Wood Type

I see wood type selling for big bucks on Ebay — is it that useful? valuable? Better than metal? Jim

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For posters and such, big wood type is better than wimpy little metal type. See http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/design-as-slow-motion-train-wreck


Depends on what you are using it for. It has a great texture, and gives life to a poster or print when used in the correct manner.

The original reason for wood type was to provide letters and figures that were larger than could be cast in foundry. The second reason was to lessen the weight of the form. Most wood type today is well used and takes a fair amount of make-ready to print well, unless you belong to the I-like-all-my-printing-to-look-like-make-ready school (shudder).


Thank you all for your insights about wood type. Given the wear the used type may have, that’s for sale on Ebay, one must be very careful with a purchase, especially since the photos the sellers present are far from the best to identify defects. Jim

believe it or not, all those imperfections are actually what may people value in a collection of wood type. Not to say that it is better to have a severely damage collection, but many people who use wood type versus having plates made or what not, are using it because it has that well worn charatcter to it. Perhaps that old school look is kind of trendy in a way, but many people dig it. I still think ebay is kind of steep in price, but the old type is fun to have around.


I find it amusing that you call it the old school look. I’ve run into this thinking from designers who want everything to look damaged and stressed. The old school look was to have type printed well and the printing be well designed. The look you describe is a recent trend, grown from the lack of experience in proper make-ready and/or the deliberate use of damaged letters to create what is erroneously assumed to be the look of antique typography. If one goes back 50 or 75 years, the wood type had 50 or 75 years less wear than it does now. I have never before encountered wood type printed as badly as some I have seen today. The same goes for layout and design. Old and beat up wood type can often be printed well, with a little care. It would be nice if the modern trend in letterpress would be to emulate the better printing and typography of the past.


Here Here, paul well said.

Amen Brother

I hear you, i was more or less referring to that recent trend you describe. I was not intending to suggest that it harkened back to a past where poor makeready and damaged type was the norm or considered acceptable. I fully get that any self respecting printer, past or present, would take the time to produce a quality product that met the expectations of the client.
I think my thought was that the beat up old type that people seem to enjoy these days seems to be more of a suggestion of something antique or worn, and for whatever reason, people seem to like that, regardless of how authentic it actually is (the same could be said for the obscene amount of impression that people seem to want these days, but that is another discussion).
There are places like Hatch Show Print, who could probably take much of the blame for nurturing that ‘look’, who have ben slapping together sloppy makeready for over 100 years, and i guess over time it went from being crash and burn printing to being quaint and charming crash and burn printing.
To each their own, i guess.


I agree with you wholehaeartedly. I about fell out of my chair laughing at the “I want all my printing to look like makeready school” comment. I’ll file that one away for future discussions with people. There is definitely a home-made/grunge school of design out there. The one that really sends my head spinning is the use of old plates to purposely print out of register/color images as some sort of “art” statement.

Several years ago I had the supreme pleasure of raiding a former poster/billboard plant that was greatly downsizing. The deal was that I could have just about anything EXCEPT what was in two cabinets that they absolutely would not part with. I had a grand time filling my truck with wood type, lino-cuts, etc. After I had gathered everything that I really wanted, I just couldn’t resist the temptation to at least look into the two cabinets that they insisted on keeping just to see what untold treasures they wanted to hold onto. They were still going to continue in operation providing county fairs and rodeos and such with preprinted flyers that they would imprint the location/date information onto.

It was truly a revelation to see what they wanted to keep. Hands-down the worst-looking, most beat-to-death ugly san serif type imaginable. It actually looked like someone had gone through each case with a ballpean hammer! This is the stuff they used day-in and day-out to imprint their window cards and posters! I wouldn’t have wanted any of it if it had been free!!! The other note is that ALL the wood type in the whole place had a red patina to it because red was THE color for imprinting posters. There was one flatbed press there that was permanently inked-up for red.



I agree that a lot of the sloppy printing trend comes from the incredibly poor printing done at Hatch Show Print. The fellow that runs it actually took his ‘make-ready’ style from the images that Charles Anderson produced about 25 years ago. As in most graphic art, that style has pretty much run its course, although it persists among neophytes and Hatch, where Sherraden hasn’t grown as a printer or designer. The only variety that comes out of Hatch today comes from the other individuals working there, and their own design ability that occasionally shines through.

I disagree that Hatch Show Print has always produced crappy work. It was a well respected poster shop during the time that it was owned by the Hatch family. I have seen some beautiful work that came out of that shop in the 30s, 40s, 50s and into the 60s. As the poster industry declined in the late 60s and 70s the owner, Jerry Pinkelton (who had worked for Will Hatch’s wife after his death in 1952) did his best to keep the shop up. When Jerry died in 1975 or 76 his family tried to keep it going, but not so successfully. When I started working there the product was poor. There had been no program to replace worn type. The dried bits of ink left on the surface of the type were hammered into the face, creating small depressions, and the type was never brushed clean so the build-up of ink around the edges of the letters had clogged openings. For the first posters I produced, 2 hours were spent on typesetting, and 6 to 8 hours were spent scraping the old ink off the sides of the type with an old mat knife. I was eventually able to assemble a new crew, and a program to replace damaged type and equipment, including a newer poster press and a complete re-wiring of the building (that really is another story). I brought the shop back to pre 1950 standards and was successfully re-building the client base when, a month after hiring Sherraden, he went behind my back to the owner and convinced him to fire me and let him run it. Now, I believe that he is a good salesman, actually, a great salesman to be able to sell the crap that has issued from the shop in the last 20+ years, but he is not a good printer or designer and has largely sold Hatch by trotting out the old work as examples and then producing an inferior product for his clients. I recently encountered a photo on Flickr of a recent workshop with Sherraden posing with one of the posters I designed in 1983!

I continued to make posters on my own as Ritz Sho-Card Company until a few years ago, when I began teaching a book arts class at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Below is a link to a few of my posters produced in my little shop in Nashville and California. One of these days I will post the chapter I wrote describing my time there for the Hatch Show Print book published by Chronicle Books, but rejected (of course) by Sherraden and his ghost writers, so that my part in the continuation of Hatch as a viable and functioning poster shop can be fully recognized. I value my time at Hatch. I learned a great deal, which I have applied to the rest of my printing career.



Paul, I had a look at your posters on Flickr and would like to say that they’re really beautiful. Nice crisp printing as well.


Interesting insight into hatch history. I had no idea you had worked there when making my remarks about Hatch. Really I have always been a fan of the Hatch stuff, I guess it only makes sense that a shop that old would vary over the years as far as quality and purpose are concerned. I guess these days there really are a lot of ways to view this medium and find one’s place in the mix.


I also thank you for the Hatch insight. You have definitely confirmed what I have sensed for a long time but never really expressed because I have not had the opportunity to meet (confront?) Jim Sherraden personally. Came close a few times but schedules changed. You are on-target about him showcasing the glorious past only to produce down-and-dirty schlock. Every once-in-a-while there is something nice emanating from there, buy even a blind hog can find an acorn once in a while.


I like the analogy of the monkey with the typewriter, too. The Hatch book was quite a disappointment to me. There was so much history staring them in the face which they chose to overlook. About the only mention I got (after 3 years of 16 hour days, 6-7 days a week) was that I was in a band. The people who did the real work got little mention. A number of posters I made were not credited to me and the double spread Riders in the Sky poster, which I made in three parts was assembled wrong (the date sheet should have been on the bottom). I guess to the victors go the spoils, and the ability to re-write history.