For those of you wondering exactly what printer’s trays are, they are trays that were first used in the printing process in 1890 which held the pieces of an alphabet set. Overtime people began to hang them in their houses as display units for their obsessions and collectable kitsch figurines.

Paging through our Fashion Issue, a series of printer’s trays hanging in Kurt Pio’s home on p86 caught our eye. This particular set holds champagne corks and mementos from various celebrations.

REcreate's printer's tray coffee tables and cupboard

We went around the creative hub that is Woodstock looking for interesting ways that printer’s trays are being used. Our first stop was the antique shop REcreate, where Katie Thompson has a collection of custom made items. Katie was first commissioned to make a wooden printer’s tray into a cupboard in 2009. From there the orders creatively evolved into a chest of drawers and a coffee table.

Papa Smurf's custom made printer's tray coffee table (Image courtesy of REcreate)

Since then she has made storage units for a collection of perfume bottles, a charming set of Smurf figurines and more recently a young girls Beatrix Potter pieces. The latter required creating a printer’s tray from scratch as the objects would not fit in the slots of an original tray. 

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes, we were able to see wooden and steel printer’s trays in their original states. Most of them still have handles and some even have the labels of the font family and font size that they belonged to, not very different from those we would find now on a word processing program.

An original printer's tray drawer


Something else that has stuck with us from the early days of printing is how we refer to ‘capital’ and ‘small’ letters. In the old days, printer’s trays were organised in font families and stored in drawers. ‘Small’ letters were stored in the bottom drawers and ‘capital’ letters were stored towards the top, hence the terms “upper case” and “lower case”.

Mandibles' egg collection drawers

At the Woodstock Foundry, we popped into Mandibles, where they have a set of custom made drawers from the early 1900’s that they acquired as part of an egg collection. Although these aren’t original trays, they are certainly good examples of early customised versions of them.

Dear Rae's jewellery display

Lastly we visited  Dear Rae, another store in The Foundry. Karin has pulled off the backs of printers trays and made display features for her jewellery. Not a bad idea for storing your own trinkets at home.

It’s not hard to look at these trays and instantly have a million different ideas of how they could be used, but unfortunately many of us wouldn’t know where to start looking for one. On our trip we discovered that garage sales and family attics usually do the trick. Another option is to have them custom made to suit your needs, but if authenticity is what you’re after, the Milnerton Flea Market is a great place to find an original.

Written by Chisanga Mukuka and Kirstie Rae Samson

Images by Chisanga Mukuka and REcreate

Extra printer’s tray information sourced from