A type collecting story

I have been nudged to share on of my type collecting stories with others because this is apparently someone’s favorite and they tell me I need to share it. Here goes -

It was a summer Saturday afternoon in 1989 and I received a phone call from fellow APA member Lauren Gehringer in Iowa City. “Gehry” was calling me to ask if I would interested in buying his wood type collection. He hadn’t used any of it in years and wanted to get rid of it. He said he had called another Iowa printer at least three times to offer it all to him, but he never got a call back from that person. He had decided to offer it to me next.

This was a no-brainer. I told him it would take me two hours to get to Iowa City and that I was headed for my truck as soon as I hung up.

I arrived at his place and he led me down to his basement shop. He had a tall pile of large flat photo-paper boxes and they were all full of wood type fonts. I looked at each one and they were all winners. Included were maybe ten wood type borders as well as lots of wood ornaments. The MOTHERLOAD!!!!! Fairly overwhelming. I WANTED IT ALL.
Now the question was whether I could afford it or not.

We went into a very prolonged dance of “What do you want for it?” vs. “What will you give me for it?”. He would not budge and give me a hint of what he thought it was worth.

I finally had to think how much I could possibly afford to spend. Probably not much in the bank account, two small kids at home, yadda, yadda, yadda. I thought that I might be able to squeeze out $300 without getting into trouble at home. I knew that this wasn’t even close to what all of this stuff was worth, so I hestitatingly made him that offer for all of it.

He had a stunned, taken aback, look on his face as soon as I said that. I thought to myself “Oh shit, I’ve really pissed him off now.” He finally said “Oh no, that’s way too much, how about $150.00?” UNBELIEVABLE! I wrote the check and loaded my truck.

The feeling was undescribable as I drove back home to the farm. Something akin to first love. I think I was literally driving on air because I seemed to be floating home in a state of euphoria.

Once home, I parked the truck behind the house and ran up the back stairs into the kitchen. My wife was there and I was so overjoyed that I simply blurted out “You won’t believe all of the wood type I just bought for $150”. I will remember to my grave the look on her face and her tone of voice when she yelled back “You spent $150?”

So……the lesson was well learned. When bringing home new printing treasures I simply drive the truck into the barn and leave it there until I can unload and sneak everything into the shop when no one else is around.

As best I can recall there were probably around 19 fonts of wood type, plus the borders and ornaments. Thank you Gehry, they found a good home.

Merry Christmas everyone. My Christmas came during the summer in 1989.


Log in to reply   5 replies so far


Great story! I can relate to the feeling. I have a wood type story too and maybe this thread will prompt more.

I purchased a few items from a shop in Ithaca, NY a couple of years ago. In that lot was a hand made wood type tray with a beautiful wood font. When I got it home I discovered a second layer under the type of an amazing 10 line wood border. The type was clearly marked as from William Page & Co. Norwich, CT. Norwich is only 13 miles from my home which really spiked my interest. I began to look for more type with earnest. While waiting to find something I learned more about Page. I have a brother in law who also lives in Norwich that we visit often. I learned that Page’s factory was in the Greenville section of Norwich, so on one visit I asked him where the Greenville section was. To my surprise, he said your in it! This is the Greenville section. Suddenly it dawned on me that his street (Lowry Ave) must have been named after one of Page’s associates. The name appears on patent documents submitted by Page. It only made sense the street name was after him or his family given the area.

Not long after that visit an Ebay auction came up for a lot of 17 trays of wood type. The seller was located in Norwich! He had put up 14 pictures of some of the trays but only one tray had the face up so you could see what it was. All the others were laying on their side. I should say these were obviously old trays. They were California type layout made for wood type with no handles on the front edge. Not the typical open trays we normally see. I decided to email him to see if I could come take a first hand look. He responded positively and so I made an appointment for the next day to go inspect what he had. As I drove toward Norwich my excitement was building. I had put the address in my GPS as I am not all that familiar with that area. As I was getting closer to the address he gave, I was getting closer to my brother in laws. I realized the destination for the shop with the type was in the Greenville section of Norwich. Now, I am really getting excited. I pulled up to the address given and it was in the industrial section down along the river. Page’s original factory was likely in this very area. The original building had burned and they moved so I knew that the building didn’t exist anymore, but, the area had a lot of large buildings that one could easily imagine Page being nearby. I went in and met the seller. He was still an active printer and gave me a tour of his shop. We made small talk for about half an hour before he finally said I guess you’d like to see the wood type. He lead me to another room where I found a hand made type chest with the 17 trays. I pulled out the first tray and picked up an “A” to look for the maker. On the side read Wm. Page & Co. Greenville, CT I pull out the second tray and did the same….. Wm. Page. I casually asked if they were complete fonts. He said he didn’t know how many if any were complete. He knew some were not. They were very dirty but looked to be in very good condition. They were not the Gothic standard often found, but, a variety of condensed or extended faces of Antique, Claredon or Tuscan. Some had Am. Wood Type as the maker. That was (Tubbs) a former employee of Page that started his own company about an hour from Norwich. OK, these are nice I said. I believe I was hyperventilating at this point, but trying to act normal. “You put them up on Ebay with a starting price of $100 and no reserve. What are you hoping to get for them”? He responded about $1200 or so. I asked if I offered the $1200 now would he stop the Ebay auction before anyone bid? He responded that you cannot stop an Ebay auction. I knew you could, but didn’t argue and decided I should go just go home at this point, and left him my phone number should he change his mind. Around 9:00 that evening I was on Ebay and saw he ended the auction for the type. I swallowed hard. Had he reconsidered my offer? Had someone else made a deal for them? I went to sleep with cautious optimism. The next day, I expected to get a phone call. 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 no call. Finally, while at lunch, I decided I had to call and find out. I got him and said I saw he ended the auction and asked if that meant he accepted my offer. He said, you know, I have been getting a lot of calls about this type, (my heart sunk) they all want to know what the fonts are, he said. I have no idea what fonts they are, yes, we have deal. I asked if a company check or cash was preferred. He said cash is good. I told him I would be there in an hour, got the cash, hooked up my trailer, and sped off to Norwich. We loaded it up and like you Rick I headed home with that same indescribable feeling.
I had the mother load of beautiful old wood type from my now favorite maker. It only got better when I began to sort and clean my haul. There were some 23 fonts and only 2 were not complete. Many were complete upper and lower case with numerals. They can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157628363191559/ I don’t expect to have this kind of luck again, although living in this area, one never knows. I believe there still is a lot of old equipment and type sitting in basements that has yet to be discovered. Oh, and I got the blessing from the wife although its getting a bit harder each time I find another must have letterpress item. I’m not sure about the getting her approval for the next press for instance. (number 10)

Merry Christmas fellow letterpress enthusiasts.


Most of my nicest wood type also came from CT. I visited a letterpress shop where all the contents were for sale because the seller had decided he was more interested in woodworking than printing, but he wanted to sell it all in one lot. There were about 300 sawdust filled cases of metal and wood type- the metal mostly pinmarked BB&S and the wood stamped Heber Wells.

I had no use for the equipment- the seller had long ago buried his Vandercook #4 in the yard. “Over there” he said, “right under that patch of lawn.” I knew he wasn’t full of BS because he sold me the drive motor and gearbox he had taken off of it before it went in the hole.

I had to decline the purchase, but driving off I told him I would be willing to buy just the type collection for a certain sum that was about half of the total he wanted for the whole operation. A couple of weeks later he called and asked if the offer was still good as they normally do.

I rallied the troops and warned everyone to be careful of the wood type- it was, after all the only reason I had made the offer to begin with. We carted it all back to The Arm and the stacks of cases completely took over the space making it rather uncomfortable. I promptly scheduled a blowout of a type sale.

I didn’t make too many selections from the metal type for myself, but it did find its way out in to the world and is hopefully being used now. The sale was a lot of fun and the wood type was well worth the trouble and expense.


image: ornaments.jpg

image: type2.jpg

image: wood.jpg

image: typesale.jpg

My husband just looked really perplexed when he asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I said, ‘a tabletop letterpress’. I’m sure he knows it’s the first step towards a vandercook in the basement…

why fool around, just ask him for the vandy for Christmas.

Kind of interesting- the motor from that #4 that my CT type seller buried just resurfaced and was sold on eBay in October. Hope it found a good home!


Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

image: motor.jpg