(Note: This is an odd question to be asking on a website in this day and age. But it is something that those with a historical bent might care about, and I'm not sure where else to ask!)
As a hobbyist graphic designer, I've gotten into some of the background...such as by watching that Helvetica documentary. I began looking to pick up a nice looking metal letterpress set, as a coffee-table conversation piece, and perhaps to play with using with actual ink.
The idea to go after this came from visiting a vintage store, and seeing a pile which was a grab-bag of letters from miscellaneous fonts. But they wanted something like $4 per letter--which seemed rather outrageous for odds and ends. I'd rather have a real typeface set that I could use. The only constraint for fitting in with the table and rest of the room is that it be gray metal.
Of course, it would be nice if I could have some famous set from a type foundry. But I'm not going to become a collector. So does anyone have opinions on where to get an affordable, non-tacky set that would not have letters larger than a quarter? As designers who might show up at a party where there was metal type on a table, what would you enjoy finding there to strike up a conversation with people about typography?
As a baseline to start the discussion, there's a 72 point Helvetica medium type on eBay with a "buy it now" option for $299:
Helvetica is an okay choice because the documentary made it into an automatic conversation piece. But that's more than I might like to spend for a toy esp. if it's a cheap replica. Ideas?
If you keep your eyes open, you can often find metal type for free as long as you are willing to haul it. I've had to move more than a few collections in my time and usually, the owner ends up eventually giving the stuff away to anyone that can haul it out.
As for where to find it, ebay and craig's lists in your region are a good start.
Briar Press has a classifieds section: