Painted Type Cases

So what’s the general opinion on painting type cases? I’ve never seen this until recently. I do believe all the ones I have a bare wood. I’ve recently seen some video where the case they were setting type from was painted. Aside from aesthetics, does the smooth surface of the paint make them easier to keep clean?

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Hi Lammy,

I have about 35 cabinets full of cases in the shop and a large number of the cases (and cabinets) have been painted. This “trend” originally came about when cabinets and cases converted from wood cabinets to metal and from wood-fronted cases to cases sheathed in a metal front. The majority of these ‘modern’ set-ups were a sort of battleship grey OR a kind of dark “military-ish” brown. Printers wanted their shops to look up-to-date so they literally painted the older wood cabinets and cases to blend in with the newer metal cabinets.

I do occasionally find cases and cabinets in odd-ball colors that I can only assume were done by some artistic(?!?!?) printers (most likely in the 60s-70s). There are a few of us older Hippies still around, but I got rid of my bell-bottom paints and tie-dyed shirts decades ago.

Had nothing to do with making them easier to keep clean, it was simply for aesthetic reasons.

I should mention that it is extremely rare to run across cases where they inside of the case has also been painted. More common to find cases where the compartments have been marked to show what character goes into each of them.


Right now we have dozen’s empty drawers, many of them have the front of the drawer painted either gray or green.

And dozen’s more full cases painted the same color’s.

Thankfully the former owners did not paint the entire cabinet. Only the drawer fronts.

We agree with the previous poster that the painting was done purely for aesthetic reasons since we have so many that the rest of the cabinet was not painted.

Really a shame to see the beautiful wood covered in paint.

My “military-ish” brown would better be described as an olive-drab green as you mention above.

For those of you that have metal-clad case fronts, it is relatively easy to take the metal off of the front and simply stain the beautiful ash wood front that was originally covered.

Unscrew the handle. The metal front is clamped onto the case but if you carefully get a flat screwdriver under the metal at one end and pry it up a little, you should then be able to clamp a vise-grip pliers onto the metal and simply peel it off of the case. I have done this innumerable times over the decades. Then, find a nice brown stain and apply it to the exposed wood. You may also want to finish up by spraying a matte acrylic varnish over the stained wood after it has dried. When everything is dry just screw the handle back on and you have a wonderful looking case front.


Serves to protect type chest from the dreaded antique dealer beetle. I stripped and refinished mine and now have to take great care with it

Most of my wood cases and cabinets have the original finish. The one case stand I have refinished was taken down to the bare wood with both paint remover and cabinet scraper, then shellacked with regular orange shellac, and working surfaces protected with polyurethane, but gloss, not matte finish as the originals all have a gloss finish. Hamilton used a darker stain on a lot of their wood which I don’t like, and I prefer the color of the shellac. These are several pictures of my stuff, all original finish and all Thompson cabinets:[email protected]/tags/cabinets/

Be a little careful peeling off steel case fronts. American Printing sold thousands of cases that they put together from parts imported from England and made by Stephenson Blake. The American cases and cabinets were typically Ash, which has an interesting grain, but not so the English wood, and I’m not sure what they used.

One positive advantage of type cases with painted fronts (as seen in bigger production houses U.K. for a long time) with entire racks and cases, colour coded, the whereabouts in a big composing room i.e. who was using what and from where, made life easier.

Plus it was standard practice to clarify what actual position any case was absent from, by labeling or painting a strip approx 20 ems x 10 ems on each case front, top to bottom but running diagonally down the 20/25 cases with the size overprinted/marked (in addition to the original smaller size in the window provided, usually (U.K.) Brass frame etc.
Exactly as used in Day Book/Diary,s etc with *Ears/Tab,s* progressively denoting position.?

Probably picked up by later day enthusiasts who think that *painting* is just beautifying, with no practical reason. i.e. as above.!!

Generally (as observed above) Woodworm prefer to attack the floor/base of the cases, our U.K. cases usually used, Oak or Beech for the frame, and 3 Ply for the bottom, (***Footnote,) so this was the preferred option for the little Varmints,??

When a case was re-laid from scratch, where practical /possible the floor,s of every compartment did get a quick lick of paint (sometimes even lightly diluted Letterpress ink)

*** It was not uncommon to see, where a large size i.e. (72 Point) had been Laid in 2 cases by reason of the Sheer volume and weight involved (a) Caps, in a double sided Caps Only case, and (b) the Lower case in a double side Lower Case full width style case, hence the bottom/underneath, was under-laid and stuck with hardboard as a second skin to carry the weight, glued and pinned on the vertical spars.

Usually with Hot Melt Glue from the Bookbinders or Finishing dept, or Ditto from the Perfect Binding Machine,s !!!