Travelling printer’s case: seeking some background information

While hunting for individual type sorts at an antique market, I came across an exciting discovery.

It’s a metal box with 4 drawers, the bottom three which contain a few full font sets, and a set of led pieces at a smaller size. The top drawer contains three rollers and three raised plates for ink.

I fell in love and had to have it, so now I’m hoping to find some background information.

The seller informed me that it was a traveling printer’s case circa the 1880s/1890s. The box contains no visible manufacturer’s mark, although i haven’t checked the bottom yet (I’m not strong enough to lift it by myself).

Has anyone seen one of these before? Any idea on manufacturers?

Are there any anecdotes or documentation of traveling printers around that time?

Would this have been used in conjunction with a portable press of some kind? Some of the sorts are fairly large, so I would imagine it would have to be large enough to print posters, or signage for shops.

Bonus question: can anyone identify the typeface?

Any information or leads would be greatly appreciated!

image: The closed case with drawer pulls

The closed case with drawer pulls

image: Rollers and ink plates - with dried ink

Rollers and ink plates - with dried ink

image: Wood sorts

Wood sorts

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When I look at your photos, and see the typeface, the brayers, the cabinet with its drawers and their handles, I would guess that it dates from around 1920-1930 and not 1890.

It’s a type cabinet that was sold to accompany a sign or showcard roller press. The green paint on the cabinet dates it to World War II, when the only paints available were made for the war effort. From the look of the handles I would say it was manufactured by Thompson Cabinet Company in Luddington, Michigan (the total width of the handle is the indicator as to whether it was made by Hamilton or Thompson). The bearers on the rollers might indicate that it was originally used with a window or bumper sticker press. A better photo of the type might help with identification.


If the type was used on some kind of sign press it would have a deep cut in the bottom of each letter.

Even if the type is not undercut, the cabinet is a showcard style cabinet. I came close to buying one just like it 20 years ago, complete with press, although I can’t recall the make of press I do remember it was quite large and heavy.


The cabinet and brayers look very much like those sold with the “Line-O-Scribe” brand of showcard presses. I’ve attached three images, one from an early catalog when Lino-O-Scribe was its own company, in Michigan, and two from a later catalog when the line was owned by the Morgan Sign Machine Company in Chicago. Both catalogs are undated, but the Morgan catalog has a city zone code in its address and so must date from after 1943.

Typically presses such as these would have been used to print show cards (think small window, merchandise display, and point-of-sale signs in modern terms) by stores. They would probably have had a relatively sedentary existence

David M.

image: line-o-scribe-adrian-titlepage-crop-scale.jpg


image: morgan-line-o-scribe-catalog-p39-scale.jpg


image: morgan-line-o-scribe-catalog-backcover-scale.jpg


Really, this has nothing to do with travelling printers and is strictly showcard printing, whether the type is grooved or not; not all sign presses used the groove. This type of cabinet was used by smaller in-plant signprinters (for example in department stores), not by printers in the trade. The fact that it is metal suggests it is post-WW II, though I am not sure when this specific kind of storage began. When press-on lettering replaced metal, similar cabinets were made out of cardboard to store sheets of Letraset rub-downs.
A large volume sign-printer would us a large slanted standing rack, something like what Asian typesetters used to store their massive character set.

Thank you so much for your quick responses! This community really is a wealth of information.

There is fairly large/deep nick on the bottom of each letter.

I will post a better photo of some of the sorts for type identification later on.

Pressed steel office and commercial furniture took off rather earlier in the US than in the UK. Here in the UK, such a cabinet would be very likely post WW2. In the US I guess such designs go back a decade earler - maybe a little more.

This near-military shade of green paint was one of the standard colours used for this sort of furniture in the UK long after WW2 - down to the 1970s at least. The other prevalent colours here in the UK were mid grey and burnt orange (less common).

I’d guess 1945-1960 but US-anians will have a more precise idea.

The antique dealer’s attribution of function (‘travelling printer’) and date (‘1880s-1890s’) is classic!

Anyway you’ve got a nice object with seemingly intact contents … all you need now is to track down a compatible press…

I have several of these cabinets in my own collection, but what amazes me is the first photo that David shows above. Look at that press!!!!!! It appears to be a platen Lino-O-Scribe press! I have never run across one of those, only the flatbed/proof presses that came along later.


Here’s an uncropped version of the title page of this catalog, at a higher resolution:

(On the page linked above, click on the large image of the titlepage. That should bring up a PDF version of the scan. Zoom in on it in your PDF viewer and you can see more of the details of this press.)

It’s from a pair of Line-O-Scribe catalogs that I picked up at the Midwest & Great Northern Printers’ Fair last month - yet another reason to attend the Fair! Unfortunately, the older catalog shows only type and a few supplies. It gives no details about the press itself.

David M.

I’m pretty sure the typeface is Rugged Roman. I have that in one of those cases. Also have Cheltenham. Do you?

I took a snapshot of a few of the pieces from the set for those who are interested.

image: E.jpg


image: assortedletters.jpg