowercase sort of something like Uncial Script. It is not complete, but I probably won’t ever get around to picking up the caps, and just as unlike I would ever try and sell it (ref. Rant above). I’ve aquired two galleys full of oddities that anyone else would have smelted long ago. Gleaned from old and poorly cleaned out third hand cases. Anyway, to get old curmudgeons to “just let it go” and ship their sorts (pun intended), we’d have to make it easy. Easy on the sortee and on the sorter. Easy to secure and some way to remail a package, in case the Sorter did not want his or her address known.


Need a secure website hosted hopefully not in someone’s basement. Unless it’s googles basement!

Sorters need an easy way to photograph the type, and they should at least take a stab at sizing and identifying it

Sortee - person browsing for and ultimately tagging a sort they could use. This person would need someway to pay for and send a box, such as the free USPS boxes that my wife curses at when she sees one or four coming up the drive carried by our postman, who allows he doesn’t need to go to the gym anymore as long as I keep buying type. They would also need to print a prepaid label

Sorter - this gal would agree to the trade and agree to package the type carefully. Once the sort is agreed on ad ships, the deal is closed and removed from the site. No money changes hands and a karma score is kept for both sortee|sorter. We would need some kind of fee or donations going on to help pay for the server and a system of volunteers.

And you might be both. One guy has lowercase only, the other Lady of Letterpress has the exact same face, same quality, same foundry except only has caps. How many Karma is the full font to each of them? It becomes a negotiation. Type given away gains Karma, Type taken subtracts. No money changes hands. The more sorts given away, the more a printer can win big when something she needs comes along.

So here we have hot metal defragmentation at its finest.

Not sure what those guys on eBay are gonna do when they can no longer ask $10.99 opening bid in exchange for four 8-point @ signs. And the only font they have them in is Curlz, but does the cutomer want them or not?. Because the customer can now get them for just the cost of postage.

No warehouses
No cost of goods
No attorneys needed
No overhead other than Internet and the server.
Matches buyer to seller
Crazy easy to post from anywhere. fB or Tweet or IM or email or whatever.
System is not driven by money.
No sales tax but give them time, states will find a way.



Mr. Moore,
I think you’re on to something.

We (Perfection Type) sell on Ebay, So I have been following this thread with great interest.

I , the wife of the owner, am the one that sorts, brushes/cleans, and sets the type for sale.

Let us not forget the buyers on Ebay who return type…yes we accept returns. They claim that either they didn’t catch that the type was bold in the title or that they just decided that they did not need it.

We get the returned type just dumped in the box in one huge mess( NOT what we sent). Resort the type to sell again…only to learn that ALL of the Cap E’s or LC m’s are now missing. Hmmm …I wonder where those went. Now the originally full font of Park Avenue is useless to everyone.

Mrs, Perfecton Type,

I have purchased some type from you over the years and your site is one of the most honest on EBAY.

Unfortunately the words HONESTY and INTEGRITY have been stricken from the English language over the years.

I have had similar situations when offering some wood type as well as lead type. I only sell what I don’t use or have duplicates of.

I have had people send back wood type claiming the S was cracked and was not advertised. I get the set back and low and behold the B is missing and the S is fine.
Until EBAY understands there are NO WARRANTIES on Antiques. This is going to an ongoing problem.

For you to offer full returns says a lot about your integrity.

I know there is no such thing as the Letterpress Police and the United States is free enterprise but at some point someone has to make a stand from the thieves and the people who part our tools for art decorations and profit.

I know exactly why people sell the tools, piece them out. Its highly sought after and profitable.

The poor shop that has to finally close its doors due to lack of work ends up selling off their shops unknowingly to these hacks, pickers, Art Designers for pennies on the dollar. Once these shops are in the hands of these people, there is nothing we can do. Its theirs now and they are free to do what they wan with them.

First I would like to thank petspo1 and Mike Moore for their nice comments on their experience buying from us.

I agree with both of your assessment’s of the communities on Ebay and other auction sites.

“Proof Before Laying”

Hi, mnmom!

Regarding horror stories with returned type: this may be old news to you at Perfection, but for what it’s worth, I’ll mention that the labels from old ATF font packages commonly contain the following notice: “PROOF BEFORE LAYING”. In other words, pull a proof from the font as packaged and check it before putting the type in the case.

I don’t know what specific policies this may reflect, but it sounds like it might mean that ATF didn’t accept returns unless the font was still tied up as ATF sent it.

I had a wonderful visit with you at Perfection Type last year, and hope to be in touch again before too long.

Best regards,

After some thought, I think I have realized, we are the creator of the TYPE BREAKERS. Unintentionally of course.
I think the Type Breakers sit and wait with the cash in hand for the poor shop to be dismantled so they can swoop in and weep the rewards of that poor shops closing.
I have an ad up to sell off a lot of my unused tools and equipment. I have had several calls and visits from the very same people I despise and I have turned down sales too. Until today, I have only had 2 calls from 2 Letterpress Distributors. Their organizations thrive on restoring the tools back to the community.
Why is that? Only 2 calls from people that actually want to save the tools and help the community? I am a bit confused.

Hi All

I’m new to the art of letterpress. This was a dream of mine to introduce letterpress to my students and wasn’t able to because the flea markets, antique shops, and e-bay is full of people whom not only don’t care about the art but made it financially difficult for me to do so. With the support of this website and gorgeous support of Peter, I’m able to bring back letterpress to the classroom!

Thanks again Peter!

You are very welcome Mrs. Palmieri, It was a pleasure to meet you and your Husband (the Muscle) This weekend. I hope you can teach some young new printers the love of the craft.
We all appreciate your efforts.
I hope that truck load you left with wasn’t too much trouble when you arrived at home. Your husband obviously didn’t realize the amount of stuff you came for, did he?
I was happy to donate what I could and I will be more than happy to donate more when time permits.

Thanks for the nice words.