Long before the days of looking up movie times with Google and watching the trailers on YouTube, folks had to rely on their local newspaper to find out about new films playing in their town. Many productions would take out ads in the paper, ones that functioned as mini-movie posters showcasing art and credits to entice readers to go out and see a film.
These ads were cast as letterpress blocks, single pieces of metal with all the text and photos carved in so all a paper had to do was fit them onto the press alongside its own articles and other content. These blocks were meant to be melted down after the film stopped playing but the Omaha-based KB Typesetting put them into storage instead. When newspapers stopped using letterpress ads and the company went out of business, the entire collection ended up at a local antique store.
The assortment of over 50,000 blocks was purchased in 1999 by Marilyn Wagner and DJ Ginsberg, who spent the next decade and a half inventorying and restoring the collection. It spanned over 50 years of cinema history. In 2015, they finally got it appraised and were told it was worth as much as $12 million.
In 2017, a documentary about their discovery, The Collection, was screened at SXSW. Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League saw it and decided he had to buy it. He put together a plan and purchased it by 2019, with plans to use the collection as part of the new Lower Manhattan location the theater chain had planned.
The Press Room bar opened inside the theater in late 2021, with hundreds of letterpress blocks on display along the walls. The blocks are arranged thematically in 11 x 17 frames and rotated out occasionally; a vintage 1938 Vandercook letterpress also inside the bar is used to generate prints that are sold for $25.