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The Toy Press with a Journal that Means Business

swiftsetcvrs

Three issues of Swiftset Rotary Printers Journal from 1939, its inaugural year.

In the mid-twentieth century, manufacturers of tabletop printing presses for hobbyists, such as Kelsey in America and Adana in Great Britain, published substantive newsletters to educate and upsell their fledging printer/customers. Kelsey’s The Printer’s Helper ran for a remarkable 55 years from 1929 to 1984 while Adana’s Printcraft ran for a respectable eight years from 1948 to 1956. On par with these titles is the lesser known Swiftset Rotary Printers’ Journal, the official publication for Swiftset Rotary Presses, which ran from 1939 through 1950.1 

Before discussing the Swiftset Journal, it should be noted that Kelsey and Adana, as well as Sigwalt and Golding2 presses, use the same materials as professional letterpress production presses: type, spacing, furniture, ink, etc., whereas Swiftset Rotary Presses, made between the late-1920s and the mid-1960s, were actually children’s toys, albeit designed for serious play.3 Principally comprised of tin, these presses sold by the Superior Type Company (later Superior Marking Equipment) of Chicago, were printing kits supplied with rubber type, water-soluble ink, and pre-cut paper—everything to print a tiny newspaper for fun and profit. To operate a Swiftset press, a line of rubber type is set in a metal channel, then multiple channels are mounted on the cylinder. The channels are held in place by rubber tires at each end of the cylinder. Via the hand crank, the cylinder turns in place against an ink roller. Paper is fed under the cylinder, then gripped by the rubber tires and pulled through the press. Therefore the paper width must match the cylinder, though can be trimmed after printing. Three models were produced: the Cub prints sheets 3½ × 5½ inches, the Star prints sheets 3½ × 7 inches, and the Ace prints sheets 5½ × 7½ inches.

swiftset-cub

The Cub, the smallest Swiftset press with rubber type inserted into the slots on the cylinder. (George Chapman)

Published six times a year, the Swiftset Journal was a 16-page, 5½ × 8¼ inch pamphlet with an initial subscription price of .10¢ (increased to .25¢ within the first year, but not thereafter). It featured concise articles on maintaining reader interest, obtaining advertising, color printing, and what printers need to know about type. The inside back page of some issues was dedicated to accessories including type, which initially only show one-word specimens with order numbers, but no identifying names. Superior later expanded their product line to include popular faces of the day: News Gothic, Century, Cheltenham, Goudy, Romany, Lydian, Tower, Balloon, and Wedding Text.

srpj-ad-up

Swiftset Rotary Printers Journal page spread, 1939.

The disconnect production-wise was that pages were not composed from Swiftset types. The main body text was set in double columns of Stymie with a variety of display types, not among those for sale by Superior. The format was largely unchanged except for a late change to the nameplate. Some content was recycled. Issues were printed in a single color, for example blue, brown, purple, etc., then eventually just black. In about 1951 the Swiftset Rotary Printers’ Journal was replaced by The Idea Book and Printers’ Journal, printed in blue. Apparently, it was a periodical in name only as much of the content was recycled from the earlier publication and there seems to have been only one undated edition. Of course, it would not have been feasible to print each issue on a Swiftset press, neither was this the case for The Printer’s Helper nor Printcraft.

ideabook

The Idea Book and Printers’ Journal page spread, ca. 1951.

As noted by letterpress printer and collector, John Horn, some professional printers got their start on Swiftsets before upgrading to cast iron presses like those made by Kelsey and Chandler & Price and then on to serious production presses like Kluge, Heidelberg, and Miehle.4 Perhaps they were encouraged by guidance within the pages of the Swiftset journals. Readers who have samples of printing done on a Swiftset press are encouraged to contact the APHA website editor.


This article was inspired by APHA website visitor Alan Worthington who wrote that he and
his wife wished to donate a copy of the Swiftset Journal that they found at a garage sale.

Sources

Adana info: http://britishletterpress.co.uk/presses/small-presses/adana/
Kennard, Jennifer "Press Kit" http://www.letterology.com/2014/03/press-kit.html
MacMillan, David M. "The Printer's Helper "
http://www.circuitousroot.com/artifice/letters/press/presses/kelsey/printers-helper/index.html
Marx Toy Museum http://www.marxtoymuseum.com/
Richardson, Bob. The Adana Connection. British Printing Society, 1997.
Saxe, Stephen O. "A Brief History of Golding & Co." Printing History No. 6, 1981. PDF
Skinner, Christopher. https://lestaret.wordpress.com/tag/john-bull/
"Throwback Thursday: Meet 'Cub,' The Original 'Little Printer'"
    http://www.core77.com/posts/26597/throwback-thursday-meet-cub-the-original-little-printer-26597

Thanks to George Chapman, John Henry, John Horn, Fritz Klinke, David M. MacMillan,
Bob Richardson, Alan Runfeldt, and Stephen O. Saxe.


Footnotes

Comments

  1. A good article, which will bring back memories to those of us who had a Swiftset as a child.

    I can remember being rather frustrated as a boy with my Swiftset. With the flexible rubber type, the near-liquid ink, and the varying and uncertain traction between the cylinder tires and the paper, it was well-nigh impossible to do a neat job. I suspect that Swiftsets may have discouraged many boys from going on with printing!

  2. Although I generally report that my first press was a Kelsey Excelsior, I suppose that I should refer to it as my first ‘real’ press, since I, too began with a Swiftset. I guess I was just ten years old… Mine was a Cub and I got it with the intention of using it to publish a local newspaper. After fussing with the little rubber type and extremely limited sheet size, I did indeed give up using it. When I turned 12, my father brought home a little 3×5 Excelsior found in a neighbor’s garage. Of course, this little press was also too small for printing a newspaper, so I focused on dance tickets, business cards, personal stationary and *very small* fliers and notices… Never did print a newspaper on it, or even a book, for that matter. Instead, I became a Job Printer… and remained one for the next 50+ years….

  3. My mother bought me a small “John Bull” set in 1960 and several others over the next few Christmases. I graduated to an Adana in 1970. The ink supplied with the “John Bull” sets sounds like a similar formulation to that used by Swiftset – watery, lacking pigment, and easily smudged (but non-toxic). Much better results were achieved with a standard office rubber stamp pad, which had far better quality ink.

  4. Bruce A. Finlayson 11 February, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    I recently uncovered about 70 issues of a newspaper I printed using Swiftset Printing in 1950 and 1951 when I was in th fifth and sixth grade. I have a pdf of all the issues and a transcription, as well as the originals on paper.

  5. Paul Moxon, Website Editor 11 February, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    A description of and images from Mr. Finlayson’s Swiftset newspaper has been posted here: https://printinghistory.org/finlayson-news-1950-51/

  6. Richard K. Schafer 11 February, 2019 at 12:37 am

    I started with the Cub printer around 1945, but it was branded “Superior,” not “Swiftset.” Here’s and early user:
    https://is.gd/xMhu7V

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