Skip to the good stuff!


Gordon’s Patent Model Finds New Home

Gordon’s US Patent model for a platen job press mounted on the base of the case made by GPO carpenters. (GPO)

On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, Frank Romano, President of the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Massachusetts, visited the Government Publishing Office in Washington to transport an 1874 U.S patent model of a platen printing press which GPO is lending to the museum. APHA’s Chesapeake Chapter sponsored a “going-away party” in GPO’s Visitor Center at which GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks and Deputy Director James Bradley formally turned over the model to Romano. The model was prepared for transport to the museum by cabinetmaker John Beckel of the GPO Carpenter Shop, who constructed a specially fitted case for the model to travel in. 

Between 1790 and 1880, the U.S. Patent Office required all applications to include a functional model as an illustration. Models were originally displayed in an exhibition space in the Patent Office. The requirement was abandoned in 1880. A fire in the late 1870s claimed a great many of the models, and in 1925 most of the remaining collection was sold to a single buyer, who intended to establish a museum, but failed to do so. Many of those remaining models found their way into the market, and the model for patent 148050 eventually found its way to GPO.

The inventor, George Phineas Gordon, had developed the first practical platen job press in the 1850s, but despite his patents other manufacturers widely copied it. His application for a patent for an improved press in 1874 was an attempt to control that infringement. Gordon was a Spiritualist who reported that Benjamin Franklin had come to him in a dream with the inspiration for the platen press, which he initially named the “Franklin.”

GPO used many platen job presses over its history. Inventories  from the early twentieth century show 15 to 20 platen presses in use in the job shop alone. When GPO’s shift to offset printing became complete in the 1980s, the last of the platen presses edged into GPO history.

The Museum of Printing maintains a large collection of printing and binding artifacts in its new facility in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The model of the Gordon press will be displayed alongside a painting of Gordon at work on his invention, commissioned from artist Robert A. Thom by the Kimberly-Clark Corp., in a series “Graphic Communications Through the Ages.”  

Robert A. Thom, “George P. Gordon and the Platen Press”, oil on canvas, 33 × 25 inches, Kimberly Clark Graphic Communications Through the Ages Series, ca. 1960.


  1. A little clarification: The original Robert A. Thom paintings in the Kimberly Clark Graphic Communications Through the Ages series are in the Cary Collection at RIT. and the link above takes you to information about the series. The Museum of Printing holds reproductions.

  2. Stephen P. Ruggles developed the first practical platen press.

    George Phineas Gordon (1810-1878) claimed that Benjamin Franklin appeared to him in a dream and described the mechanism of a platen job press. In gratitude he called the invention the “Franklin,” but it is worth noting that Gordon also received—and acknowledged—considerable non-ectoplasmic help from a predecessor, Stephen P. Ruggles (1808-1880) of Boston. In a letter dated October ll, 1873, Gordon wrote to Ruggles1:

    . . . I have, in times gone by, most cheerfully accorded to Ruggles the introduction—the origination—of the treadle job press. I have ever said the conception was YOURS, and that your efforts, skill and persistency against great opposing obstacles introduced it. Glory enough for one man . . .I shall be ready, ever, to accord my testimony . . . to set you right in the eyes of the world, as the pioneer and the great prototype of job printing-presses; and the one which all other builders have taken as their great model . . . Had it not been for Stephen P. Ruggles I should not have been where I am today. I should never have built a printing-press. . .

    -Stephen O. Saxe

  3. Thanks, Stephen, I stand happily and gratefully corrected.

  4. It should be mentioned — because of his heroic efforts — that the ‘single buyer’ who purchased (saving them from destruction), preserved, and later auctioned thousands of Patent models was O. Rundle Gilbert, the notable auctioner.

    It should also be mentioned — to conceptualize the size of the model — that the attached tag measures 2-3/4 inches x 3 inches.

  5. Paul Moxon, Website Editor 17 March, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    Excellent point about size.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published.

APHA encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.