What is a Letterpress Drawer?

Letterpress drawers are trending in the home decor and useful accessory niche of the crafts industry. Authentic versions of the letterpress drawer are charming antique items from yesteryear that offer a rustic aesthetic to your home. They’re also valuable collectibles when you find an antique version in pristine condition. You may wonder, what is a letterpress drawer? Unless you know the history of printing presses and the early printing machines, you probably have no idea what a letterpress drawer is or what it is used for. We recommend that you continue reading to learn everything there is to know about this fascinating piece of furniture and its place in the history of our development of a literate society. There is a rich history behind the letterpress drawer and it has multiple applications today.

What is a letterpress drawer?

Farmhouse Seat 52 explains that a letterbox drawer is a type of drawer that was used to store the letters for old typeset machines in the 18th and 19th centuries. It held components that were like letter stamps. The letter stamps featured letters or words that were put together to form the texts of publications and printed media by placing them on an ink pad, then transferring them to paper. Letterpress printing used a printing press by making direct impressions of the raised inked surface against a continuous roll of paper or sheets. It’s how books and newspapers were made during the 1700s and 1800s. Letterpress drawers were components of printing cabinets.

Most printing cabinets contained a dozen or more drawers to contain all of the letters and combinations of letters and words used in the process. Some cabinets featured 40 drawers with the capacity to store up to 1000 stamps. The Spruce further describes the physical features of the letterpress drawers. Most letterpress drawers are made of thin wood and look like trays with separations or compartments for organizing the various letterpresses. Other names for the letterpress drawer are a type drawer, printer block drawer, printer’s trays, or type cases. They’re all the same thing.

Where can you find letterpress drawers?

If you find a letterpress or printing cabinet you’ve found an antique treasure. The letterpress drawers are often removed and sold at antique shops because of their value sold separately. They’re an enduring part of the history of modern printing. You can also find letterpress drawers at second-hand shops, estate sales, or online auctions. Some companies reproduce replicas of letterpress drawers and while they’re lovely, it’s nice to have the antique versions.

The history of the letterpress drawer

The history behind the letterpress drawer is rich and of significant interest to printing enthusiasts and historians. Letterpress Play confirms that the letterpress has been a part of the early printing processes for more than seven hundred years. Johannes Gutenberg invented the first mechanical printing press with mechanical movable type. Before that, printing was done with wooden blocks with reliefs carved into blocks of wood. The process was used in China in the year 175 AD. Gutenberg’s press was the modern version of the fifteenth century. It increased the speed at which books and other publications could be printed.

The ink was oil-based with walnut oil, lampblack, and turpentine. People manually lifted paper in and out of the machine with the inked impression of the print on it, and place more paper down to make copies. Letterpress drawers were used as trays to keep the letterpress components separate and handy for printers. Printing evolved through the years with printing studios using likenesses of the machine, spurring a new age with mass production of publications in Europe. The processes evolved through eh centuries to the modern printing processes, and now digital printing. Wherever there was a printing press you would find letterpress drawers. They were essential for keeping the typesets in order.

What can you do with a letterpress drawer?

There are multiple uses for letterpress drawers. One of the most common applications is to convert them into shadowboxes. the wooden compartments make exceptional separations for displaying various knicknacks and other items. They also make excellent display cases. Letterpress drawers are also used to display small collectibles including figurines, crystals, rock specimens, and more. They’re also perfect for organizing bottles of essential oils and keeping them separate. Some crafters display buttons or trinkets from travels, small photos for collages, or they may be used as drawer organizers to keep small items separate. Some artists use them to store their oil paint tubes. The sky is the limit when you have a letterpress drawer for inspiration. Use your imagination to make your creations.

Final thoughts

A letterpress drawer is an object that resembles a tray with numerous compartments and separators. These drawers are usually wooden. They were used in larger printer cabinets used to hold the printing blocks for making ink impressions on paper for early printing of books and other publications. You can find letterpress drawers at some craft and specialty shops, but most of these are reproductions. If your heart is set on buying an authentic antique letterpress drawer, your best bet is through second-hand shops, estate sales, or online auctions.

They remind us of how far we’ve come in our ability to mass produce books, magazines, newspapers, and other publications. Society is moving away from the printed matter in favor of digital books and information, which makes the letterpress draw an even rarer collectible. The letterpress drawer is an item that the average person doesn’t think about, but they’re a hot commodity on the collectible market. Now you know the history and purpose of the letterpress drawer.

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