Type cases or alternatives?

I don’t currently have a type cabinet, and I am not sure where I would put one right now…

But whenever I see a type drawer people are asking what seems to me to be an exorbitant price for them. Partly because people want to turn them into display cases.

So does anyone have any good alternatives or am I stuck competing with the “repurpose” brigade?

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I don’t know where you are, but there is usually a printing gathering, either at Mt. Pleasant, IA at the Old Threshers, or the APA Wayzgoose (past July), or the Ladies of Letterpress, or the Museum of Printing’s sale, or the International Printing Museum’s sale, or John Barrett’s Letterpress Things, or Churchman’s Boutique de Junque, where type cases are available for more modest prices. I personally have about 10 2/3 cases I could sell if there was anyone in the country (Costa Rica) who wanted any (doubtful). So look around!


I am on the Central Oregon Coast.

Portland is about 100 miles away. I can keep my eyes open but a single type drawer seems to be offered for around $50 here. The nearest of the events you mentioned seems to be LA area. A bit far for a hobbyist trip in the hopes of getting two or three type cases.

Last time I found a cabinet (half full of type no less) the seller decided that she didn’t want to sell. But asked if I wanted to buy the pied type for a few hundred dollars instead. I am afraid that my answer was that I didn’t have anywhere to put it and I didn’t want to pay anywhere near that amount for “a bucket of” unknown type in unknown condition that had been pied.

Type cases were assembled in jigs which cut the time a bit, but it was still hand assembly. Parts were cut and stacked by the hundreds, but it was still hand work. Wages were less then than now, but the cases were not cheap.
Consider the time and materials it would take a person today to make a type case. I had a woodworker look at a case of mine and he said he could make one for $400. $350 ea. for two. I thought that price outrageous. Would $100 cover the cost of the builder’s time?
Egg cartons don’t look good, but they are cheap. There are plastic partitioned boxes at the craft stores. They are pretty cheap and serve the purpose.
I am traditional and like the old wooden cases. I spend many hours cleaning up filthy cases and often putting new bottoms in. You probably could not afford to pay me for my time. I call it idiot work.

Type cases were hand assembled. The last production ones I know of were made by Thompson Cabinet Co. in Luddington, Michigan. This album of photos was taken by Ed Thompson and shows his very last employee working on a large order of cases I had ordered for resale. These photos date to 2005/6 as I recall and the very last thing Ed made for me were small furniture cabinets. Everything was intact in the plant at the time. They had jigs for all the parts and special saws and other machinery specifically set up for type case production.


I didn’t realise that they were all hand assembled. It seems to me that the resale price (which has nothing to do with manufacturing costs) in antique stores has gone from $20 to $50+ in the last few years.

As I said originally, I am not sure I have room for a cabinet in the house at the moment. Thus my question about alternatives…

Those are interesting photos Fritz, thanks for sharing (the date on the images themselves says 2006).

I will see whether I can find a cabinet and room to put it then… Or if not if I can find a suitable alternative.

Thanks for sharing these photos, Fritz!

I have to sympathize with your dilemma. Here, the only pair of California job cases I have ever seen for sale were marked at AUD250 each. Gave up that idea then and there.
Fortunately, modern technology came to the rescue some years later.
I drafted up a CAD cutting file and hired a local CNC owner to cut the case bottoms in 12mm MDF. Into the 3 x 3mm slots I forced 28mm high 3mm MDF dividers. The price was reasonable for the cutting but the assembly of the cases and the cabinet, tedious (and used what seemed to be a heap of material).
Happy to try to post the files if that is an option for anyone.
As mentioned elsewhere, a Dearing or Jumbo Job case pattern is the style that I settled on.

I recently bought a 25-case 2/3 cabinet with the original California-style cases, made by the probable predecessor of Thompson Cabinet Co, Tubbs Mgf. The total cost, including shipping to Costa Rica, was about $1000, or about $40/case, less if you count the value of the cabinet. John Barrett (Letterpress Things) has many other cabinets with cases to sell and will ship. Worth a thought. But the price of everything is higher than it used to be when you could buy cases for $4-5 each in good condition.


One alternative is to keep your type on galleys. Much of my type 18-point and larger type is stored standing upright and tied up on 9x12 galleys. You can get a lot of type in the small footprint of a galley cabinet. If I buy new type (Skyline, Sterling, etc.), I generally keep it stored in its original carton.

Smaller type is really best stored in type cases. A two-thirds stand takes up less space than a full size stand. If you want large fonts of small type, you will have to go to the standard size case. If it’s only a few of these cases, store them under the bed and drag them out when you need them. Some people store tiny 6 and 8 point type in plastic containers with compartments—I think that’s a pain, but it’s an alternative.

With some footwork and some patience, you should be able to find type cases cheaper than $50.00. There are plenty of other letterpress printers in the Northwest. Network with them. Get to know them—they’re generally very friendly and helpful. Let them know what you are looking for. Some people quit the business/hobby for one reason or another and aren’t looking to make a financial coup on their equipment. Keep an eye on the local ads—classifieds, auctions, flea markets. Check out long established printing businesses to see if they have unused materials in storage. There are auction houses that specialize in printing sales that have been posted on this site.

Nothing going on nearby? The 16th Annual SVC Letterpress Wayzgoose will take place in Seattle on September 16 2017. Get yourself up there!


Bob, I sometimes have to travel to Seattle for Business.

Driving takes about five hours each way. (Renton actually which is this side of Seattle). Flying takes two hours of driving to get to the airport. The time savings are not worth the added cost.

The Wayzgoose sounds interesting, but I am not sure about the 10 hours of travel.

I have found some cases on Craigslist in the PDX area, so I might be able to get some that way. As long as the seller is willing to wait until I can pick them up. (It is that two hour drive again).

Eucybruce1 thanks for the suggestion, that might be a plan if nothing else.


You might also research is there is any business in Portland that handles used printing equipment — many times such outfits have an old stash of letterpress stuff they haven’t been able to sell and might give you a good price, or they also hear about shops closing that have a dark corner full of disused equipment including old type cabinets and cases, as well as some juicy old type. You might luck out. Eugene or Salem might also be possibilities.


Thank you Bob. Salem is closer, but a lot smaller, Eugene is a bit further away than Portland.

I think the answer seems to be perseverance or lots of working making your own… I did wonder about some of the other beading/crafting/parts storage options might work but it sounds like they are not great.

When I was working on the printing of a small book and had to travel with sorts of the font we were using, I found these plastic “keep boxes”, each 8.5x14 in, in a local store. Each has 21 compartments, so two alphabets, caps and lc, plus numbers, didn’t leave room for either the ligatures or punctuation, so I think I doubled up with some to get it all in. The compartments are pretty big and taped-in dividers for the smaller-quantity characters would permit better arranging. They store pretty compactly and stack well. This might be a short-term answer for a few fonts. I forget how much they were, about $5 each, I think.


image: keep boxes.jpg

keep boxes.jpg

21 spaces, that would be perfect for an ogham font. :-D

Actually, those look pretty good. Sure you need multiple cases per font, but that is better than a pile of Ziploc bags… Or worse, one Ziploc bag with a pied font in it.

I am currently sorting through a Ziploc bag containing an 8pt Old English/Gothic font.

My current plan once I have it sorted is to take a galley proof and make sure it IS sorted. By the time I am finished I hope to have a home ready for it.

I have for many years been in regular touch with the really basic amateur printing world, folk with the smaller Adanas,
and the home made cases that have come to me from that crew would amaze you. eg Lids off shirt boxes with painstakingly sellotaped down card divisions, must have taken ages to make.
The Adana Compan’y small cases are dreadful the compartments miles too small , hurts your fingers to use them. Their bigger ones, similar to the trade’s ”quarter cases’ just about right, tho’ the case lay is straight alphahbetic.
I too have used the moulded plastic ’ fishermans fly and hook boxes’ and similar ‘screw assortment’ cases. Nice
and cheap. but our founts fit the layouts awkwardly.
Like the folk are saying, best to keep trying for the real thing.

I found someone selling three in Portland for $70 for all three ( and they threw in a 4th that had the partitions removed for free, handy for odds and ends like the boxed initials I have).

And having a few small (in one case the partitions are about 3/4” square) alphabetic cases I have to say that these are much nicer to use.

I am still looking for a reasonable cabinet locally, but thank you everyone for your ideas.

(My current press is a 4x6 C+M Caxton so those Adana presses would probably be a step up. I would love to have room for an Albion but I don’t at the moment. Yes, it is older, even more manual, but I have nostalgic memories of using one.)