Platen Press Buyers' Guide
Published in Type & Press, Winter 1983
(Editor's Note: The late John Harrison, author of this article, had many years experience operating different makes of presses. His comments should be helpful.)
Printer contemplating the purchase of a jobbing press may be in a quandry as to the make and model most suitable for their personal use. The fact that well over 120 different makes were on the market over the years, doesn't help the beginner to make the correct choice.
The important thing to consider when acquiring a press is: What class of printing will be required of the machine?—small or large heavy forms, general commercial work, multiple color work, broadsides, book printing, or what? Some presses are not built to stand up under equal strain or speed despite the advertised claims in old-time printing journals.
The business of manufacturing job presses was booming in the 70s and 80s of the last century[1800s]. The field was highly competitive and many unknown machine shops built light, cheap "snappers." Many were of the clam-shell variety—bed and frame were constructed in one fixed assembly and the platen flapped open and shut on hinges attached to the lower side. Often there was no dwell for feeding.
Some of these job presses were made by obscure manufacturers who furnished them to printers' supply dealers to be named and advertised as a product of the firm selling them. Possibly, the same identical make of press might have been sold under several different names. Many of these "snappers" were on the market for only a few years.
Consequently, the condition of the press under consideration is of more importance than its age or brand name. It is wise to avoid any machines with cracks, numerous welds or evidence of abuse. But a solid weld or two will seldom affect the quality of work that is possible from a press.
Bails or platens that are scarred from pounding are warnings that the jobber has suffered mistreatment over the years from incompetent sadists.
Rusted, uneven or heavily sanded ink discs or beds are not prerequisites for fine presswork. Dish-shaped platens or beds should he avoided. Presses with heavy vibrations, pounding or "walking" symptoms will result only in headaches. Machines with bent or cracked crankshafts should be shunned.
Scraping off layers of dried grease or ink will reveal the true condition of the innards.
If platen is loose or wobbly when press closes on impression, it could denote a worn cam roller in the large gear cam wheel on the right side of the press just under the feed board.
Examine the rocker lock for signs of rough use. This rocker, with a roller on the upper left hand side, is just below the delivery board and moves in to lock the platen rocker in place during the impression. The sloppy platen and defaced rocker lock may be brought back to first-class condition by building up to original form by welding.
Despite the obvious short-comings of some of the old jobbers, most pressmen hold the view that any platen press, in average condition, worked within its capacity and manned by a competent pressman, is capable of turning out acceptable impressions.
Many of these old "snappers" were well made by competent craftsmen and reputable manufacturers. Some models, even after 100 years of constant use, can still render excellent printing. It's unlikely that presses being made today (plastic, tin and sheet metal), can be expected to have such a useful life.
Luxuries such as vibrator rollers, throw -offs, fountains, impression counters, split ink discs, adjustable roller wheels are quite helpful. But beautiful printing has been done without them.
Vibrators and fountains give continuous and superior inking of large forms, while throw-offs eliminate spoiled stock and allow double rolling. Treadles permit stopping the press on impression and absolute control of the speed of the press. Additionally, there's nothing quite like treadling to warm up the feetsies on cold, frosty mornings!
The most popular types of platen presses are: the old and new style Gordon, the clam-shell and the parallel impression varieties. A guide for buyers of presses, along with their availability and average prices paid recently, follows:
OLD STYLE GORDON
FRANKLIN—Usually called the Gordon Old Style, this was the first press of its kind. It is preferred by many pressmen and is an excellent all-around machine. Handling medium sized forms at a lively rate, it can accommodate most run 'o the hook jobs. Its long roller springs give satisfaction and have a long life. Its main disadvantage is its inability to secure a steady supply of ink for heavy forms even when employing a small fountain. Early models did not have throw-offs and it was made in 8 x 12, 10 x 15 and 13x19 sizes. It is fairly scarce. ($500 and up).
IMPROVED GORDON —Usually referred to as the New Style Gordon. Introduced about 1872, it was somewhat heavier than its older brother. Equipped with a throw-off, its platen didn't open as wide as the older model, creating feeding and makeready problems. It had a split ink disc. The roller springs required replacing more frequently than the old-style model. It never attained the popularity of the old version, hence it is quite rare. ($600 and up).
CHANDLER & PRICE—Based on the Old Style principle, the C&P has always had built-in quality—the reason it became the most popular platen press of all time. The Old Series, with fancy castings, a high base and curved spoked flywheel, was replaced in 1911 by the New Series, a similar but modernized version equipped with a straight-spoked flywheel and extra heavy castings with flanges inside. One can't go wrong in acquiring either of these models. Both are plentiful, the Old Series, $200 and up; the New Series, $350 and up, depending on size.
C&P CRAFTSMAN —These presses, of the same basic Gordon design, have a massive one-piece frame, four form rollers, two vibrators and a full fountain with brayer. They are the ultimate in fine platen presses, Also came equipped with a Rice automatic feeder. (Plentiful, $500 and up).
OTHERS—After Gordon's patents expired, a number of other firms appropriated his design (sometimes even his name) with or without changes. A few of the more popular included: Challenge Gordon, S & L, Peerless Gordon, Cleveland and Thorp-Gordon. These and other models may often be found as low as $100 and upward.
KLUGE - First introduced in 1930, the Kluge is still in demand commercially, putting it out of the price range of the average small, hobby or private printer. Prior to 1930, Kluge feeders were installed on C&P presses. The Kluge is tops for running any type of job work including die cutting, foil stamping and embossing. Made in 10x15 and 12x18 sizes.
PEARL—For quick set-up and fast speed, the Pearl has always been a favorite with Letterpressmen. Now it is much sought after by hobby and private printers, often because of its extremely light-weight. Made in several different sizes, including 5x8, 7x11 and 9x14, the press was built with and without throwoffs. The Pearl is still moderately plentiful and can be located if one has a lot of patience and, luck. (Priced $350 and upward).
PEERLESS —Although classed as a clam-shell, the Peerless can be highly recommended because of the direct toggle action, operated by a goose-neck, on the platen. This resulted in a platen which is strongest at its center -a point of weakness in other jobbers. Of massive construction, with dead dwell during impression and open positions, the Peerless has a huge counterweight to keep it running smoothly. The press is well made and long lasting. It is not recommended for the beginner. This press has long been a favorite for creasing and cutting cardboard boxes. (Moderately Scarce, $200 and up.)
OTHERS —The C.M.C. Prouty, Model and Baltimore are some of the other presses that have been used successfully by small printers.
If a press is needed for large forms that require heavy inking, the parallel impression variety of press will prove ideal. In this class are the Universal, Victoria, Colt's Armory, National, Hartford and Laureate. All of these presses are quite massive and require expertise and plenty of muscle to move. These machines, admired for their squareness of impression, should not be operated at a sustained high rate of speed. They seldom require the changing of impression screws. They are still used commercially as die cutters or creasers. (They are fairly scarce but reasonably priced because of their weight.)
The Golding Jobber and Art jobbers are machines with immense impressional power and sophisticated inking systems. it is possible with them to print excellent quality halftones, three color work as well as large type forms. They are quiet printers and easy to feed. In addition to a large ink disc, some models are equipped with a duplex distributor beneath the type bed which re-distributes the ink on the rollers just before they move up over the type for a second pass. This feature, together with the large ink fountain cylinder which uses the vibrator as a distribution surface, enables jobs to be printed which otherwise might require double rolling. The Jobber, with three ink rollers, was made in 8x12, 10x15, 12x18 and 15x2l sizes. The Art Jobber came in 12x18 and 15x2l. The latter machine weighs 3,250 poundsl The heavy weight of these Jobbers has made them scarce but reasonable in price.
THE HEIDELBERG is a highly sophisticated press with a non-moving bed and a platen which opens and closes by action of a toggle. It has a speed of 5000 iph pressure oiling, cylindric inking and a mechanical roller washer. It cannot be hand fed. This German press is expensive and well beyond the financial range of the "small" printer.
The novice Pressman may list his ideal press requirements as: a light model with an extra long dwell for feeding and impression, perfect ink distribution, a press easy to feed and makeready, one that will give a constant, heavy impression over the entire form as well as maintain hair-line register at high speeds. Forget it, there's no such a press!