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Antique Hand Presses for Modern Printers

J. J. Lankes' 1845 Hoe Washington Handpress at <a href=

Robert Oldham with J. J. Lankes’ 1845 Hoe Washington hand press at The Tampa Book Arts Studio. (Richard Mathews)

In North America, there are over 1,150 recorded hand presses of all types, makes, and vintages. They range from the press used by the first recorded English colonial printers, Stephen and Matthew Daye, in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1639 (now in the collection of the Vermont Historical Society), to the eighteen reproduction tabletop Albion presses built by Steve Pratt in Utah, between 2001 until his death in 2012.

About twenty years ago, I began, and still maintain, the North American Hand Press Database to record all the hand presses of the lever style with horizontal bed and platen that now reside in North America (regardless of where they were made). Of the recorded presses, including reproductions and four known in Central and South America, about half are accompanied by photos. A PDF of the list, without owner information, is posted on my website: www.adlibpress.us.

Eight hundred hand presses in North America are now in museum or university collections. Another 350 presses are in private hands in the United States and Canada, some of which have been restored by their owners and used for book production or printmaking. Occasionally, one of these will come on the market and previously unrecorded presses sometimes turn up in local auctions at modest prices, as did an early Hoe Washington recently. Others are offered through auction websites at what I think are very high prices.

The North American Hand Press Database not only aids in research about the manufacturers and their products, but helps press owners seeking information or drawings of parts missing from their presses. I am often contacted by people who wish to learn where hand presses can be seen in public collections, as well as those who are looking to buy or sell a hand press.

Although printing with hand presses is a slow and meticulous process, it can be very rewarding. Modern fine printers have used them to produce many beautiful books and broadsides. And many hand press printers have also had a lot of fun collecting and printing on the hand press.

Comments

  1. Paul Moxon, Website Editor 14 September, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Robert Oldham is collaborating with the Tampa Book Arts Studio to produce a hand-bound limited letterpress edition of J.J. Lankes’s nearly-lost short story “The Rich Mouse.” Read more about this Kickstarter project at http://kck.st/1IGVvjY

  2. Robert;
    I have been an aficionado of Iron Handpresses for years. I have also been remiss in providing you with data of the press I own and the presses I have restored or donated. First I will make a new years resolution to get you pictures and serial numbers of these presses. I have Wm A. Fields Reliance I purchased from an engraving company in Spokane WA and restored and have used and am using continually since then to print my wood engravings, broadsides etc. I restored a large Hoe in Kent, I donated a large Schniedwend to the University of Washington, I and a friend completely restored a Schniedwend for the school I teach in here in Seattle, the School of Visual Concepts (SVC). I have helped with placing two others here in Seattle. As I said, I will get you the data on all these presses in the coming year.
    Carl Montford

  3. The R. Hoe Press at Penland School of Crafts was Dard Hunter’s first press– the one that he used to print The Etching of Contemporary Life. I have all of the documentation – and gave a talk about it at the Friends of Dard Hunter meeting years ago. It was given to Ralph Pearson, who was Hunter’s pal on the Hudson River, and later given by Ralph’s son Ron, the master goldsmith, to Penland. I hope the press stays at Penland or is recognized for what it is.

  4. I have not been able to get Penland to confirm that they still have that press. I did not realize it was Dard Hunter’s. I have a very poor photo of myself with it from when I taught a book arts workshop there back in the 80s. Do you have a photo? I would love to get confirmation of its whereabouts.

  5. I believe the Dard Hunter Press is at the Williams Museum of Paper Making in Atlanta. Penland School of Crafts no longer has any iron hand presses.

  6. The day after I read this I visited an exhibit called First Among Many at the Library of Congress which includes the first book printed in the U.S., on the very press Bob mentions in his first paragraph above. The exhibit is worth a visit, and is open through the end of 2015.

  7. Mark schwendeman 21 August, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Hi I have a press that is suppose to be manufactured in 1875. One side says. Cincinnati type foundry& printing machine works. The other side says Washington press with a T C Co. Logo on it. It has some #s. 76 on top of what looks like 612 below it. Some more that say. 25 font on the press table and more on the main frame that are. 25 over 39. And more that are23 overe 35. Do you know anything about this and maybe it’s value any help would be appreciated. Thanks

  8. A CTF press with those numbers was for sale in Tucson, AZ around 2015. I have photos. The cast numbers you’ve described seem similar. I had discussed the possibility of these being serial numbers with Bob Oldham back then but lacked comparables.

  9. This 1919 article tells the story of the Moab Times-Independent newspaper’s original press of 1896. It tells how the press wandered SW Colorados gold fields until it found a home in Moab, Utah.
    https://newspapers.lib.utah.edu/details?id=20242211&facet_paper=%22Times+Independent%22&q=hoe+press
    It was a Hoe No. 2. We wonder where it wandered off to. The paper moved locations in 1949, so it may have moved elsewhere after being a display piece for many decades.

  10. I am working on the Cincinnati Washington press and have a couple of questions. First, I have never worked or restored before and was asked to see if we get it to print again. I have replaced two of the leather belts and have it working with the help of new grease and cleaning. Now my question is, and I apologize for not knowing the proper names of the parts, that there are only one of the frames that you pull up to place your paper on. On this fame, as I have seen in pictures and videos, is a cover of the whole frame. What is the material used here? Cloth or heavy paper. I have a chase to use but not for sure how to set up the frame that drops down. Thanks.

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