There are so many things from earlier eras that can be creatively reimagined and turned into something new. An example is the letterpress drawer, which was part of a printer’s cabinet between the 15th and 19th centuries. The cabinets held multiple drawers with compartments for storing type blocks – a single metal letter on a wooden base that was inked and laid out letter by letter onto a relief printing press.
These letterpress drawers, also known as printer’s trays, are sought after in antiques stores and grandparents’ unexplored attics to be used for a variety of artistic applications. Think of it as a giant shadow box no longer a drawer, but turned on its end and placed flat onto the wall.
Some years ago, I found my letterpress drawer in a favorite antiques store on Main Street in the small town of Greensboro, Georgia. To give you a sense of scale, its dimensions are 32″ wide x 16.5″ tall x 1″ deep. Mine has 89 compartments, and 37 of them currently are occupied. It hangs on a wall in my house.
After a long search and finally finding the letterpress tray, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with it. Ultimately I decided it would house a collection of tiny, white items, and the following ground rules would apply:
- Objects would be all white, with the occasional exception of a white item with colors that over time had mostly worn off.
- There would be a mix of antique items and new items.
- I would not attempt to fill all the compartments at once, but rather leave most of them empty so I could happen upon items that would be a good addition.
- Since the “ledge” that each item sits or stands on is only 1″ deep, there would be a tight size limit for items to fit into the compartments. This part is challenging, and many times I’ve held something in my hands close to bringing it home only to realize it’s a bit too large for this project!
It’s been a lot of fun over the years when out of the blue, I’ll come across something in an antiques or other store that’s a great fit for the letterpress drawer.
And, some of the items are childhood toys my mother has given me to include, like many of the tiny dolls and the china stove, table, and chairs. The little photograph in the below compartment is my mother when she was a baby, and the box also contains one of her dolls that’s now part of the collection, along with a stone shaped like a heart I found somewhere.
The objects range in size from less than an inch up to three inches for some of the dolls and the old glass bottles.
It’s not all dolls, though – there’s a fluffy cotton boll I picked at a special place in Georgia; two bunnies including one with an Easter egg’s colors almost completely worn off; a baby doll’s (single) shoe; and tiny dishes including an old-fashioned pitcher and bowl.
As with many things in life, the search is probably more fun than the actual catch! I’m enjoying letting the project evolve over the years while keeping an eye out for that new little treasure that just may be the perfect fit!
What do you collect, and where do you find the items for your collection? Be sure to comment below!