Old Printer's Drawer Letterpress Tray

Happy Monday Everyone!

I'm so excited to be sharing a thrifty find with you today that I have been wanting for a long time, but they never are the right price or are too far away. 

It must have been fate, cause the day before I was reading a post and there was one of these on the wall and then the next day, it popped up on Marketplace, within driving distance for a very low price. 

What is "it" you may ask. 

An old printer's drawer or letterpress tray! 


And with a little TLC, it came up a treat!

Do you actually know what this tray was used for? Well, here is your little history lesson for the day. 😁

 These drawers were used back in the 18th and 19th centuries to store typeset letters, which were similar to letter stamps of today that you use on an ink pad. Except back then, letterpress printing used a printing press. The process allowed many copies to be produced by repeated direct impression of an inked, raised surface against sheets or a continuous roll of paper.  This technique was used for the publication of newspapers and books. 

These wooden drawers had lots of small compartments used to store letterpress letters for typesetting.

Here is a picture of a similar drawer I found containing some of the original typeset letters. 

These drawers were part of a larger printing cabinet. This is a beautiful Stephenson Blake & Company Ltd. type case from Sheffield London. It supports 40 drawers with 1000 pieces of wood type

Pretty cool, hey? 👏

Which brings me back to my old letterpress tray. This is how the tray looked when I first brought it home. Caked with way too many years of dirt. 

So I started off using some wet clothes to wipe it over. 

Then I remembered I had some wooden floor cleaner. It did say good for clearing wood, so I gave that a try too. It worked well, but I also found alternating between a fine and a courser steel wool also helped.

Look at the difference around the frame.  I was able to get a lot of the dirt and possibly old ink stains off. I think I lifted some of the old varnish too, but that's okay, I like the lighter wood.

These little brass cross pieces also came up all shiny by giving them a light sand. 

It wasn't until I started scrubbing the insides of the compartments that I realised there was a paper backing stuck to the entire back of the drawer. 

After a bit of experimentation, I found wetting each box and then using a paint scrapper removed the paper relatively easily. But I won't lie, it was still very time consuming. 

What I did discover while cleaning was this makers mark. I was so excited that I decided to do a bit of research. And here is what I found.

Stephenson & Blake Ltd was founded in 1818 by Mr John Stephenson, to manufacture quality printers type. Stephenson Blake, became a world-famous company based in Sheffield, England, and was active as a type founder from the early 18th century and remained until the 1990's as the very last active type foundry in Britain. The Company has since changed ownership and diversified into specialist engineering.

Here is a picture of the Blake Foundary. The foundry bell rings no more at Stephenson, Blake in Sheffield but at least part of the building where Britain’s last great typefoundry operated lives on.

Flats are being created in a development called Impact, named after the sans-serif typeface designed by Geoffrey Lee for Stephenson, Blake in 1965. The company, which in its heyday was unmatched in the world of type founding, left its Upper Allen Street home of nearly 200 years in 2006.

With all this in mind and a bit of research on similar drawers, I'd estimate my drawer to be from the early 1900's.  And it was originally used in England. How exciting to find it here in Australia!

I love that it has the original old metal drawer handle.

And the card insert.

I've styled it with some of my small old treasures.

Like this old badge envelope, complete with original badge from the NSW Leagues Club 1984.

Small vintage glass jars and some vintage keys.

An antique cardboard jewellery box from Gloriette Jewellers, 277A Pitt Street, Sydney. I couldn't find any information on them so I assume they date back quite a way.  And some vintage cotton reels.

I also found some very old small black and white photos to display too. 

How funny are these three guys on an old motor scooter.

And this old band photo. 

I also have an envelope closing 2 old badges from the Federal Association of Teachers of Dance which was founded in 1906 and is still going strong today. 

I can't wait to decorate my new drawer with Christmas goodies! Speaking of which, if you missed my FB and Insta posts today, you missed all my new Ikea Christmas purchases. 😃

Another awesome thrifty find to tick off my list. 

Have a great week everyone!

Take care and stay safe.


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