sorting type?

haven’t been on here in a few years. just purchased a 5x8 kelsey model o with a some type that’s piled in the bottom of a box. is there a trick to sorting the thousands of letters? thanks. jim

Log in to reply   7 replies so far

My M.O. in the past has been to do it in stages. Start by taking a card table into the living room and putting on a good long movie - I recommend “Doctor Zhivago”. I first sort them by point sizes. (Hopefully there aren’t too many different sizes) Then by letter - but keeping them on their feet so you can see what you’ve got. At this stage I think of it as “Ransom Note” typeface. At this stage you’ll know whether you have enough of any particular type face to actually carry on dividing it into separate fonts. Good luck!

When I have sorted in the past, I placed the type on its side with the notch facing up. I made rows of each different notch on a cookie sheets till I had everything worked from my pile to the sheets.
The recommendation of putting on some TV is good. It will takes some time. I worked through 300 lbs of various sizes and typefaces with no real idea of what or how much I had. Hopefully you have some usable type when you are finished

I guess I could look this info up, but what’s the nicks? And what do they represent or do? thanks, never really messed with letterpress stuff. jim


Assuming the type is standing…. (in a stick or galley) and I’m going straight into a case-

start by separating out the caps/smalls/punctuation each into a separate stick or galley, Make obvious grouping as you see them.
pull all the vowels into the case,
pull some of the obvious letters, like m or t, into the case
(somewhere in here, you may consolidate lines)
at this point, I’ll probably start picking letters off the line straight into the case.

If I’m sorting into a block of type in a galley, I modify the process to try pulling in alpha order with occasional regrouping the remaining type.

It helps to have a picture showing b/d/p/q as you look at the type (reversed image),


Small type, but the cheapest large ice cube trays you can get, write the letters on them and just sort into the trays.

Or drill about 80 1” holes in a piece of board about 3/4” deep

I like the above comments. My method has been to estimate first whether I will use the type. So often, these small presses came with 6 and 8 point type faces. As I don’t like to use anything smaller than 10 … with a few exceptions … a good pile like that gets sent to Sky Shipley at Skyline Type Foundry where he can turn it into more usable type for someone else. He also pays by check or store credit. Ask him about how to ship it or ask me to teach you my bulletproof method for shipping pied type.

With type faces say of 10 to about 16 point types, I’ll stack several lines in a composing stick and, as mentioned above, try to estimate if I have enough for a full case. If I’m unsure, sorting for 20-30 minutes into a case can help me decide that. If you have the space, you may want to do as I do: I have cases of incomplete fonts set aside for the occasional printer I’ll meet or see on Internet sites who may want my extras.

With large point type faces, I use the John Horn method of sorting them into galleys. Again, seeing the font helps for deciding whether to move them into their own case. Some fonts stay in galleys, knowing a future printer may want to complete a font. Or I will begin my hunts to complete the font, if I find it desireable.

A great thing about all of this sorting: your speed to sort type into cases significantly increases with such experiences.