Kelsey Excelsior Press
this website named "ExcelsiorPress.org" when most of my content is
about my own printing on my Chandler & Price, Heidelberg and
Vandercook presses? Well, I named the
shop when I was twelve years old (about 45 years ago) and the only press I had at
the time was my little 3x5 Kelsey Excelsior.
It seemed a good idea at the time, and, although I have moved on to
presses for my work, the old Kelsey Excelsior is the classic 'first
press' every young printer should start with. And, since I did name my
shop after that press, and do have a few and also now have a web
I get many inquiries about the Kelsey Excelsior Press. To meet that
need, I am
on this little (but growing) web page to answer these questions more
The Kelsey Company
Excelsior Press for about 100 years (1875-1975) with minor changes.
it was the inspiration for my print shop name, I have kept my original
3x5 and have collected a few more over the years. They have come from
garages, basements and print shops. As we encounter duplicates - as
well as broken presses and parts, we will be offering Kelsey Presses
& re-constituted starter kits for sale from this web site as well.
Some of our Kelsey Presses lined up, awaiting restoration.
3x5, 5x8, 6x10 Kelsey Early Style, 4x6 Victor, 6x10 Victor
a 3x5 Kelsey Old Style carried in a Gym Bag!
your Kelsey Press:
Popular sizes of the Excelsior Press
were 3x5, 5x8 & 6x10, as shown above. The dimensions roughly relate
print area of
press - and the size of paper it could handle practically. The early
& 5x8 presses, (#1 & #2 in the photo above) can be
identified as Kelsey's "old style" presses by their square and molded
handles. The 6x10 to the right has the later style square handle. The
the far right are "Victor" presses with side-arm levers. More about
them on the Victor page (coming).
||The Kelsey Junior
This is a Kelsey "Junior" or Model-R made for printing cards or
anything that will fit in it's tiny, 2.3/5" chase.
Click the photo for a very well detailed larger image.
From the collection of
Mercury is a very viable hobbyist
press and, assuming the chase and ink table are still with it, should
only new rollers to be fully functional. These presses currently sell
$150-$450, $350-$600 or more, depending upon
condition, ink rollers, and any
additional type and tools may be
in the package.
Do you want
to print with it, sell
it or display it on a shelf? All three are viable options. They are
little machines with an a well-documented history. The Smithsonian did
a display a few years ago entitled "A Boy and His Press", specifically
focused on the Kelsey press and other similar presses popular among
boy printers from
1875 to 1925. After that, Kelsey was the only serious supplier of such
The history of the Kelsey Company and their
small Excelsior Press begins in 1872, but the development of the
Kelsey and similar presses was influenced by events - and an interest
in private printing and publishing that began as far back as the
1830's. This article by "The Fossils" of the American Private Press Association
- aka "The Historians of Amateur Journalism" gives a rather good
background on the events affecting Kelsey and other small press
manufacturers towards the end of the 19th century... The Advent
of the Low-Cost Press
1929-1930 Kelsey Catalog Cover
your Kelsey Excelsior Press today...
Finding parts and supplies:
First, you will most likely need some new rollers.
Most presses turning up these days have not been used or maintained for
years and their rolllers have deteriorated. It is quite rare to buy a
press which does have good rollers.
Even rubber rollers will degrade within 7 years in many cases.
Luckily, we have three
sources to recommend:
- Rex Weaver, in
U.K. sells rollers for Kelseys and Adanas out of the "Baker's Row" store on
- Fritz Klinke of
Graphics sells rollers for
Kelsey and other presses
- David Hauser of
in North Carolina continues
to make high quality composition rollers for these (and other) letter
presses. AND, now offers letterpress rollers made from soft rubber 20
durometer Buna N material. Call Tarheel for soft rubber prices.
- Excelsior Press also casts fresh rubber rollers for all presses in our collection we make our own cores, cast our own rollers and turn custom roller trucks on our own lathe. Even if your press is not in our collection, we should be able to make custom rollers that will fit and work well on your press.
David H. Hauser
Traditional Composition Rollers
recast on your cores
Rubber Rollers also available
price varies depending on size.
(Acrobat "pdf" file)
- 3 x 5 Kelsey
(1 1/4") - 5 x 8
(1 1/4") - 6 x
(1 1/2") - 7 x
(1 1/2") - 9 x
sizes available - from 3/4"-2" diameter
|plus boxing & shipping
(published prices as of Feb 2010)
Please call for most current prices and shipping rates.
buna-n rubber rollers - and rollers for other presses are also
available upon request
Excelsior Press links:
Excelsior Press worth? (updated 4/3/2010)
- Presses' values
based upon what the buyer and seller agree
- most presses
require new rollers (~$80-120)
- - and be sure
that you have or get roller trucks to fit your
- Presses sold on
also require shipping (~$30-75 or more) -
- AND, these
brittle, cast iron presses require good, safe packing or crating, as
- Kelsey built
presses for over 100 years and they exist all over the
country, but the supply is limited.
- Many presses
rusted in basements and many are lacking ink
tables, chases and chase beds. (not readily available
- Old rollers, roller
trucks, chase bars & paper grippers are often lost as well and will
need to be replaced. Roller hooks may be bent or missing. We are making
new ones and will be listing them for sale soon.
- Recent eBay
suggest a range from
$50-300 (2006). $150-$300
2007) $200-400 (July 2007), $350-$650
although some have sold for more that and fully restored presses with
starter kits can sell for up to $1250 or more. Most of us still
consider a workable, cleaned up and operational - but not factory
restored - Kelsey 5x8 worth about $800. But, as in all used equipment,
the market place decides...
- Wholesale or
shape" (rusty or missing major parts) value
has increased a bit to $200-400 $100-300 from the
$50-100 they could be had for in 2006.
2007, there seemed to be 2-5 Kelsey Excelsiors on eBay at any one time,
and nearly all sell, so it's probably a fair assessment to say that 2-5
are selling each week on eBay this year (2008). By 2010, the market
seems to have slowed somewhat, with prices still at 2007 levels and
overall eBay sales down somewhat.
|Response to an email inquiry, 10/20/11 -|
Thanks for visiting my web site and for your inquiry.
The first thing I have to point out is that pricing on old Kelsey
presses varies widely. I typically pay $50-200 for presses I buy to
restore. Sometimes I will go as high as $300. But these are for presses
that need work - or at least dis-assembly, cleaning, new rollers and
often new grippers or roller hooks - which I manufacture here in my
I believe that a complete, working Kelsey 5x8 should easily sell for $400-700 or so
from a private owner. The type, cases and extras you have with it could
be worth an additional $200-500 or more, depending upon the condition of
the type and the cases. - and whether the buyer is even interested in them.*(more below)
My friend (and former student) Dennis recently sold this press and type and cabinet for $700 - http://www.briarpress.org/27712
Look around Briar Press' classifieds and other discussions to see what
others' opinions and experience might be. Briar Press has 60,000 members
world wide now and boy, do they love to share their opinions! ;) er, I
mean you wil find many folks on Briar Press who are willing to
TYPE, CASES AND CABINETS
Type in cases is hard to sell - by which I mean, there is a very limited market in type these days.
* Many if not most of the new printers on the
scene today prefer to use photo-engravings or photo-polymer plates of
images (including text) which they prepare on their computer.
It's also hard to evaluate
the value of type in cases. Since most of the type found with Kelsey
presses is indeed Kelsy-cast type, it's generally considered "Monotype"
quality vs "Foundry" quality - based upon the composition of the metal
and the machine it was cast on.
"Montoype" quality is still being cast by various private foundries
using Thompson casters. For example, Quaker City Type Foundry casts
small fonts on a Thompson - as did Kelsey, and sells it for $20-30/
font. Only Dale Guild Type Foundry continues to cast the hard-metal,
high-quality "ATF"-style type that brings $50-100/font used and costs
It is pretty easy to identify which "type" of type you have there. The
Thompson caster cuts only one "nick" on the stem of the type. ATF and
other "hard foundry type" are identified by 1-4 nicks on the stem, in
varying positions, depending upon the font.
The Thompson-cast type also a higher lead content - which makes it
softer and less hardy over years of wear - and also typically makes it a
brigher color. ATF included nickel in their mix, which gives a darker -
but more reflective "color" to the type.
My guess is that you have Kelsey cases and Kelsey type and a standard
selection of 6-24 point size, some text, some sans-serif and possibly
some larger display or script faces. If you have a list, it would be
You probably also have at least one composing stick, and possibly a
small slug cutter. This is all part of the typical kit and anyone who
invested in 20 cases of type, probably did enough work to justify buying
lead and slug spacing in bulk and cutting it themselves.
You probably also have a large selection of wood blocking known as
"furniture". I sell individual blocks of newly trimmed and oiled furnitur for about $1 each, so yours can
reasonably be valued at .25/piece for purposes of quick calculation.
New type in clean cases would probably cost $50 or so to replace.
But when someone buys a "lot" of type in cases, the value is based more
upon what they need and want compared to what you have.
BUYING/SELLING "USED" vs "RESTORED"
I don't always paint the presses I restore, but I do set them up, adjust the
impression and rollers and print with them to make sure that my buyers
go home with a press they can use right away. I prefer to sell in person
and often have them print on their press here in my shop before they
take it home. My presses typically sell for about $850-$1500.
Many other "restorers" do not take this extra step, but their presses
look nice and new, so folks often buy them and then come to me - or go
to Briar Press - or a local print-arts center - for help setting them
Lou Colvecchio in Rhode Island (whose presses are the pretty painted
ones featured on my site) sandblasts and paints the presses he restores
and often casts and/or machines replacement parts. His presses sell for
$1250++. Others who are seriously involved in restoration can get similar
PACKING AND SHIPPING vs PICKUP IN PERSON
But one last thing that will be very important when you sell your press
is making arrangements to get it to the buyer. Shipping this press
properly - by which I mean safely packed so that it won't be damaged in
transit should cost at least $50 - just for the press. Shipping type is a
whole other story.
Try to find someone nearby who can come and see the press and carry the
press and type home in the back of a van. That will make life easier for
you and will also mean safer transit for both the press and the type.
You may just list it on your local Craigslist A classified listing
featuring "local pickup in on Briar Press will also bring a lot of
interest. You may not get the highest possible price, but you will find
the entire sales experience less complex and more enjoyable - you'll
probably meet a very nice new printer-to-be. Sounds like you probably
have a "complete setup" there.
Of course, a lot also depends on just how much your buyer can afford.
While what you have there may indeed be worth $1,000 or more, finding
someone with $1,000 to spend might take some time.
Where can I buy or sell such a press?
These presses have not been made new for the past 40
years, but some are being restored to like new condition.
the Kelsey Excelsior Press (eBay sellers!)
- Note: Louis has retired from the restoration business as of 2012.
- Look HERE! Louis in
Island had been restoring these presses since 2006 and has an
impressive record of beautiful presses and satisfied customers. Take a look at his work
- Louis would also buy used presses and restore them to
like new - or better than new - condition.
- You may find one - or sell yours - on eBay (but be sure it's
complete and ready to use)
- You may find one at a garage sale or consignment shop - even
from the PAWN STARS on tv. They bought a broken 6x10 for $25 in
January. Good deals can be had.
- Another good source are the Briar Press classifieds
effective and secure packing I've seen is to ship in a heavy-duty
double-corrogated cardboard carton with a double layer of corrugated
cardboard or a piece of plywood cut to fit
the bottom, then insert the press into a standard trash bag, put
it into the box and fill in the surrounding space with plastic peanuts
and finally fill the gaps with a $5 can of expanding insulation foam (available at Home Depot, Lowes or your
local hardware store). It makes a good solid package and should
not add much to the weight. I received a 5x8 Kelsey that was packed
this way and it was fully protected from being rolled over or dropped a
foot or two.
Shipping with the USPS could be more cost-effective than UPS or
Fed Ex for a package of this size and weight. Compare prices.
On heavier presses, I've been pleased with the independent truckers
I've found on http://u-ship.com
Important note! A recent sad event resulted in a
press packed by UPS being broken upon arrival. If it had been packed as
suggested above, this would not have happened. Replacements for presses
damaged in transit are not always available. The supply of these
presses is limited.
Important note! update 9/1/07 - A second sad event recently
resulted in a
beautifully restored press otherwise properly packed and still
arriving broken, leaving a very disappointed buyer and an equally
disappointed seller. Quote by the seller:
"I'll have to find a
way to pack the presses. I thought I did a really careful job,
but I can't
imagine the beating that these must take during shipment. Sigh."
To prevent such a disaster for the next
press shipped, I am adding one important suggestion: Bolt your
press down to a base board so that it can not fall over and be
crushed from the side, no matter how much the shippers toss it around.
We will pack a 5x8 using these suggestions and other reasonable ideas
and create a special page devoted to proper packing and shipping a 5x8
Kelsey for survival... Watch her for an update or contact me if you
need to see it soon.
Excelsior Press, we seem to have developed a pretty regular supply of
presses to be restored to operation. Currently
we are selling basic restored 5x8 Kelsey Presses for $800 and the
occassional restored 6x10 for $1050. We have restored and sold Chandler
& Price (C&P) Pillots in the past, but the supply of
used Pilots to restore has seemed to dry up as the going rate for a
working bona fide C&P Pilot - or even a Craftsmen or American
Printing Equipment copy has reached $3,000. (November, 2008)
We also have
a nice 8x12 and a beautiful old 10x15 (sold) - both
New Series - which we have
had for years but are now available for the same price as the Pilot. Shipping
And, of course, if you can make to Frenchtown, NJ, personalized
training in the operation of any of the presses we sell can be easily
And, please note that ALL proceeds of equipment, supplies or
sold by the Excelsior Press goes to support the continued existance of
this shop. It does NOT go into my pocket. Each month, we have to come
up with $650 (was $600 until 2011) to pay the rent. Everything we earn in sales - and
printing - goes to pay the rent and to rescue letterpress equipment so
that it's here for you when you need it.
For the past 20+ years, all shop expenses have come out of
earnings from other sources, but since those sources can no longer
support the collection, the shop must support itself in order to
survive... Your purchases
help keep the Excelsior Press - and this web site going.
If these prices seem
higher than what you see bid on eBay, consider this: Unlike
the "caveat emptor" gamble of buying something that was found in a
basement or garage and has been listed eBay, presses we sell come from
our shop and are proven to be working - with new
rollers, a supply of packing sheets and a test print made on the press
prior to shipping.
Note: There are some excellent press restorers (some are our friends,
in fact) who are selling truly fine presses on eBay, but most of the
small presses sold on eBay come with no assurance whatsoever, and many
are sold lacking such basics as ink tables, chases and chase beds. Few,
if any come with usable rollers.
More items for sale from our collection can be found listed on our
dedicated Fund Raising Page
An interesting difference
between Excelsior 5x8* Models' Ink Tables
* note: the 3x5's use the same ink disk. On the early series (square handle), they are struck upward from the left. On the newer series (round handle), the striker comes down on the right. But the disks are interchangeable. The 5x8's however, are different.
I recently discovered what
I will refer to as a
known fact" about the Kelsey Excelsior Press Ink Tables. The ink table
on the earlier models, such as our Excelsior Model N 5x8 press, rotates
in a counter-clockwise direction, while ink tables on the later models,
such as the Mercury 5x8 and other newer models, rotate in a clockwise
direction. The presses' handles are also slightly different, so that
might be a hint for the press owner looking for an ink table so that he
or she can identify this important difference.
|The Older Model "N"
table rotates counter-clockwise.
- on the downstoke
Note the angle of the ratchet and the direction of the hammer
||The later Model Mercury Models O & U (and others)
table rotates clockwise
- on the upstroke
Note the different hammer and the ratchet teeth that are sloped in the
Why is this important?
While this may seem to be trivial, it is not. It is very
attempting to reconstruct a press of parts these days. The ink tables are NOT interchangeable
between the newer and older models of the 5x8 press. The
ratchet teeth on the
back of the ink table are cast to slope in different directions. Be
check out this feature before purchasing a replacement ink table for
your press. If you select the wrong ink table, you will have to modify
the striking hammer to suit the style of ink table you have installed.
One strikes on the up stroke, the other strikes on the down stroke.
Check out your press and get the correct ink table (if you can find one...)
did they change?
The ink tables on our larger Chandler & Price
presses rotate in a clockwise direction. This allows the pressman to
add a dab of ink to the lower left corner of the press while the type
form is in the press and by the time the fresh ink is picked up by the
center of the rollers - which roll over the centered form in the chase
- the ink has already been spread a number of times and is less likely
to fill in the type with an unsightly blob of ink. This is a very
practical feature for the job printer. For the C&P pressman, the
left side of the press - and ink table - is far more accessible, since
the feed boar obstructs the reach on the right side...
But that would happen whether rotation was clockwise or
counter-clockwise, upstroke or downstroke. The difference on the Kelsey
press is whether the table rotates as the rollers approach it or as
they leave it. Still seems to make no difference to me. Maybe Kelsey
just copied the C&P Pilot and the C&P Pilot just followed the
standard set by the bigger C&P job presses... Any other ideas are
When the Kelsey Press was
shipped from the factory, along with it came a small package of tympan
packing sheets to be used on the platen. The bottom sheet was typically
a hard, red, heavily calendered* pressboard. Above it would go a sheet
of calendered & oiled paper, then perhaps a sheet of bond, and
finally, holding it all in place - and as a place to set in your gauge
pins, a larger sheet of oiled tympan which was larger and would clamp
the rest beneath the bails of the platen.
I have seen people use butcher paper, kraft wrapping paper and
cardboard. I have even found presses packed with newspaper. But I do
not recommend ad-hoc selections like these, although one sheet of
newprint is fine right below the tympan sheet. They will work, and if
you're on a budget or simply don't want to buy a small package of
papers, that's fine. But for the best impression of type onto paper,
the harder packing base is best. note: Be sure your platen is level and
set to the proper distance from the bed. Don't try to make up for too
large a gap with too much packing, or too little gap with less then 3
sheets of something between the type and the steel.
I have larger presses and a good stock or large sheets of oiled typman,
and am considering offering some for sale. No one needs much, so the
packages would be small - 50-100 sheets or so. And I have sheets for
the Vandercook Model 4, which could also be used for the SP-15 and I do
plan to cut some down for C&P's and Kelsey Press sizes and offering
them in small lots to the occassional printer. Soon I expect to
advertise them or maybe sell them on eBay as "Excelsior Packing". But
if you want some before I'm ready to take orders online, you can contact
me and let me know of your interest. Please tell me the size of
your press, how many sheets you would like to buy and what you think is
a fair price for them.
- Thanks. Alan
* hard papers are "calendered" by rolling them between two
very large, very heavy steel cylinders under a tremoundous amount of
pressure, effectively removing all moisture and air and forcing the
paper fibers closer together to make a very hard surface.
will add more photos and
here to share what I know about the Kelsey Excelsior Press and the
company in general - including their offices in Meridan,
Connecticut and the warm welcome I received from Gene Moser when I
visited there in January of 1973.
KELSEY ORDER FORMS ATTRACT
9/05/2006: I recently met a
neighbor here in Frenchtown who is a stamp collector. Back in the '80's
he bought a collection of papers for the stamps that were on them. What
he bought was about 1/2 of the Kelsey sales records for about 50 years!
Stamps from around the world, affixed to that familiar Kelsey fold-up
order blank that some of you may remember came with every Kelsey
catalog and price list.
Most of these old order forms have been sold to stamp
collectors around the world, none of them realizing the historical
record they had contained something every bit as precious as the stamps
that were on them.
OLD KELSEY CATALOGS
3/30/2010: I received a call last week from Gene Mosher -
the last owner of The Kelsey Company. He has a collection of over 150
old Kelsey Catalogs - some over 100 years old! These may become
availble for collectors some time in the near future. We will
update this page with information as plans develop.
American Printing History Association page on the
May 14, June
29 August 28 September 16, December
Sept 3, Oct
2007 April 3, 2010 October, 2013