By Fred Williams
Editor-Publisher, Type & Press
Summer 1982

If a poll had ever been conducted among cylinder pressmen as to their favorite small press, there's little doubt that the outcome would find the Mieble Vertical high on the list, if not in first position. Pressmen appreciated its versatility which enabled it to run almost any kind of job work on a wide variety of paper stock. This was due to its small eight-inch cylinder which printed only a thin line at a time as it revolved, as compared to a platen press which must print the entire form at one crunch. The Miehle could exert about 400 pounds per square inch to the paper without embossing through the back of the sheet.

Likewise, proprietors of print shops appreciated MV features such as: easy accessibility of the feeder mechanism, inking system, type form and press controls, all of which contributed to a minimum of non-production time in changing over from different varieties of job work. They also respected the ease by which the press could print run o' the hook jobs at a profit as well as its durability & trouble-free operation.

Robert Miehle, born in the Midwest in 1860, worked as a pressman in his brother's print shop in Chicago. In 1884 he patented a two-revolution flat-bed cylinder press. About 1890 he founded the Miehle Printing Press & Manufacturing Co. to build the press. Once the Miehle was established, its domination of the flatbed cylinder press field never was threatened.

In 1920, Milwaukee press designer, Edward Chesire, originated the vertical concept in a cylinder press. But after building only three of the presses, he sold his rights to Miehle the following year. Certain changes were made in the design by the purchaser and Craig Spichter. On Oct. 10, 1921, the press made its debut.

In spite of the fact that the press had been thoroughly tested prior to being introduced to the trade, it was received with some skepticism by a few pressmen because of its radical departure from the conventional flat-bed cylinder presses used previously.

The accepted design, at this time for this type of press, employed a cylinder revolving in stationary bearings over a horizontal bed supporting the type form. The bed moved back and forth with a reciprocal movement underneath the rotating cylinder. Grippers held the sheet against the cylinder, which applied sufficient pressure to print. Lifters (shooflies) frequently were used to deliver the printed sheet. The principle of raising and lowering of the cylinder, made possible the impression trip, whereby the cylinder could be locked in a nonprinting position for makeready or in the event the pressman missed a sheet while feeding.

The two-revolution press became the most popular of the flatbed cylinder presses. This variety made two revolutions to each complete cycle of the bed. After the impressional roll, the cylinder raised to a non-printing position, allowing type and bed to return without off setting the tympan.

To envision the operating features of the MV, picture a standard cylinder press standing on end with the feeder and delivery operating on top, horizontally.

The reasons which led to building of the vertical type of press were: convenience, accessibility, lack of vibration and economy of floor space.

A feature of the MV is that while the bed and cylinder move up and down vertically, they do so in opposite directions. The design kept the MV from being excessively tall as compared to the length of other cylinder presses.

The MV has an unusual combined guide and gripper bar that eliminates any need for the adjusting of grippers for different sizes or thicknesses of paper. The front guides do not have to be reset, the gripper "bite" remaining the same for all types of jobs. Any variation in the thickness of the packing will have no effect on the gripper tension because the button-headed grippers are seated on the bar instead of on the packing. The cylinder gripper stems, which also serve as front guides, have one side flattened and the round side serves as front guide.

It was claimed that the Miehle Vertical feeder could handle any stock from french folio to pliable cardboard as thick as .015 of an inch, as well as envelopes.

The new press was designated as the "V-36." As each model was introduced, the letter "V" was assigned, designating it was of the vertical type, while the number referred to the number of impressions (in hundreds) the press was capable of producing.

The V-36 delivers sheets up to 13 1/2x2O" at a top speed of 3,600. The inside chase dimensions are 13 3/4x20 1/4". It comes with two distributor and two form rollers, each pair topped with a geared vibrator. It has a ductor roller, a 10x19" ink table surface and a full length fountain. It weighs about 2,550 pounds.

Within a few years the MV proved to be a most profitable and unusual machine and was enthusiastically endorsed by most letterpress printers.

In 1931 the V- 45 was introduced. Improvements were made in the lubrication and air control systems plus styling changes.

The next year, Robert Miehle died at the age of 72. Manufacture of the Vertical continued. The V- 50 model was put into production in 1940 featuring improvements in the air control and styling as well as an automatic lubrication system. The maximum sheet size that could be delivered was increased to 14x2O". Production was curtailed during the war years.

Following the end of hostilities, production was resumed on the V-50 with a number of new features added such as: a cylinder crossbar, upgrading of air pumps and addition of a third form roller, the capacity to double roll, manual control knob to change position of the air nozzle while the press was running, repositioning of cylinder air hoses, rear corner stock pile guide, dropblade ink fountain and a splined driving pulley. The press was priced at around $5,500.

In four decades 25,000 MVs had been built and it was estimated that over 22,000 were still in operation! This gave new life to the 19th Century Miehle ad slogan, "You Never Heard of a Miehle Press Being Scrapped."

Stiffening resistance to price increases by printing buyers began to force many printers to reevaluate their letterpress equipment and to turn to faster methods of printing–such as offset. But the basic reason why many printers turned to offset was the increasing cost and unavailability of photo engravings. Artwork could be done cheaper on offset, as could halftones. Labor cost for spot and patch overlaying and underlaying had become too high.

The increased production, savings in makeready time and the cheaper labor costs made offset more and more attractive to an ever widening number of ex-letterpress printers.

By 1960 the building of cylinder presses, with the exception of the MV had ceased. The Miller Hi-Speed press, made since 1920, was discontinued. Big supplier, American Type Founders Co. had turned out its last Kelly, a model C in 1954. Five years later they phased out their Little Giant. Chandler & Price's little-known cylinder press line was discontinued in 1957.

Despite the widespread acceptance of offset, the V-50X (Extra Vert.) made its debut in 1964. With enclosed sides for protection against injuries, the last MV featured: a mechanical control to prevent damages from piled up sheets, a side guide control which allowed adjustment of register while the press was operating, central location of controls and center and corner blasts. It was said that it incorporated greater strength through the use of a new iron alloy.

But by the middle 1970s printers were no longer buying new letterpresses. On July 5, 1978 the last MV was built by Rockwell Graphic Systems (Miehle Printing Division), the company that took over the Miehle-Goss operation. It was the end of an era.

But the little MV continues to "clip-clop, click-clop," in thousands of shops throughout the world. Its versatility enables it to print beautifully, as well as die cut, score, number, imprint, etc.