Collecting: Vintage Alphabets and Numbers

Most old-school commercial artists have an insatiable passion for typography. I’m no exception. I hoard vintage and rare books on the subject. But over the years, I’ve enjoyed more dimensional play with type in the form of vintage alphabets and numbers resourced from antique shops, flea markets and thrift stores to Etsy and Ebay.Here are a few of my favorites from around the house.The first image above was made using pieces from a vintage home-movie title set. (The script lettering was added digitally.)I have another vintage lettering set that is magnetic for use by photographers.

A few of the Magnetype letters spell out my business name on the inside of my metal studio door.My friend, Rose, gifted me these giant poster-size printing blocks that spell out my name, backwards of course.Vintage anagram tiles, as I’ve shared before, are resting on the type-bars of my old remington typewriter wall art that hangs above a writing desk.143 (I love you) is the first thing you’ll see as you walk through our front door.Retro numbered coffee cups from the thrift store hold a few miscellaneous items in the rubber-stamp corner of my studio.An inexpensive vintage game of Boggle has fun wooden cubic dice to spell out a sentiment on a shelf our living room.This wonderful old numbered board once held hotel keys from an establishment along the Mason-Dixon line. It was a gift from my friend Karen and now displays a few vintage keys from my own collection.When I figure out what to do with these large old brass cow tags picked up at a local junk shop, I’ll let you know.In the meantime, they’re just plain cool.Old brass embossed screen tacks are awesome for pinning up things on my inspiration board.I’m not sure what these tags were used for, luggage claim? Coat check? I’m going with the latter and hang them from the hook on our hall tree.

And good old scrabble tiles and lotto numbers await creative use while sitting bottled on the shelf.Here are a few other collections I’ve shared in the past:

Tell me about your collections, I love reading about them.

This entry was posted in Collecting, Decorating and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
JSIM Post Divider

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

JSIM Post Divider

51 Responses to Collecting: Vintage Alphabets and Numbers

  1. #1 - Magda says:

    Your studio with all these things around must look magical:)

  2. #2 - Donna says:

    I’ve used cow tags and other unusual objects for guestroom keys. I have a few extra house keys for when guests are staying, they also come in handy for the pet sitters. If they forget to return them, they always know right where it’s from when they find it.

  3. #3 - Amanda says:

    i have that same set that’s in the first picture. i never knew what it was because it was missing the box when i purchased the letters at a garage sale (when i was a teenager… before i became a graphic designer!). it has large and small type, and the same bottle with a mittens label. this is awesome! i am so glad to finally know what these cool little letters are.

  4. #4 - Pam @ Frippery says:

    Love all those numbers! Wonderful collection. I have lots of things I collect. Plastic birdcages from the 50’s and 60’s for those dimestore pet parakeets, old cameras, clocks, anything Red Riding Hood, nun dolls…I sound like I have a problem hee hee. That’s why I love blogging, blogger’s “get it”.

  5. #5 - Becky T. says:

    I love seeing your collection. You must have wonderful eye candy in your studio! I collect hippos. Funny, I know but I just love them. When we move into our new house (Jan.) I will display them and make sure to blog about it. Hope you come see! 🙂

  6. #6 - Selena Cate says:

    You know a girl never likes to admit that she is drooling but I’m completely confessing here that I’m drooling! I too adore numbers & letters. I don’t know why but there is something so attractive about them. Your collection is breathtaking.

  7. #7 - Chris says:

    Love all your wonderful vintage typography finds. I learned layout, paste up and graphic design right before everything crossed over to computers. So I have knowledge from both worlds and I appreciate the old school tools too! Thanks for sharing!

  8. #8 - Kimberly Jones says:

    Fabulous collection Cathe! I literally just finished a post on my blog about some of my favorite collections: metal flower frogs, books, milk glass, etc. when I looked in my sidebar and saw your post! Are you proscrastinating too?
    I LOVE the typewriter hanging on your wall, and now I know what to do with the typewriters I can’t seem to resist bringing home with me!
    Your blog is one of my very favorites. Thanks so much for all your great inspiration!

  9. #9 - Momma Mindy says:

    As a homeschooling Mommy, I love vintage school supplies. I have little gnome rubber stamps that say “Excellent”, “Neater, Please” “Good”, etc. My stapler is older than my parents and I love my old notary seal. It makes papers SO OFFICIAL. I also crave alphabet supplies, so use Boggle and Scrabble tiles much like you do. I even have a jar of old safety pins with numbers on them, like we used to get at the YMCA when we put our clothes in a basket, handed it to the attendant, and they gave us a pin to put in our suit.

    I collect, but I am not as talented as you in displaying and using my items, so I love reading your blog!

  10. #10 - Rebecca says:

    I love love love old wooden printer’s blocks…I have a few of them around as display, typestyles mismatched, and spelling things quaintly backwards!

  11. #11 - Sheila says:

    I love ’em too! Can’t get enough! Happy Holidays!


  12. #12 - charli says:

    Uh, JEWELRY of COURSE! I would totally use some of those things for necklaces!

  13. #13 - Anji JOhnston says:

    What a wonderful collection of letters and numbers – I am so envious and inspired! It is always a treat to read your blog – such creativity and imagination. Thank you for always sharing!

  14. #14 - Madigan @ madiganmade says:

    Oh my! I love your collection. So much inspiration!

  15. #15 - colleen says:

    I have a thing for vintage letters, too! Including Mitten’s Movie Titlers. But the ones that I’ve bought have the pin back, which are great for corkboards. Here’s a blog post I wrote about my collection:

  16. All of it is wonderful! I’ve loved type and numbers for years…since I was a hardcore rubber stamper. My friend asked me once, “why do you always somehow incorporate letters and numbers in your collages?” I just smiled. Well, duh, right!? 🙂

  17. #17 - Heidi says:

    I have that same set of movie titling letters around here somewhere…the bottle from mine is missing though–do you know what it held?

    • #18 - thatkid says:

      The “stuff in the bottle” was called Mitten’s Stickum (!) and it was used to adhere the title letters to the background card. If you’ve ever seen an old home-movie titler, they had a vertical easel at one end, a “close-up” (diopter) lens mounted in a bracket in the middle, and a screw at the other end to bolt the camera in place. I assume the adhesive was something similar to rubber cement.

  18. #19 - Champagne Maker says:

    great stuffffff! If you decide you wanna sell the cow tags, lemmeno! I’m first in line!!!

  19. #20 - Janette says:

    This is a wonderful collection and looks great as a display as well as being practical. I recently aquired a large amount of vintage lead typeface blocks and happy to add to your collection if you would like a few. Janette

  20. #21 - Tania says:

    Hi Cathe,

    These are all great! I simply love the 143 sentiment!! I do not collect one specific thing – just love vintage things, and have a whole lot of old keys – love those. Wouldn’t mind an old typewriter like yours 😉 Always on the lookout for interesting finds. I am also fascinated by typography! Thanks for sharing!

  21. #22 - MichelleGB says:

    I love, love, love this collection! I’ve started collecting letters and have been collecting old keys whenever I could find them. I also have a lovely collection of codd bottles – old soda bottles with a marble in the neck used to keep the carbonation in. They are made in lovely blues and greens in thick glass. Love them!

  22. #23 - Mosaic Magpie says:

    Here is a link to some windchimes I made using the cow ear tags. I love those tags too! I think they would make cute house numbers on a bird house as well!

  23. #24 - mary beth says:

    Love love love the numbers and letters~ I too have a thing for them and keep tucking them here and there. Cathe, did I once read in your blog that there was a way to print one’s blog into a book form? Seems like I read that on yours and I am wishing I could do that with my blog as a gift to my hubby…am I just imagining this? If you know how this is done, would you drop me a line? thanks for all the lovely things you share with us throughout the ! mb

  24. #25 - Sue@MyArtsDesire says:

    Cathe, Love your collections {as I collect the same stuff} and if we ever shopped together whoever had the fastest tennies would snag the prizes! I also collect a lot of other vintage stuff from the old doll heads, to emphemera, to vintage millinery, linens, mercury glass…you won’t want to miss my estate sale should I go before you! LOL! Love that printers chest you have pictured! Xo, Sue

  25. #26 - Amy Locurto says:

    You are so good about displaying your collections in creative ways!

  26. #27 - Berta says:

    Great collections!! Love how you have displayed them all. I collect milk glass, hobnail pattern my fav. I also collect buttons, sewing stuff, any thing old and worn. Thanks for sharing yours!

  27. #28 - Rachelxx says:

    Just wonderful!

    I love my old portable typewriter that was my Great Grandfathers & my collection of sewing bits from the women folk in the family going way back 🙂

  28. #29 - penny willoughby says:

    Those tacks were used on screens or storm windows. One on the storm window, the corresponding one on the window frame for getting the windows back where they belong. (back in the day of removable storm windows!) I learned this from Joan at Anything Goes Here where I purchased some for my artwork.

  29. #30 - Pamela says:

    Count your many blessings… I guess you have the numbers for it. 😉 Such a neat collection. It was a fun read. And then to get to see them in your home was the cherry on top!

    Merry CHRISTmas!

  30. #31 - tooiebird says:

    Oh man, I want all of these!! I especially love how you display your rubber stamps. I’m surprised you could find so many vintage typography related things. I’ll have to go search for some now.

    My main collection/hobby of sorts is my sketchbooks. I have 60 (working on number 56 right now). I also love to go take pictures of the graffiti on trains. I hope to print them out and hang them up someday. (both ‘collections’ can be found in my website link) 🙂

  31. #32 - Julianne says:

    I loved seeing your collections, thanks! I love to collect vintage tablecloths, I’m afraid I’m about out of space for those, and vintage bedding, pillowcases and chenille bedspreads primarily. I’m lucky to have a hubby who also enjoys going to flea markets, so we have few collections, but a lot of really cool “here and there” things!

  32. #33 - maybaby says:

    Love love love this post! Adore your collections! I have a few old typewriters, orginally purchased to take apart and use the keys for jewelry, but I can’t bare to do it. So instead they are on display! I use Scrabble tiles, dominos, and wooden bingo markers in my jewelry too, so I have jars of them everywhere. But my biggest collection is my buttons, which I have now turned into a business. You just never know where your collections will take you!

  33. #34 - Lynda says:

    Absolutely love your blog. The way you display things is so inspiring. I collect old world globes, vintage tin noisemakers, Shiny Brite Christmas ornaments, eclectic ornaments (Tsar Nicholas and Henry VIII and wives to name a few), Large Letter postcards (state capitals of all 50 states), glass unicorns and books (especially about Richard III). I wish I had a bigger house to be able to display collections as beautifully as you do. Thank you for sharing your great ideas. P.s. I too am an old school graphic designer with a love of typography.

  34. #35 - Heather says:

    I love visiting peoples homes and looking at their displayed collections. It always gives you something to talk about and allays my curiosity about everything. My collections are wooden industrial spools from fabric making, vintage gingham aprons and blacksmith tools and equipment.

  35. #36 - Eric Grant says:

    I have a vintage movie lettering set from the 1950’s. It is still in the original box with the instructions. It’s missing the glue bottle and plexiglass board. The name is The “VERSATITLER” made by the Phylard Mfg. Co., Canoga Park, CA. Copyright, 1955. I have not been able to find any info on Google about this set. Are you familiar with it?

  36. #37 - Chandler Locksmith says:

    You seem to have massive quantities of these vintage letters, etc. I can’t imagine where you store it all!! Have you ever thought to “rent” out your things for events and such?? How cool would THAT be!

  37. #38 - Homepage says:

    An extremely fascinating read, I may possibly not concur completely, but you do make some really valid points. 305162

  38. #39 - julie broshat says:

    hi cathy,
    i LOVE your collections!!!! if you are willing to part with any of your cow tags i would buy the 66..i have a friend that is looking for that number. i am also looking for a 40 but i didn’t see one of those in your picture. if you do want to sell, please let me know!!!!

  39. #40 - Scrabble Searcher says:

    I found your site googling Scrabble and found the jar you’re using for storage. Can you help me by telling me what size the jar is and if the full set of 100 is in it? I’m trying to estimate how many tiles and the size of my container I’ll need for an upcoming project. Thanks!

  40. Pingback: skeleton keys | the handmade home

  41. #41 - Dan Campbell says:


    I have a use for your cow ear tags. Do you have 1 through 128? I would use them as locker numbers


  42. #42 - Frank Stilley says:


    I have a set of Mitten’s Movie Titles. The letters are still in the original plastic cover. What are the worth? Is anyone interested is buying them?



  43. #43 - Susan says:

    did you ever figure out what to do with those brass numbers?

  44. #44 - Matt Ramirez says:


    I’m using and old door as a headboard and was looking for the numbers 820 to add to it. Do you have an 820 combination of numbers? Like an old hotel door number?

  45. #45 - Kim Wagner says:

    Just wondered if you wanted to sell your #96 Brass Cow Tag? I’d be interested. =)

    Please advise.

    Thanks & kind regards,


  46. #46 - Chad Dickey says:

    Hi I’m Chad! My girlfriend and I recently went to goodwill and we found some mittens movie Titlers and also Mittens movie Illustros which we cannot find anywhere on the web . It’s a holiday character set . Do you have any info on these ?

  47. #47 - Diane says:

    Do you still have the metal cattle tags

  48. #48 - elizabeth says:

    i have a brass round tag w the #13 on the bottom, the tag has little lines on both sides around the edge. wish I could show you a picture.

  49. #50 - Kirsten says:

    Do you have anything with the number 641 on it? Preferably a cow tag?