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Adam Ramage and his One-pull Common Press

The first known one-pull Common press made by Adam Ramage, now at Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. This undated photo was used by Phillip Gaskell in his census of wooden presses published in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society in 1970. (Trinity College Library, Cambridge University)

While I was collecting hand press information for my book, A Field Guide to North American Hand Presses and Their Manufacturers, I encountered a number of Ramage Common presses, among them the two described herein that have larger platens than usual. I became intrigued by this anomaly and began searching for information that might support the idea that Adam Ramage, the first true manufacturer of printing presses in the USA, had tried enlarging the capacity of his wooden presses to make them more competitive with the incipient iron hand presses. 

When manufacture of the English Stanhope all-iron hand press began about 18001, with its larger platen capable of printing the entire forme in one pull, printers were presented with the choice between this advanced, but expensive, press technology and the then 350-year-old, and more readily available, two-pull Common press. After the experiments a few years later by George Clymer to develop a different all-iron hand press, the Columbian2, the handwriting was on the wall for Adam Ramage, who was by then the most prolific builder of printing presses in the USA, though his product was limited at that time to the wooden Common press.

Milton W. Hamilton in his essay Adam Ramage and His Presses published in 1942 noted that in the records of Philadelphia printer Matthew Carey’s transactions with Ramage, he found reference to the bill in 1814 to Carey for a “Printing Press Compleat screw up platting, No. 371— $137.00”.3 Philip Gaskell, in his updated 1952–54 census of wooden presses published with photos in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society in 19704, listed and pictured Ramage press No. 371, Gaskell’s USA14, and in the undated photo it has a full-size one-pull platen with a bolted hose. The press was owned by Frank King or his daughter, Mrs. Albert Blough; Gaskell noted the “Full-sized one-pull platen in the photograph; now replaced with two-pull platen 19½ × 12½ in.” at the time of his census. This press is now in the Beeghly Library of Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and presently has what appears at first sight to be a later reproduction one-pull-size platen 18½ × 23⅞ inches, which has split lengthwise. The screw of the Juniata press measures 3½ inches in diameter, the largest screw known to have been made by Ramage.

A careful re-examination, by the present writer, of the platen of the Juniata College press in 2016 shows that it is made of American Red Oak cut from near the center of the log, with iron bars rabbeted into the front and rear edges running across the grain. It seems possible that this platen is the original made by Ramage in 1814, and that the use of Red Oak was due to Ramage’s inability to obtain a sufficiently large piece of Honduras Mahogany, his preferred wood for presses. Oak can expand and contract quite a lot more with humidity changes than the very stable mahogany, and until the press arrived at Juniata College it undoubtedly was not kept in an air-conditioned environment. The climate-controlled library is almost certainly very much drier than its previous home, and the oak would shrink significantly there, creating the ⅛ inch split down the middle of the platen due to the restraining action of the reinforcing bars screwed into the wood and the bolted hose which is also firmly screwed into the wood.

In a note in his 1874 edition of Isaiah Thomas’s History of Printing in America, Joel Munsell paraphrased an 1856 letter from George Bruce, then retired from a career as a printer, stating that “Mr. Ramage enlarged the diameter of the screw to three inches, and where much power was required to three and a half inches, and at the same time reduced the fall in a revolution to two inches, which very nearly doubled the power, but decreased the rapidity of the action. … Importation had … almost entirely ceased as early as 1800. His great improvement on the screw and working parts connected therewith were made seven years later.”

It could well be that the original one-pull platen on the Juniata College Common press was installed by Ramage, a part of his efforts to improve the common press, for another Ramage common press, No. 512 (Gaskell’s USA21), owned by the Hartford, Connecticut Courant newspaper, also has a one-pull platen, 19 × 25 inches, with bolted hose; the platen looks the same as that in the old photo of No. 371. The screw of the Hartford press is 3⅛ inches in diameter. Although Gaskell commented “The single-pull platen is unlikely to be original”, the platen appears old and seems to be made of well-cured center-cut mahogany, the wood that, as noted earlier, Ramage favored for his Common presses.

In an advertisement in June 1814, the year No. 371 was built, Ramage stated: “ADAM RAMAGE, Respectfully informs his friends, and the public, that he continues to make PRINTING PRESSES Of all sizes, with additional Plattens and power for single or double pull, with Chases, Cases, Brass Rules, Furniture, &c…”5, an indication that he was then marketing single-pull Common presses. With evidence from two surviving presses and Ramage’s 1814 advertisement, as well as the many other innovations Ramage brought to the hand press, it seems probable that the “one-pull” platens were original equipment on these two Common presses, part of his efforts to offer a hand press technology competitive with that others were developing in the early nineteenth-century.

The second known Ramage one-pull Common press is now owned by the Hartford Courant newspaper in Connecticut, and it was probably built around or after 1820. (Photo by the author)

These two Ramage Common presses, both built after 1813 following the advent of Clymer’s Columbian, are the only two American Common presses known that have large one-pull platens.



  1. Do you know where we can find information about furniture made by Adam Ramage? We have a family piece made by him and want to learn more about him and his work.

    Thank you.

  2. I am presently away from home for another week, but when I return I will send you the text of my book about Adam Ramage, which contains all the information about him I have found. Although he trained as a cabinet maker almost all his recorded work was equipment and supplies for printers and bookbinders. He is recorded as having made the casket for the wife of his typefounder friend in Philadelphia and he probably made much or all of his family’s furniture t5hough that is not recorded.


  3. Mr. Oldham, I write to you from the Andes in Colombia, South America. A relative of mine purchased a “Printing Press” about 1810 from Philadelphia, as stated in letters to his friends. The printing press arrived and we do have some samples of the printing. From that era, there are in Colombia about 5 Printing presses in different Museums . We do not know which one is the one he imported from Pa. Could you orient us as to where to start researching about Printing Presses from that location and era?

  4. Señor Caldas, my apologies. I can not recall answering your question, and kept no record of it if I did. There were two or three hand press builders in Philadelphia at that time, though Adam Ramage was probably the most prominent. Pretty much all the printing presses in the country were wooden “common” presses, although at that time George Clymer was experimenting with using iron in hand press construction, and he was in Philadelphia. Do you have any descriptions or photos of the five presses you mentioned? Looking at them I can tell you whether any were available in 1810. There exists one press which apparently was built by George Clymer about 1808 or 1809 which is a cast iron mechanism with a wooden frame. I would be very interested to learn more about whatever hand presses there are in Colombia. Again my apologies for the unconscionable length of time.

  5. Have you ever come across a Doolittle Mahogany press? Doolittle began manufacturing them with his son in 1765 in New Haven. After successfully casting the iron screw that so befuddled all other American iron casters, clockmaker Isaac Doolittle built the press for New Haven printer and newspaper publisher Thomas Green, and began to manufacturing them. The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter of September 7, 1768 described it as a “Mahogany Printing-Press on the most approved construction, which by some good judges in the Printing Way, is allowed to be the neatest ever made in America and equal, if not superior to any imported from Great-Britain.” He sold about 12 of over the next 20 years.

    What is intriguing is that Doolittle knew Benjamin Franklin from his visit to New Haven in 1753. Doolittle was a brass caster and iron caster, and might have made his press with the improvements suggested by Franklin in his letter “To William Strahan, Philadelphia, Oct. 27, 1753”, ( has an online copy of the letter).

  6. John, the nascent docent 26 September, 2021 at 6:54 am

    How is the surname “Ramage” pronounced? Does it rhyme with “damage” or is it more like “RAH-midge”.

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