(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 font

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?

  • I once spent a few days working at a place called the Newcomen Society in PA, and they had old presses and wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling racks of movable type. I wasn't there for printing, but it was a pretty cool to see.
    – horatio
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


Why not make your own font and letterpress forms with 3D Printing? There are a number of companies out there that do it and it would make for a unique piece with an interesting backstory behind it.

  • 1
    That's definitely a cool idea and a good resource to know about, but not the route I'll take for this. I might print some other things, though. Thanks! Commented Jul 30, 2011 at 6:00
  • 1
    To get the effect of metal, you could then cold cast the printed forms using metal powder
    – Dre
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 22:31

If you keep your eyes open, you can often find metal type for free as long as you are willing to haul it. I've had to move more than a few collections in my time and usually, the owner ends up eventually giving the stuff away to anyone that can haul it out.

As for where to find it, ebay and craig's lists in your region are a good start.

Briar Press has a classifieds section:



An outfit I used to work for still ran some antedelluvian monotype machines, mainly producing fonts for people using letterpress printers (mainly small ones such as Adanas) or doing hot foil work. If you can find somebody with a working monotype, you may well be able to buy fonts off them.

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