By Fred Williams
Editor-Publisher, Type & Press
The typical small job printing office in the early 1800s usually consisted of a few cases of type, a stone and one handpress. The output was often limited to job work, broadsides, pamphlets and an occasional small book.
Small items such as cards and tickets were also ordered and one can well imagine the inconvenience of printing these small forms on a hand press with its large tympan and frisket. The pressman had to go through all the same motions as required to print larger jobs. Output was often limited to 300 impressions a day.
Realizing the ineffectiveness of the handpress for printing small jobs, several inventors had built self-inking card presses. But inventors had difficulty in getting away from the principle of the handpress. They designed an iron handpress, added a self-inking device and a mechanical contraption to move the paper sheet in and out from between the type and the platen.
Stephen P. Ruggles of Boston, a pioneer in this field, in 1830, designed his Engine Press and in 1851 he patented his Card and Bill Press.
Master printer George Phineas Gordon of New York, had also given a great deal of thought to the development of a press for job printing. In 1950 he was granted a patent on a press somewhat like Ruggles' Engine Press. Later on he saw Ruggles' Card and Bill Press and noted the advantages of departing from the principle of the handpress.
Subsequently, Gordon invented a new press in which the platen was stationary and set at an angle of about 45 degrees. The bed was vertical and hinged at its lower edge. In operation, a cam tilted the bed forward through the 45 degree angle, pressing the type form against the platen which held the sheet of paper. It was called "the Alligator," because of its vicious habit of nipping the fingers of pressmen who failed to remove their hands immediately after feeding a sheet. Only a few were manufactured.
Gordon, a spiritualist, claimed later that Benjamin Franklin appeared to him in a dream, described an improved mechanism for his machine. He called it "The Turnover" due to the unusual movement of the platen between feeding and printing positions. The bed of the press was positioned on two legs which were hinged near the floor, allowing a vibrating motion. A toggle affair, actuated by a earn wheel, moved the bed back and forth. Another cam operated the platen from feeding to printing positions. Inking was obtained from a rectangular curved ink plate. A number of presses of this design were sold but eventually several improvements were made to simplify the mechanism.
By 1857 the two extra cams had been eliminated and the rnachine appeared in its final form -remaining virtually unchanged for over 12 decades. Despite the fact that old Ben had actually described an imperfect mechanism to the New York inventor, Gordon named it the Franklin press, but with himself as inventor. But it was more commonly known as the Gordon Jobber.
The principle of the Gordon press, briefly was: a reciprocating bed mounted on two long legs which were hinged near the floor and a platen supported on a large shaft which rotated about 90 degrees within a given are between the plane of impression and the plane of feeding. A simple crank action moved the bed in a back and forth, hinging movement.
Inking was achieved with three rollers, supported by saddles, which rolled from the ink disc above the bed, down and up over the type form before and after each impression.
The press was driven by pumping a treadle which turned a flywheel, which kept the press running smoothly.
The reciprocating bed as well as the double ink disc (invented later) were Gordon's ideas. But action of the movable platen and grippers he borrowed from Ruggles. The revolving ink disc and the arrangement of the ink rollers were appropriated from Daniel Treadwell of Boston. Eventually Gordon's Franklin Jobbers were made in all standard sizes.
The Gordon was noted for its easy running as compared to competing makes of presses. The pressure required to print a large form simultaneously at all points as is necessary on a platen press, is tremendous–often amounting to many tons. The Gordon, with its crank action, derived enormous power by being carried over dead center.
Speedy and light-weight, the Gordon was an outstanding success. A boy could "kick off" more impressions in one day than two men on a hand press could "pull" in a week!
Gordon also obtained a patent on the double ink disk, comprising of a center circle revolving in one direction and outer ring surrounding it, turning in the opposite direction.
Up until 1872 Gordon did not actually manufacture his jobbers but contracted with various machine shops to build them. But after this date he built his own factory at Rahway, N. J., with the capacity to erect over 600 presses per year.
Patents on the Franklin press were due to expire in 1883 and any firm would be able to copy the design. Aware of this, Gordon conceived and introduced his Improved Franklin Jobber which was protected by new patents. Of the same general appearance, the new version was equipped with a different mechanism for controlling the movements of the platen and bed. The bed moved through about half the distance as the original model, resulting in a reduction of power needed to drive the press, it was claimed.
The platen, hinged at its lower edge, was pushed up to impression position by a pair of knees. With a somewhat heavier appearance than the old model, the new model was equipped with a throw-off. The bed, not the platen was adjustable.
The Improved Franklin, introduced in 1872, had roller arms made of brass and was referred to as the "Brass Arm Gordon." But the brass wore out quickly and in 1880 they were replaced with arms made of cast-iron.
The original old style model was then discontinued.
As predicted, other press builders began copying the original model. The first - the Challenge Gordon, built by Shneidewend & Lee of Chicago - made its appearance in 1884.Within 10 years 11 other companies were building presses based on the original Gordon jobber design.
Most printers found that the so-called Improved model was actually inferior to the original machine. They claimed the platen failed to open up as far as the old jobber, resulting in feeding and makeready problems. They also preferred the long dwell for feeding and impression that was so characteristic of the first Franklin Press. Sales of the Improved version were disappointing.
Over the years a number of jobbers, almost identical to Gordon's original were made, such as: the Bronson (1894 - 1897), S&L (1884-1893), California Reliable (1886 - 1889), Chandler & Price (1886-1961), Old Reliable (1888), Powell (1884), New Era (1884), Dodson (1948-1953), Ben Franklin (1886 - 1898), Madison (1890-1892) and the Cleveland (1890-1895).
Several competitors not only appropriated Gordon's design but name as well, such as: the Jones Gordon (1888-1901), ChallengeGordon (1884-1910), Thorp-Gordon (1886 - 1890), Straight Line Gordon (1891) and Peerless Gordon (1891-1900).
In England the Gordon was marketed under the names Minerva, Cropper and Franklin.
In ill health the last few years of his life, George P. Gordon died in 1878 at age 67. Sales of his famous presses had made him a millionaire.
He left no will and his numerous relatives went into litigation. The corporate title of the firm was changed to the Gordon Press Works and placed in the hands of a receiver. Later a lawyer came forward and announced that he had located the will in which he had been named executor and a chief beneficiary! The relatives united and challenged the validity of this will. Eventually the will was proved to be a forgery and the lawyer was imprisoned.
The relatives then consented to an amicable division of what remained of the estate. Eventually the Gordon Press Works was sold to Chandler & Price of Cleveland.
C&P continued to build their jobber as well as those of the Gordon Company until 1909. Two years later they began introducing their New Series model. The Old Series presses were characterized by ornate castings, a high base and a fly-wheel with curved spokes. The New Series, with a low silhouette, featured heavier construction and a small straight spoked fly-wheel. Actually the New Series press was the Old Style with improvements.
In the '60, due to the tremendous growth of offset duplicating plus competition from the Heidelberg press from Germany, C&P discontinued manufacturing the C&P (Gordon) jobber.
Although George Gordon also built cylinder and card presses, his adaptation of other men's ideas into his Franklin Jobber, brought him everlasting fame. In spite of today's takeover by offset processes, Gordon presses still are pressing "impressive" impressions worldwide - a tribute to a man who had a most unusual dreamover 120 years ago!