advice for selling letterpress type

Hi. I’m a letterpress beginner who is trying to help someone else sell his type. I’m looking for advice before I post a Classified ad.
What is the best way to prepare metal type for sale? Is there a protocol? I have two trays that are pretty mixed up. Should they be organized first? Do people generally need to catalogue the characters? How should I assess the condition of the type, considering that I haven’t printed with it myself?
Thanks for any advice. I’ve very excited to have discovered this site.

Log in to reply   2 replies so far

Hi Greg,

As a buyer of used type, how the type is described and shipped is very important to me. If I can’t see the type in person, ideally here’s what I’d like to see:

— A detailed description of the type, including the name and size of the type and how and by whom it was cast — or at least whether it’s foundry or monotype. If there is a “pin mark” on the side of the type, you should describe it. You also should look on the uppercase H and the lowercase m to see if there is an identification number.

— A catalogue of the characters, a proof sheet of the font, or photographs that show the entire font clearly enough to count the characters.

— Something about the history of the type, such as “bought new in 1964, used only once.”

As for condition:

— Each character should be examined for damage, and any “dinged” characters should be discarded before the catalogue is created or the photos of the entire font are taken. A loupe is good, or you can use high-magnification reading glasses.

— A description of the amount of wear. The edges of the character faces should be sharp and crisp, not rounded. In addition to photographs of the entire font, high-resolution, extreme closeups of the most-worn and least-worn characters would be great, plus an idea of the percentage of each in the font.

— An assessment of any corrosion on the type — you don’t want to see any lead oxide, which is a white, flaky-looking substance.

— Cleanliness is not a critical factor for me. I would worry more about receiving improperly cleaned type than dirty type.

As for packing and shipping, you wouldn’t want to ruin good type by bad handling. The idea is to prevent the faces of the type from touching anything in shipment:

— Ideally the type should be “fonted,” which means all of the characters lined up in identical-length rows, separated by leads, in alphabetical order or at least close to it, and tied tightly with string. If you look in the “Type, Cuts & Printing Blocks” category on eBay, you’ll see lots of examples — good and bad. Fonting takes time and some skill, and requires a composing stick and a galley. If your friend has lots of type to sell, it might be worth his or her while to learn how to do this. The font should be tightly butcher-wrapped in several layers of paper and taped with packaging tape. Corrugated cardboard works, too, as long as the ends are taped. The “top” or face side of the type should be marked on the package.

— Alternately, I’ve received type that has been sorted and packed snugly (lined up and face up) in a flat box, like a jewelry box, with some sort of packing material holding everything firm.

— Once fonted and wrapped or boxed, the type should be wrapped again (such as with bubble wrap) and packed in the shipping box with enough packing material so that nothing jiggles. The USPS has “flat rate” boxes that can be any weight and go to any place for the same price — perfect for people who ship type metal. For heavy fonts, the box should be reinforced. My best shipper glues a fitted piece of plywood to the bottom, and sometimes to the sides, of the shipping box. It’s bomb-proof. Takes me 20 minutes to get to the type!

I’ve probably left some things out. I’ll be happy to see suggestions from other type sellers and buyers.


Great post Barbara!