Which comes first, the cabinet or the type :)

Hello everyone,

I’m a newer hobby printer, that enjoys typesetting with lead type. I want to start building my type collection, as currentlyI have none. I’m curious if you all would suggest acquiring type first, or a cabinet to place the type into first?

Also, when acquiring a cabinet, is the general rule to buy as large as you can afford, knowing you’ll probably fill it over time?

As for type, are there any standard/common typefaces that get used more often than others, that would be a good first couple purchases? I seem to see a lot of Futura and Cooper Black…

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I’d suggest you look at the printing you think is most attractive and study the types used, then seek those or similar types to collect. I built a collection by buying used type and selecting the nicest faces from them and discarding (selling when possible) the rest. Over the years (and it takes a while! :-) I’ve built a satisfying collection. But you want to first decide your own aesthetic tastes in type. There are a lot of good faces available new, the used ones, not so much.


I would keep a close eye on ebay and all the local auctions and classifieds.
I bought several large collections, and contained the type, cabinets and drawers. Buying this way can be a cheap way to get started if you are patient and wait for the right deal.
You can also sell unwanted type one by one for a good profit to invest in other type you want.
Buying tray by tray can be very expensive.


Manage by Objective
Envision what you will print. Then select type.
I suggest you stay away from eBay and Craigslist. You might find some good type there, or stuff that an opportunist is looking to sell.
I think you will do better in purchasing from a real printer if you are going to purchase used type.
Having said all this, I must tell that it is not the way I started. I was very eager to get in and didn’t have the benefit of such wisdom I may have now. I have hundreds of cases of type acquired in auction lots. Most of which I may never use. I do have some nice stuff and several In a range of sizes in a family such as Goudy.
Tell where you are and attempt to get in touch with other printers. Most of us are pretty nice and will be happy to help a newcomer.

Get some ink on your shirt.

Futura & Cooper Black are timeless fonts and not
a bad investment. Cooper wears better under pressure
than Futura but check every font for rounding-back
of corners and edges. Bring your loupe. A used-up font
at a great price will cost you way more in makeready
time. Style is a personal issue there is no accounting for
it. There’s a brilliant young designer who regularly
prints at our studio, who cannot tolerate Cooper Black.
It gets over-used, sure, but his response is visceral.
And not entirely unlike the way I felt about Souvenir
40 years ago. Don’t waste your money on Helvetica.
It may not be the blandest of fonts, but it tries to be.

Don’t listen to me. Go with the forms that appeal to you
and you will (with focused practice) soon develop your
own look. Keep a swipe file of typography, calligraphy,
& the signage that stops you in your tracks. Learn from it.
Look at every graphic design book and website you
have time for. Full faith-Immersion, then….
Go with your gut.

I don’t mean for this to sound condescending.
I teach, so I have a few over-caffeinated opinions.
Best of luck.

Thanks for the wonderful feedback!

I am most attracted to rustic and industrial type of font aesthetics which on a whole are probably more masculine in appearance.

I’ll attempt to find some examples to post here, this evening.

I’m located in Madison, Wisconsin and work on a 3x5 Kelsey and an 8x12 C&P that I’ve fixed up.

It is difficult to use type without the cases. If you can pick up a few cases (not necessarily a full cabinet), you’ll be ready to distribute your new type properly and be ready to use it. If it looks like you are “hooked” on the hobby, you can keep your eyes open for good deals in your area.

John Henry

If you have the opportunity, obtaining a storage system for your type before you purchase the type would be my suggestion. This could range from a cabinet with a full complement of cases (most likely California cases) to plastic bead boxes (with the little compartments). As with your type choices, go with what you like. If you have the room, though, I would purchase a full cabinet, or a 2/3 cabinet. An organized type case is hard to beat when setting up for a print run. Also, remember the saying (that has shown up on this site from time to time): You can never have too much type!


Sorry! By “full cabinet” I meant that it has all cases intact. I did not mean that it was full of type!