I think sometimes we are so consumed with the Internet that we forget that books can be an amazing resource especially when it comes to letterpress printing. It all began a few days ago when we were trying to find more information about a new platen jobber press we were acquiring. The machine was disassembled, tied up, and worst of all we only had a few pictures of it since the press was sitting in a storage space in another state.
In some cases, you’ll be lucky enough to find the manufacturer and/or the model name on the machine either molded in the cast iron of the body or on a plaque that is attached to the press. If you’re in this situation, then you should have all the information you need. To the right is a picture of the plaque on our Poco No. 2 which identifies it as a Poco Proof Press made by Hacker Mfg. Co. The picture below is from our C&P Pilot which shows the manufacturer name (Chandler & Price) in the cast iron.
Unfortunately, we weren’t this lucky with our newly acquired platten jobber and so we started to search on the Internet. If you are looking for an immediate answer your best bet is to look through some online museums or consult a forum or listserv. There are a few good resources to look at first such as the Briar Press Museum and Five Roses Introduction to Letterpress. Of course to identify the manufacturer of the machine, you are going to need to know what type of press it is. Both Briar Press and Five Roses have good lists explaining the different types of presses. After you find out what type of machine you have, the next step is to identify its manufacturer and the specific model.
This next step can be quite difficult since a wide variety of machines were manufactured over the years and the variation between some models and manufacturers is so small it can be difficult for an experienced eye to recognize. This is where experienced pressman like some of the members of Briar Press and Letpress Listserv can be really helpful. Make sure that you take the time to do your research before you post any question to these communities. What we’ve found is that people will be much more likely to offer their help and knowledge if you do the ground work first.
There are also a bunch of other of online letterpress communities, some of which we have listed on our links page. If there are any forums/listservs not on our list, send us an email and we will gladly add it.
If you can’t get any help on the forums or listservs, then your next best bet is to take a trip to your local library. Bringing us back to the point we were making at the beginning of the post, books can be an amazing resource. Several members on the Letpress listserv directed us to Hal Sterne’s, A Catalogue of 19th Century Printing Presses. Hal first compiled the book in 1978 when he realized that no comprehensive catalogue of letterpress machines existed. In 2001, the second edition was published which added over 150 more images of presses as well as added manufacturing dates for machines where available. For a full table of contents of the book, visit Hal’s website where you can also purchase a copy of the book for only $49 (the list price is $75 so you’re getting a good deal).
We were lucky enough to find a copy of Hal’s book in the Rare Manuscripts library at Cornell, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from our studio. At over 250 pages, ever page of the book is filled with illustrations, prices, dimensions, and dates which is why it has become a requirement for any serious letterpress printer. We’re hoping someone puts this book in our stocking for Christmas. After searching through the catalogue, we were finally able to identify our mystery press.
Our mystery press was in fact a Champion Jobber as shown on page 175 which was made by several different manufacturers over the years. Upon closer inspection, the woodcut from the catalogue is slightly different than our jobber which suggests that the manufacturer is different than the one shown in the book. So while our search certainly isn’t over, its the most information we may be able to get until we move the press to our studio and can inspect it.
Since we were so surprised to find such a great selection of literature, we’re going to setup a letterpress library so that everyone can share the books that they have found useful. Our first addition to the library is Hal Sterne’s, A Catalogue of 19th Century Printing Presses shown below. We are open to suggestions for new additions to the library and will be adding more books in the coming weeks.