The Pilot Press, manufactured for nearly 100 years by Chandler & Price and later re-produced by both Craftsmen Machinery Company of Boston and American Printing Equipment of New York, is one of the most sought-after presses in the world today.
Craftsmen had some of their Pilots made in Canada, some cast in aluminum, which may surprise some printers, but our experience with the aluminum-cast Pilots has shown them to be quite substantial, proving that a press need not be cast of iron to be "a good press". American Printing equipment had their presses made in Germany.
Weighing in at a mere 160 pounds, the cast-iron Pilot is relatively portable and can fit into most home letterpress studios. The aluminum model is quite a few pounds lighter, of course - but is just as strong and prints just as well. We speak from personal experience.
The Original Pilot Platen Presswas developed by a Mr. Thorp of the Cleveland Type Foundry, and was made and sold by them until production rights were sold to Chandler & Price, also in Cleveland.
Chandler & Price continued the production of an essentially unchanged Thorp Pilot for many years until the develope a newer version which they named the "New Series" Pilot. This press embodies many of the features which lead the company to claim that their presses (specifically the larger floor-standing job presses) were "strong, reliable, simple". The C&P job presses had proved themselves to be just that. And, beginning in 1887 C&P Job Presses became the most prolific, and ultimately C&P was the last remaining manufacturer of hand-fed commercial platen presses.
The Pilot was designed and sold as a press for small job short-run printing in commercial shops as well as for teaching letterpress printing in high school or industrial trade school print shop classes. On it, the student could learn all they would need to know about set up and make ready of a hand-fed platen press, and could do it with a machine that was less expensive, safer and could fit into a classroom. These characteristics serve the letter press community of today.
This press has a 6 1/2 x 10" inside chase dimension and can print on a sheet up to 12" wide.
The Kelsey Ccompany - the last of the hobbyist press makers, continued on for twenty years after C&P made their last press in 1964, but they, too closed shop twenty years later.
In 2011, Louis Colveccio of Pawtucket Rhode Island, under the prodding of Alan Runfeldt of The Excelsior Press Museum, developed and produced a new and improved "Excelsior Pilot" - a press based upon the C&P New Series, but with a chase enlarged to 7x11" and an improved gripper arm actuating mechanism. This press was also "beefed up" in specific areas where their experience of repairing and restoring Pilot Presses showed need for improvement.
At this writing (Dec, 2012), one such Excelsior Pilot has been produced and sold, and is in operation. It is our hope that more will be made.
Any conversation about the Pilot's place in today's letterpress community, must acknowledge another sought-after press - the Vandercook Flatbed Cylinder 'proofing' press.
Excerpt from essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson,
set in 18 point Nicholas Cochin Roman. This printed very nicely on the Pilot.
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