(Note: This is an odd question to be asking on a website in this day and age. But it is something that those with a historical bent might care about, and I'm not sure where else to ask!)
As a hobbyist graphic designer, I've gotten into some of the background...such as by watching that Helvetica documentary. I began looking to pick up a nice looking metal letterpress set, as a coffee-table conversation piece, and perhaps to play with using with actual ink.
The idea to go after this came from visiting a vintage store, and seeing a pile which was a grab-bag of letters from miscellaneous fonts. But they wanted something like $4 per letter--which seemed rather outrageous for odds and ends. I'd rather have a real typeface set that I could use. The only constraint for fitting in with the table and rest of the room is that it be gray metal.
Of course, it would be nice if I could have some famous set from a type foundry. But I'm not going to become a collector. So does anyone have opinions on where to get an affordable, non-tacky set that would not have letters larger than a quarter? As designers who might show up at a party where there was metal type on a table, what would you enjoy finding there to strike up a conversation with people about typography?
As a baseline to start the discussion, there's a 72 point Helvetica medium type on eBay with a "buy it now" option for $299:
Helvetica is an okay choice because the documentary made it into an automatic conversation piece. But that's more than I might like to spend for a toy esp. if it's a cheap replica. Ideas?