City of Boston to sell off entire contents of its glorious, ancient print shop

The city of Boston has shut down its 78-year-old printing office to save money, and they're auctioning off 200 lots of astounding old print-shop junk. This is a potential bonanza for fine-art printers, zinesters, and people whose idea of fun is historical recreation of pre-digital printing techniques (green eyeshade optional). The auction is being held on Feb 24 at 11AM estern and will be simultaneously conducted live and digitally.
Row after row of creaky oak drawers hold thousands of letters, both metal type and wooden blocks, from fine print to 72-point Tudor. A cigar box brims with square block stamps of the city seal. And there are metal etchings of a few of the city's forefathers, presumably used years ago to print their faces on official documents...

The etchings, city seals, and alphabet after alphabet of dusty type will be sold as a single lot along with oak cabinets and other accoutrements of old-fashioned printing. That means a bidder cannot buy just a single object, such as the curving block of Old English type that says "The City of Boston.'' If someone really wants, for instance, that etching of Norton or DiCara, it will come with enough equipment to fill an antique print shop...

The sale will include about 200 lots, from a row of oak file cabinets from the 1930s or 1940s to an Art Deco-style grandfather clock made by IBM. The auction will comprise plenty of modern printing equipment, including paper cutters, collators, saddle stitch staplers, and even a massive Heidelberg four-color press.

Putting a price on antique printing (Boston Globe) (via Make)

(Image: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe)


  1. So, a bunch of incompetent hacks who couldn’t even manage a tax-supported unencumbered publishing house are going to sell off the city’s history, and their cronies are going to be picking up huge lots of the stuff dirt cheap and reselling it by the piece at astronomical profits? Did I get that right?

    Wow, stay classy, Boston.

    1. To be fair, if Boston kept all of its ‘history’, it would have to rent Vermont to store it all in.

      1. Nah we’d get all of Rhode Island for a few Sox Tickets. Vermont’s too busy making ice cream, maple syrup and waiting for Phish to come back around again. And crazy tax free New Hampshire…

    2. Eeeeeeasy there, Ben Franklin.

      It’s a public auction being written up a month in advance in the Boston Globe, to say nothing of the internets. Sure, people will buy this stuff and try to resell it at a profit–what else could you do with a bunch of file cabinets and industrial Linotype machines of varying degrees of obsolescence and antiquity? It doesn’t look like there’s anything of museum quality, or that would be good for living room conversation pieces or even clever garage projects.

      The actual bid site might cure people of the idea that Boston is raffling off a Smithsonian-quality national treasure. At least half of the lots are 70s-era office furniture, and most of the rest are individual machines of sufficient age and obsolescence that the profit will come from melting them down.

      And because it’s a public, publicized auction, the buyers won’t be anyone’s “cronies,” unless the cronies are willing to pay more than the next bidder, in which case their cronyism is irrelevant. Sorry, guy, but I think you’re going to have to find some other reason to urge incompetent hacks to stay classy.

      1. I stand corrected, Semiotix is right. I still think the Boston bean-counters are incompetent hacks, but that’s just personal opinion, and the auction looks completely legit.


  2. It’s silly that they’re selling this stuff in such huge lots – I think it would have faired better (for them, financially) if they were going with the “own a part of Boston history” angle… There are a ton of designers (myself included) that would just eat this stuff up.

    Instead people with money get cool stuff. Damn you people with money.

  3. sign of the times. Printshops are closing down all over the place. I run one one as does my brother.
    Astronomical profits? ha ha ha .. my brother is trying to get rid of his old ludlow, letterpress type, cabinets.. you may get 25$ for a set of brass type on ebay but people only want the unusual ones the best deal is the scrap metal value. No one wants the ludlow – but only a few letterpress hobbyists want the lead – because you need lead with the right mix of tin and antimony in it.
    But old letterpress equipment – its actually quite common and goes for a pittance. Sad, I know.

  4. Hey all you Paper merchants…want to make good forged city documents…time to hit the City of Boston sale…idiots.

  5. Thanks for posting this, Cory! I live in Boston and though I’m broke and can’t afford to go to this auction, I know a bunch of local artists, engineers, and people who run small presses in the NE and elsewhere who might really want some of this stuff, like binding machines, flat files, and light tables. I’ve spread the word.

  6. I wonder if there’s a lithography stone in that collection somewhere? I’d love to have one of those.

  7. NOOOOO!

    I was hoping to take all the good stuff for myself, and now the entire internet knows! Curse you Doctorow!

  8. You know the irony is that all of this old print equipment would go for BANK in Japan. If I could afford the insane palette fees I would consider importing it myself. :(

  9. This is ridiculous. All the type is in one huge lot. My prediction: the type lot will be won by someone who will dump the type and resell the cases to antique shops. So it goes.

  10. Aw. I wish I could give space to some of this stuff. My dad was a self-employed prrinter when I was a kid and I grew up in a house with a Heidelburg “Windmill” in the (ground-floor) bedroom. I miss it.

  11. Hey kids,
    There are more folks doing letterpress now than there were 15 years ago and there continues to be strong interest in letterpress printing and creating printed matter by hand (even if only a brief respite from RGB endeavors). Each semester at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design I teach classes full of designers, photographers, printmakers and professionals of all kinds how to set type by hand and print on flatbed cylinder presses. Its exhilarating and that technology isn’t obsolete, isn’t relegated to museums and sure as hell doesn’t below in semiotix living room. Perish the thought, but let’s not let the type perish.

    If you want to see people using the stuff, you’ll find a link to a great video on this page about Letterpress Classes:

  12. have no fear peoples, we hot metal letterpress folk in Boston are all over it.

    fact is, this shop will quite likely have nothing but battered type in weak cases because it was never distributed. yeah, there may be a few gems, but by and large, I predict this will be a mess. i’m interested in the Linotype stuff anyway, and we’ll see about that whole miasma.

    as regards city seals and whatnot, anything that would be deemed official i’d expect has been removed.

    oh, and thanks for not posting my anon comment moderator person. another blog un/pw. swell. I see my friend Keith at Milk Row got his anon post on.

    going back on press…

    mjb /

    1. Yay interrobang! Go ye forth and salvage!

      Don’t count on them having sorted out the seals. I see that kind of stuff at the Farmer’s Market from time to time; old notary seals for $5, letterheads for law firms that still exist, the seals for county officials, you name it.

  13. for anyone who cares:

    I did end up salvaging a few ancient faces from the guy who bought lot #400. which was bid up to an astounding $9750. As expected, the vast majority of the type was quite battered, but there were a few interesting things.

    Grabbed a couple sizes of a rare 19th century face, which a friend and I used for a “death certificate”.

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