One of my first acquisitions of metal type was from a scrap yard. I managed to track down around 60kg of printers pie a few years back. It turned out that the salvagers had tipped the contents of  ‘the old-looking wooden cabinet’ and burnt all the drawers. It was such a shame to hear that the history (and organisation) had gone up in smoke, but at least I managed to save the type from being melted. The next step was figuring how to sort it all…

[blockquote align=”right”]If type was knocked over or dropped, then this was referred to as a pie, pied type, or a printer’s pie[/blockquote] I began by tackling it in little sections, whenever I had a spare hour or two. Putting on some music and grabbing a handful at a time, the best method I found was to pull out all of the larger type first. Anything 18pt and above was easy to spot amongst the 8pt founts.  This reduced the bulk of the pie massively. Following this we (I was drafting help at this point) arranged them by size and nick on the bottom of each slug. This was a nice easy way to quickly identify where each piece belonged. The different founts were then placed into tupperware boxes to be arranged later on.

Three years later I’m about 80% through the box, and have got a solid number of fonts out of the pie, including Swiss in 24, 18 & 14pt, Palace Script in 24pt, Some condensed Grotesk in 36pt, Bembo 14pt and many others that I’m yet to identify.

It’s been a great time killer, and although I could have very easily bought some sorted type, this cost me nothing and taught me a lot about the need to being organised with my type. I’m also now a dead-eye at spotting a Swiss from a Gill in 12 point from 5 paces…


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  • Bob Leger says:

    Don’t know if you’re still writing, but thought you might be interested in knowing that the expression “printer’s pie” was used in a book – God and the Astronomers, by William Inge – to describe the improbability of the universe from, say, chance. I’d never seen the phrase, so immediately looked it up and found your post. Thanks for the clarification.
    And, by the way, I hope your journey into sorting type didn’t drive you crazy. You are a patient person.

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