Type cases

I saw this for sale in the local charity shop when I was making my daily trip to drop donations off. It was only about €15 or so. I wanted to badly to buy it but I figured I did not need another one, and my goal for this year is to downsize (hence my reason for being in the charity shop in the first place!)

I love printer’s trays!

I trained as a journalist from 1979 onwards, so I have always had printers’ trays (or printers’ drawers as they are also called). We actually used them in those days and I used to take any old drawers they threw out and use them for display.

These two I bought here in Sweden – they still have the old metal letters in some of the drawers.

The top one holds all my clay animals and African matchbox puzzles. The bottom one holds mementoes – from stones and shells picked up on special beaches, to tiny snow globes and Russian nesting dolls.

Someone asked me the other day what they were. These are drawers from from so-called ‘type cases’, where the metal letters used for printing text were used. You had to lay out everything by hand in those days. The ones I worked with had the typeface and size labelled on the front of the drawer, but there were many different designs. With most of them, you could lay the drawer on top of the case. Upper case letters are so called because capital letters were kept in the upper part of the case, while the lower part of the case held the smaller (lower case) letters. Moreover, the saying ‘mind your Ps and Qs’ comes from typesetters warning their apprentices to not confuse the p and q letters when setting the type.


Wikipedia says:

A type case is a compartmentalized wooden box used to store movable type used in letterpress printing.

Modern, factory-produced movable type was available in the late nineteenth century. It was held in the printing shop in a job case, a drawer about 2 inches high, a yard wide, and about two feet deep, with many small compartments for the various letters and ligatures.

Traditionally, the capital letters were stored in a separate drawer, or case, placed above the case holding the other letters (this is why the capital letters are called “uppercase” characters, and the minuscules are “lower case”). 


Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

2 thoughts

  1. Reblogged this on djohmf: my creative wonderworld!!! and commented:
    OMG!!!! i would love to have one of those!!! so cute and very handy for all the nicknacks that don’t really have a designated place or group they belong to. you could also use it to devide the different pieces that do belong together in a specific groupn f.ex. all the chipboard elements, all the metal parts, stamps, …
    just an incredible versatile piece that would be a very good asset to use in my craft space! show pics in the comments if you have one like these and what you use it for. love, jolien

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