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.”