Wood Type quality and value and other stuff

Hi all,

So, I recently had a difficult experience involving some wood type. I was sought out, given some type, but, now it is all back with the owner for reasons I will not go into here. On a positive note I think the type will be better cared for now and it made me revisit my own wonderful collection. I did some more cleaning organizing and identifying. As I clean and organize I always wonder what is the better quality type and which faces are more valuable than others. I don’t believe there are any value guides for this sort of thing. Age, condition, completeness are kind of obvious, but, how does one determine scarcity and does that always increase value? I have 64 faces some of which I believe are rare. I just don’t have a way of verifying my beliefs. I have some from the late 1800’s that are unused and in pristine condition for example. What if anything does that do to the value? Another example I have is Wm Page No. 120. No. 120 is like Mansard but with the slant on the serifs going the opposite way. Not a common face, yet, I have it in 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 5, 6, 8,and 10 line. The first four sizes have U/C, L/C, #’s and punctuation while the remaining five sizes have U/C, #’s and punctuation. It would seem to me that having nine sizes of a nice face would be a factor that adds value, but, again, how do you confirm. I am attracted to older type especially Wm Page who’s factory was about 14 miles from my house. When I go to Greenville where Page had his factory I travel on Type Road and Mowry Ave. Samuel Mowry was Pages partner. Didn’t know why the roads were named that until I started collecting wood type. Makes perfect sense now. Also like American Wood Type ( the one started by Tubbs an employee of Page, not the newer companies with the same name) I find a lot from those two companies due to my proximity to where they had their factories here in CT. So the question of the day. How do we determine value of our wood type collections. Oh, and no offense, but, I am not looking for the “it’s what someone is willing to pay” answer. I am looking for what characteristics add to the potential for superior value. They have to come into play somehow.

As a side note. I don’t know if this is controversial, but, it is my firm belief that Wm Page did not stamp all his type. At one point his stamp was too long to physically fit on the smaller type and therefore there was no way to mark it. Having an unmarked A does not automatically mean it came from Hamilton after they stopped marking. One has to take into account what other evidence might be available to accurately determine the manufacturer. I have some type that is unmarked that I am positive was made by Wm Page. because of the face and what else it came with.


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I had the privilege to walk through your shop, admire the valuable equipment, books, tools and have been honored for you to purchase, from me, that beautiful RARE Golding Cutter you have.
I believe several factors come to the equation when evaluating anything pre 1900. Wood Type is a pretty good example. Rare printing presses, such as your collection could be a very good example. Your knowledge from the rare books you hoard,( priceless), that you have in your shop is another. To actually quote a price would be near impossible. Someone like Mike Anton, Andrew Churchman, John Horn or John Barrett, to name a few could offer serval additives to what something could be worth.
You stated, you don’t want to hear, Its Worth what someone is willing to pay for it. The reality is, that’s what it would be worth. Unless, you come across a reputable antique dealer that is honest.
A true Antique dealer would research a product; unveil the pre 1900’s value and ad 1.9% per year to offer a true value of any particular item. So, if someone purchased a font of type in 1900 for an enormous amount for that period for a $100, it would be worth $1800 today. Obviously the product would have to be in near to perfect condition, if not wrapped in the original package. Which, I know your tools and equipment are, near perfect. Then it is worth $1800.
One of the most common arguments I have with sellers of all sorts, they advertised their items as RARE. I always respond, it’s RARE to you because you have never seen it. More often than not, they cannot counter with a professional response. I immediately counter with, If You want to see RARE, then have Andrew Churchman send you a photo or two with his father’s THROW OFF DRAWERS. I have 125 fonts in my collection and not one of my fonts compares to the late Dave Churchman Throw off Drawers. They are impressive.
I think, to answer your question, in my opinion, what would something like that would be worth? It is worth what a true Antique Dealer, Historian, Preservationist or Collector deems its worth! Not to mention, it is it worth to YOU to let it leave your shop?
It’s no secret that I collect the Model Press. I have found 130 Model Presses online, in barns, estate sales, yard sales and I am the very PROUD owner of 124 of them. The other 6, I keep in contact with the existing owners with hopes I can purchase their gems from them. To me, I would and have offered more than the actual values just to have them in my shop. Just an example of what someone is willing to offer.
In closing, if you would like to offer up your RARE equipment, tools, type, etc. I am a buyer; it would be an honor to have 1/10th of what you have. You truly have an amazing shop, collection. I also appreciate the advice you have been able to offer me throughout my search for those Models! Many Thanks.

Hi, John & Peter,

At one point my wood-type collection was much larger than the Morgan Collection, that went to the Smithsonian, so I feel that 40-years of buying and selling wood type gives me a little knowledge on the subject.

I collected coins, before I fell in love with wood type, and you could use the same sort-of grading system. For wood type, I kept a record of which faces, that I knew existed, from knowing most of the collectors and corresponding with them. But, it is almost impossible to have a record of all fonts. My goal, as a wood-type collector, was to have every one shown in the back of Kelly’s book. I ended with 97 of them—some faces would never become available.

Prices will keep changing with time. When I started, a whole case of wood type sold for about $35, so that was a starting point. As my interest in type grew, I could only go by sales to a large number of collectors, and that would include e-Bay, as much as people disdain such high prices. In short, Rarity would be at the top of the list; followed by completeness, and then condition. These are the factors that I used, as a collector—people interested in wood, as art, would use other factors. I have not seen many desirable wood-type fonts for sale on e-Bay, lately, but, generally speaking, those that have been listed, did not sell for under $200. I believe that my collection had a whole family of Hamilton No, 120*, so I would not consider it rare. Most, of my fonts, of No. 120*, were actually veneered, making them less desirable, to me, seeing the time spent on under-laying each letter, because of shrinkage, not to mention delamination of letters. If I were to appraise your family, of Page’s No. 120, I would say it is worth, at least, $2000, without even checking condition, if the fonts are complete. *Note that Page’s No. 120 is completely different from Hamilton’s No. 120.

I would suggest to you that you contact either Rick vonHoldt or John Horn (who purchased my remaining wood type), to get their input. Those are two names, not mentioned by Peter, who probably have the most wood type of interest to collectors.

Dave Greer

Hi Dave,

Thanks for your comments. I really have slowed way down in my acquisition of wood and foundry type. Now that I’m 70 I am realizing that I should be going in the opposite direction and start the process of passing my jewels on to others. I think I will soon be dipping my toes in the water to get this started.

In reality I have over 250 fonts of wood type in an overall collection that encompasses over 2,000 fonts of handset type. More than I could ever realistically expect to use in my lifetime.

I am just going to shoot from the hip and ramble here, so bear with me. This all began for me in the mid-70s when I fell in love with letterpress and realized that if I ever wanted to play with stuff I better start grabbing it because it was all being disposed of. My only motivating was to save things so I could play with them. Things were plentiful and cheap. And yes, typically a full case of wood type ran around $30!!!!!!!

In the beginning I wondered if I would be lucky enough to be able to fill a cabinet with 24 cases of type. My other lust was to get a hold of a 1923 ATF catalog. 40 years later I have a fairly decent library and a basement full of type!

There seems to be a real ressurection of interest in letterpress and the cost of type and presses astonishes and deeply saddens me. I realize the supply-and-demand equation, but just HOW does someone get off to a decent start with even the simplest of presses bringing outrageous prices?????? I certainly could never even dream of starting over again in this day and age. This disturbs me greatly.

A while back I came across a nice bunch of wood type fairly near to me. I explained to the seller that I would like to take it to the Ladies of Letterpress Conference in 2015. I told the seller that I would establish a price for each font that would be reasonable. Good for the buyer and good for the seller. I believe that there were a total of 15 fonts. At the conference everyone put their name in a hat and names were then drawn. The first name had the option to buy any ONE font of the wood type at the price listed. This guaranteed that at least 15 people could go home with a font of wood type. This went spectacularly! In fact, towards the end, a few people passed on their selection to give someone else a chance because they already had or did not need the fonts that remained.

As far as pricing fonts, size, condition, rarity, etc. are all factors, but my primary motivation has always been beauty (which of course is in the eye of the beholder) because I am always thinking about what I could do with that or use that for. The other big factor is “will I ever have another chance to get this face?”

For my own collection, I simply consider that I was extremely lucky to be in the right place at the right time for the majority of my acquisitions and that I am now simply the temporary custodian of everything that I saved and assembled. The amount of joy this has brought to me over the decades never ceases to amaze me.

Along with the materials, the knowledge and the ENTHUSIASM about letterpress needs to be passed along to those who will follow. Styles and designs change, but the underpinning coolness of this stuff should never be lost. I am by no means an expert on handset types, but I do try to help with type identification and information here on Briar Press. It helps whoever is seeking the information and it helps ME because it keeps me sharp and constantly re-looking through my reference books.

I should probably stop this before I bore everyone to death. I will say that me overall game plan is to disseminate my collection among dozens and dozens of printers who will hopefully find the joy I experienced each time I picked up something for myself.

Let’s hear from others.

Rick von Holdt

Thank you both for your incites. I know I am asking a question that is not easily answered and I guess this only adds interest to what comes with collecting wood type. It is more complicated than collecting stamps, coins, cars etc as there are guides that give a range of value for those items. Wood type collecting is a niche hobby and lacks any guides. I guess value of an item is connected to desirability. Desirability is connected to rarity, completeness, age and condition. One can make an argument to elevate any one of these measures as more important in a given circumstance, but, generally rarity is on top. What value an individual assigns to an item is not always universally held in the same regard, but, there are some definitive features that make one item potentially more valuable than another item.

I am going to follow up with Rick and John privately so thanks again.

Oh, and I have learned, if I desire it, it definitely costs more than something I do not. A lot more.



I would like to add a few more ideas when considering a Guide for purchasing wood type or any other piece of equipment being offered for purchase.

In my experience and with one thought in mind when I am approached or approaching a type or equipment purchase comes down to a couple of questions that take priority and precedence above all factors.

If you’re a printer, the first question, one that should be asked and to me the most important question, that should be asked and proved before a purchase.

Is it ORIGINAL? DOES IT PRINT? Does it print with the quality intended by the manufacturer? Is the font scheme correct when a dealer offers a COMPLETE set? A-Z Complete is an entirely different entity to a 3A Font Scheme. These four questions should be at the top of any guide, if there is one.

I have seen a lot of type sold over the years, all advertised as COMPLETE sets. When the truth is, it is A-Z complete and not the true Font Scheme Complete, which is useful for the printing and production application. I am assuming that’s a reason for calling it a Font Scheme!

As I stated, I have over 125 fonts in my collection. I have proofed every piece of type in my shop. If it doesn’t meet the PRINTERS Standard, it goes into a bucket deemed UNUSEABLE.

When a font scheme is not correct it is not complete. If I have a font that has 5A and 3a U/C and L/C Scheme, I am sure to make it right or down size it to the correct scheme. One cannot sell a 5A font scheme if it does NOT have all the characters associated with that scheme. Therefore you cannot call it complete otherwise.

The same goes for equipment. John, you have restored several presses over the years, if you have a press that has been broken, welded or repaired, you DO NOT FINISH the restoration, and you part out the press. I look for the same qualities in presses.

I was notified of a Model 3 Press, extremely rare. This one actually had the Chase Base and Roller Slides as one piece that would detach from the press like a Kelsey.

A friend of mine was restoring it for a customer of his. He informed me how he was going to proceed and I tried to intervene with the process because he was proposing a change to the DESIGNED engineering of the presses mechanics to incorporate modern hardware.

I tried to purchase the press before it was touched. Sadly, I failed. The owner never responded to my interest. Therefore a valuable piece of ORIGINAL history was lost, destroying what I would perceive as a TRUE VALUE PIECE, even though the press lives on, the integrity of a original survivor was destroyed.

I think collecting Stamps, Coins, Trains, Fire Arms, Cars and Wood Type don’t have too many differences and you could pull out different but significant similarities to each collectors guide to form a Wood Type Guide Line Kelley Blue Book.

Ultimately, in my opinion, the criteria or guide lines end up to a commonalty that would be universal for dealers, resellers and collectors.

Maybe I am off base, maybe not. For me, my type and equipment is worth, what I am willing to let it leave my shop.