CC52, Week 49: “Letterpress”

Week 49 of the series CC52: A Year of Personal Work by Craig Cutler…

Title: “Letterpress”

Idea: To compose and create photographs using various letterpress type; to look at the individual type, and sometimes their environments, as abstract forms rather than objects of function.

Format: 4×5 view camera

Film: Kodak Tri-X 320 and Fuji 160S

Photographed on location at Lead Graffiti in Newark, Delaware. Special thanks to Ray Nichols, Jill Cypher, and Tray Nichols.

All images © Craig Cutler.

Follow CC52 here or at


This font of large, hand-carved wood type from the 1840s was purchased from the Museum of Printing in North Andover, Massachusetts. This is the oldest type in the Lead Graffiti collection.

This galley of lowercase 96-point Caslon includes some wonderful multi-letter ligatures. The galley shown measures about 12" x 14" and weighs in at 44 pounds.

This is a full California Job Case of foundry metal 24-point Garamond. Just about filled to the max, the case weighs 86 pounds. Lead Graffiti has approximately 1,400 pounds of Garamond in the full run of 8 through 72 point.

When you clean out an old print shop, you often adopt galleys of 'standing type' (not distributed letter-by-letter back into the California Job Cases after the job was printed). A wonderful patina of dust and spiderwebs testifies to decades of non-use.

Every letterpress shop keeps a 'hell box' as a place to throw worn or damaged type to keep it out of circulation. This represents a double handful of mostly 8- and 10-point metal foundry type.

A typographic landscape composed of wood and metal type alphabets is evidence of the physicality of typography printed via letterpress.

To preserve standing type along with typefaces without a job case, sets are often tied up with twine and stored on galleys for future use.

This carefully stacked pile of 96-point foundry metal, Caslon, is the largest metal type in the Lead Graffiti collection. Originally cut by Britain's William Caslon in the mid-1700s, Caslon is often referred to as "the oldest living typeface."

A stack of 50-line (50 picas, or 8.33" high) numbers of a sans serif wood typeface.

The Linotype was the industry standard for "hot metal" type for newspapers, magazines, and posters from the late 1880s to the 1960s. This galley of brass Linotype matrices (each the mould of an individual character) was saved from the scrapyard by the .918 Club, a group of Letterpress printers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and donated to Lead Graffiti to keep them in use.

A still life of a variety of the elegantly shaped ampersand. Just below the middle on the left side is a hand-carved, shadow version of our favorite piece of type in the Lead Graffiti collection. Just under it is brand-new Clarendon Outline made especially for our "Tour de Lead Graffiti Project," which translates events of each stage of the 2011 Tour de France into typographic posters.

This sort (a single-cast metal character) of 96-point Caslon is made from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony. In contrast to sissy digital typefaces, you can hear and feel letterforms like these hit the paper.

This image and below: Two Handy Boxes manufactured by the Baltimore Type Foundry Company, which started in the late 1700s. These offered, among other items, a variety of geometric shapes, Greek, brackets, em dashes, math symbols, fractions, and, of course, stars, used in combination with typefaces.

A side-view portrait of our 3,400-pound 1956 Intertype C4 line-casting machine, one of the most remarkable machines you will ever see in operation. Patented in the 1880s, these machines offered a speed that began an information explosion allowing newspapers to move from four- or eight-page handset type weeklies to dailies.

Ray Nichols, former professor and longtime director of the Visual Communications Group at the University of Delaware, is part of the glue that binds his wife, Jill Cypher, and son, Tray Nichols, into their letterpress studio, Lead Graffiti. Located in Newark, Delaware, the studio produces a variety of exceptional personal (recently "Tour de Lead Graffiti") and client work. They design and print for preeminent organizations such as the Metropolitan Opera, Delaware Art Museum, and the Art Directors Club. In order to satisfy his ongoing passion for teaching, Ray runs a variety of letterpress and bookmaking workshops for designers, writers, and students at the Lead Graffiti studio. For Ray, Lead Graffiti provides a slowed-down, satisfying life of hands-on work, while functioning as a venue to preserve a traditional craft in a world saturated by digital processes.


All captions provided by Lead Graffiti. For a behind-the-scenes look at Craig’s “Letterpress” shoots, read the posts at their blog (here and here).




  1. Posted 03/09/2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Craig has captured the incredible beauty of the type. Great photo of Ray too!

  2. Posted 03/10/2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Beautiful! These are images of things that I see in my shop every day – and enjoy. Your photos bring them to life and makes me feel as though they are right there with me.

    However, I must point out that I don’t “stack” my wood type in such a photogenic manner. Mine just lays there in galleys, in cases, or in the Vandercook, about to be printed..

    What I’d like to see, however, is some meaningful phrase set in hand type and photographed while still in the composing stick…

    Beautiful metal, btw. The type looks like it’s just waiting to be inked and printed…

    – Alan

  3. Posted 03/11/2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    The objects themselves are pretty common in a letterpress shop. Many of the images were taken simply by picking it up and putting it under the lens. But to me, Craig’s eye showed me some new ways to look at things I walk by every day and don’t notice. I don’t mean the objects themselves, but the force and history of those objects.

    Two of my favorite images were the large X and the galley of lowercase Caslon. I thought shooting the X was a surprisingly bold choice. Clearly, anyone can say, “I could have photographed that, but I really love that he did it. When he asked for that sort I was really surprised.

    With the lowercase Caslon galley I can hardly imagine the number of times I’ve pushed those letters back straight. As a letterpress printer and designer, I’m constantly trying to push type straight. Aligning baselines to be FLAT. If I was the type I would want to fight against that. Move up and down and that galley is just what I think type would do if us humans would get out of the way. It’s really too bad you can’t just put that galley on the press and feel the monumental effort required for that type to move up and down. It just looks out of alignment in black ink on white paper.

    The other image that really struck me when he was setting it up was the stack of numbers. He played with the type for probably 30 minutes, arranging them in the normal arrangements someone would do (kind of like the ampersand image). He seemed to like the numbers. They are the largest grouping of wood type that we have. When he stacked them up I was really surprised. Instead of showing all of the characters as individuals, he showed them as a family.

    Some of the images are just nice to see documented.

    We’ve been talking a lot lately with a new friend to Lead Graffiti about genealogy and she mentioned she was finding some good family stories. While some of the stories are exciting and filled with intrigue, others are simple and plain.” Set them in type,” we said. Make them concrete. Make them permanent. A story is a story. That same story in a book is just plain something else

    I feel the same way about these images. When I was looking at the arrangements as Craig was shooting, they were just objects: 1840s type, ampersands, metal, dust. As photographs, these objects become something more significant. They become documents.

  4. Patrick Leary
    Posted 03/11/2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful photos! If I were closer I’d volunteer to “kill down” their standing forms and distribute the foundry type just to get my hands on some type.

    When I was learning the trade, the old-timers told us, “When in doubt, set it in Caslon.” [Still true today, I think.]

    Great job of photography.

  5. Steve Olken
    Posted 07/02/2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    As a VC student at the University of Delaware, I had the opportunity to be seated next to Craig Cutler in the student studio. I can tell you his work ethic, manner and organizational skills as a photographer were all evident at this early stage in our careers and I admired his conceptual abilities then. Great to see his current work documenting the “near forgotten” art of typesetting.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] This was our photographic thank you with a bit of handrolled letterpress. He had left 7 stands and a couple rolls of seamless. Fit together quite well. Check out Craig’s photos from Lead Graffiti, if you haven’t already. […]

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