I am the happiest of campers today, having just taken delivery of these beauties. If you've never seen such things before, they are type cases for storing the lead fonts used in typesetting. Of course nowadays most 'typesetting' is done on the computer making the print shop and its equipment obsolete. But way back in the day I learned how to do it the old fashioned way with a pair of tweezers, painstakingly picking out the individual letters and the spaces between the words and arranging them in a galley, back to front, so that when run through the press there would magically appear a page of (hopefully) coherent text.
Unpacking these drawers was a real blast from the past and brought memories of the college printshop flooding back. Each drawer traditionally held a single font with all the extra characters necessary for compositing. They were stored in great racks with the drawers of capital letters above and the drawers of small ones below - the origin of the terms lower and upper case - and when filled with lead type were incredibly heavy, hence their sturdy construction.
Well I don't have ambitions to set up my own printworks but I did think these would make wonderful bases for some assemblage art so that's what I plan to do, although first they need a thorough clean as there's many years of accumulated dust inside them. I'll post more updates as the project progresses!