Although this website is named "ExcelsiorPress.org", it's not really about the venerable Kelsey Excelsior hand press. I simply named my shop for the little 3x5 Kelsey "Excelsior Press" I began with in 1962, when I was twelves years old.
By the time I was 14, I had my 8x12 treadle-operated Gordon and my electric-motor driven 8x12 C&P and a lot of dirty, worn old hand type. The Kelsey Excelsior went on the shelf and became the first press on display in my shop, and I began to collect ever larger and larger presses...
After seeing so many presses being sent off for scrap, I decided that it was time to do something to help rescue these presses from the scrap heap. Letterpress Rescue is the purpose of this page.
Photo-Essay of a press we rescued for the
Alexandria Township Historical Society
of the things I have often said about my collection is that its filled with presses rescued from the scrap yard. That's the simple fact. These presses sit in garages, basements, print shops - often for years after they've stopped being used in daily operation, and are often available for free - if you will just "come and pick it up". I bought my first two large presses in 1965 - when I was 14. I paid $350. They'd sat, rusting in the basement of a building in Jersey City, New Jersey, since the owner had stopped printing about 30 years prior - sometime around 1935... That's how this all began...
But it's important to understand that nobody makes money buying and selling hand presses these days. They can't be used commercially because they're hand-fed and OSHA doesn't like that. They can't be used in schools because the trade is history and no one needs to learn this craft as a trade any more. The best home for an old letterpress is with a collector like me - or like you might be as well - especially if you're here now and are taking the time to read this web page....
These days, I get phone calls. I get
emails. The printer is retiring or has died. His
wife or his children need to sell the home, the
shop or what ever building the shop was in.
Of course, as soon as a collector
expresses an interest in one of these "otherwise
to be scrapped" presses, the current owner often
senses a chance to make some money from their old
white elephant and decides that they want to sell
it. One old printer just did that to us. He's
retiring from the business and has sold his
building. He has to clear it out. But he still
sees his old Kluge as 'worth' $750. Well, it is.
Frankly, I think his press is priceless and should
be preserved. But it's only worth $750 if
he can find a buyer willing to pay not
only for the press, but for the
cost of moving it as well.
But he's stubborn in his insistance that
he will not part with the press unless I come up
with $750 cash to pay him. Then I can have the two
hand presses as well and he'd consign the rest of
his stuff with me to sell for him on eBay. I don't
think he realizes that it will cost
me $500 to save his presses... and I just
don't have the money.
And I don't have $750 + $150 to rent a
truck plus two days to prepare and move
everything, so he's going to just scrap it all
Another press we failed to rescue:
Mr. Thompson's 8x12 C&P:
May it Rest in Peace - in the scrap yardI got word of this beautiful early series (pre 1914) 8x12 C&P press above when a responsible historian saw it and realized that it should not be scrapped. She found me via this website and contacted me, asking if I wanted to save this press and add it to my collection. She even went so far as to take some excellent photos. I contacted the owner and she seemed quite agreeable to work with me - until today, when the scrap guy was there and I wasn't. She became stressed at delays and finally just needed to get rid of it. She couldn't wait for me to arrange for a truck and get there to pick it up. As I typed this text, this beautiful old press was on the way to the scrap yard, to be smashed, destroyed and sent overseas to China as scrap American steel.
My reaction? I'm too tough to cry, too understanding to get angry, so I reacted as any web master might - I've created a new web page about "press rescue" - what saving their father's press can mean to the current owner, a future owner and to future generations of printers who may want to use these presses. Besides, it's therapeutic. It gave me a way to turn this pain I feel into something meaningful and productive. Who knows, this page may help save another press some time in the future. I sure hope so.
What's my old press worth?
Well, that's easy. It's worth what your buyer is willing to pay for it. It's worth nothing if you are not going to use it - or at least look at it and think of the years it was in use - imagine the pressmen of the past who stood in front of that machine for hours at a time, carefully feeding blank sheets of paper into it and retrieving printed pieces...
When I run my old 10x15 C&P, built in 1914, I think of the factory workers who built it and the printers who stood in front of it and fed it by hand. Some young pressman fed this press in 1914 - and may have gone off to war in 1918. Another may have done the same in 1940. I know that I did in 1968... Did they come back from their war and stand in front of this press feeding it again? I did. I hope they did as well. It's a very peaceful experience, feeding a hand press at 20-30 sheets per minute. It gets a bit more hectic if you push it, but who needs to these days? If I want a press that runs fast, I put the job on my Heidelberg Windmill. But, for short runs of a few hundred pieces, you just can't beat an old 10x15 C&P....
But if you can't envision it's history -or imagine it's future, it's just an old hunk of cast iron and steel. By the time its sat in the basement, garage or old print shop for a while, it's a burden. The owner will have to pay to move it. Maybe some scrap dealer will take it away for free. Maybe some old collector will show up all excited and save it from its otherwise ignominious fate...
One other thing to check is
the 'rock' in the platen. Stand in front of the press,
lean over the platen, lay your forearms across the
platen, and grasp it at the lower edge. Push
down with your elbows as you pul up with your finger
tips and see if you can make it rock back and forth.
There will be some play, but just a little. If the
play is excessive - meaning it rocks more than
1/4-1/2" or so, the follower cam on the right side
could be worn and could affect an even overall
impression. This is about the only technical test I
would apply to a press like this. If the cam follower
is worn, it can be replaced - I've got a friend who
replaced his to solve an impression problem he found
on his old 8x12. But it is a major task and best to be
avoided if possible.
What if I want one? Who's got one available?
Well, I have a few. And I think I'll be getting more. And I finally have figured out how to do it.
I'll take presses. I may pay $100-200 as a token, to be polite. So that's where the price begins.
Then I'll rent a truck and move it. $150/day for the truck. My time is not factored in. But then I have to store it. I'm lucky. I have a barn. My rent there is cheap. A press requires about 15 square feet to store. That costs me about $10/month. So add that in. If I keep a press for a year, figure another $120. But now we're up to my cost to rescue a press of about $400. (And I'm still not being paid for my time, but that's okay. This is a labor of love.)
We may also put another 10 - 20 or more hours to fully restore a press to very good working condition, with new rollers, resurfaced feed boards and all parts cleaned, adjusted and tested by printing in our shop. Prices vary, but you can expect to spend $1000 or more for one of these premium machines - but I can assure you that it will be worth it.
So. If you want a press, please be prepared to pay what it has really cost us to save it - and possibly to restore it as well. If you have one that you need to get rid of, please don't be greedy - or think that I am. Please try to understand the real costs involved in getting it to a safe place and on to a new home.
If you think what I've laid out here makes sense, give me a call. If not, don't. I'm pretty sad about the press that got away today. I'm sorry I couldn't save it, but it wasn't because I didn't want to....
How old is my press?
Another excellent source of information are the catalog and serial number pages published free to the public by BoxCarPress. These folks have assembled, scanned and made available dozens of manufacturers' diagrams and references for many presses - including a better copy of the C&P serial numbers than the one I just paid $10 for on eBay...
BoxCarPress is also a leader in promoting, supplying and supporting the use of Photo Polymer Printing Plates
for letterpress printers...
Locating the serial number of your Chandler & Price Platen Press
Look at the Top Left Corner of the press bed - just beneath the ink table:
How can I find a buyer for my press?
Although we have seen an 8x12 C&P sell on eBay for $2600, most of the time, no bids are submitted at all for these heavy, hard-to-ship cast iron machines. The best place to list these full-sized presses and wait to find a local buyer is at http://BriarPress.org We would also be happy to list your press here at ExcelsiorPress.org
How much does this thing weigh?
When these presses were shipped from the factory, the crated weights of Old Style presses were as follows:
Of course, those are crated shipping weights, the actual presses do weigh less uncrated.
Where can I find a service or instruction manual for my press?
We have lots of information available for your press and are happy to share it, but platen presses did not come with service or instruction manuals. These presses were used by printers trained in their use without the benefit of books in most case, although some excellent text books do exist.
Serial numbers issued by year, parts lists/exploded diagrams are readily available. We wll be adding links to them here as soon as time allows
Color: Most came from the factory either black or gray. The early models were generally black with gold pinstriping. Later models battleship gray.
We have never seen a service manual or operator's manual for any hand-fed platen press - except for the little Kelsey Printer's Guide, which applies to their table-top presses.
Any manual you might find would be about an automatic feed model and the info in them deals almost exclusively with adjustment and maintenance of the feed system, which would be totally irrelevant to your needs.
Hand press service & maintenance information and operating instructions were considered the craftman's responsibility and were taught in trade school and union courses. All the information you will need is available in the old text books. The best of all is "The Practice of Printing" by Ralph W. Polk. I have copies of it here, but I have been keeping them for students and have none for sale at the moment.
But they are out there. Search eBay, Briar Press and Don Black Linecasting, or just google "The Practice of Printing" by Ralph W. Polk.
Interested in a REALLY involved bit of press rescue and restoration? See this web page by the Canadian Conservation Institue and how they rescued and restored a 12x18 C&P used in the Yukon.
Moving/Shipping your press
Problems moving old printing presses. aka "How to safely move an old C&P Platen press"
This is an important issue for anyone who purchases a press. I have heard numerous sad stories from - or about - folks who have purchased an old press only to have it damaged in transit which has left them with a broken, and generally irrepaceable machine. One reason we rescue and store these presses is so that one is available as replacements for those presses which don't make it where they are going safely. Ours will.
We have moved C&Ps, Vandercooks and Heidelbergs, to name just a few. We have photos of how we accompished those moves safely and will be posting them here. If the information you need is not online yet, contact Alan Runfeldt and we'll be prompted to create that page in reply.
I received a note recently about a 10x15 that had been badly skidded and actually broke through the 'standard 40x48" skid' it had been placed - quite carelessly upon. Fortunately, the press was not damaged, but it sure was close!
I received another photo of a 10x15 that had broken through a skid in May of 2010. Luckily, it, too was not damaged, but the sender of the photo told me that it sure was a pain the butt to get it off of the broken skid and onto something more substantial. We recommend bolting the press down to some 2x6's, keeping it low to the ground and rolling it along on pipes. It's easy, and it's safe. To load it onto a truck, or for common-carrier shipping, you might want to affix a pair of 4x4's beneath. That will hold up well.
So. The moral of the story is "Don't use standard skids for 1000-2000 pound machines." Build a proper skid. It's not difficult and could save your press from irreperable damage, not to mention those moving the press and the truck the press is moved in.
These presses MUST be skidded on a HEAVY DUTY skid - and then bolted firmly in place. Take a look at the skid we used to move a Windmill recently - http://excelsiorpress.org/forsale/heidelberg/HeidelbergWindmill.jpg from http://excelsiorpress.org/forsale/heidelberg/index.html. This one was built of 2x8's and 4x4's and held together with 1/2" bolts. Plus, it is wider than the press. That's an important point not to be missed. Presses tip over far more easily than you might imagine. Give it a wide footprint and you'll be ahead of the game. To try and move anything larger than an 8x12 without skidding like this is just asking for trouble.
For example: here's a link to a VERY SAD STORY of yet another classic old press that was lost - but this time it was due to an absolute disregard for proper shipping and handling... see http://www.briarpress.org/15398 for yet another story of a press damaged in transit
CHANDLER & PRICE 8X12 MOVE
And here's aPhoto-Essay of an old style 8x12 C&P we disassembled and moved from a basement on behalf of the Alexandria Township Historical Society. It arrived safely and was quickly reassembled.
We have another set of photos, not yet posted, of an even more extreme disassembly when we moved Rich Polinsk's restored 8x12 into Sarah's basement. Contact me if you want to see them and I'll get them posted on a page of their own - but not tonight....
HEIDELBERG WINDMILL MOVE
And here's a set of Flickr photos showing how we moved a Heidelberg Windmill and 8x12 Golding Jobber from the home shop of Al Duran in June of 2009.
We basically just lifted the Windmill up using steel bars a, a floor jack and some jack stands, constructed a 4x4 & 2x8 skid beneath it, bolted it down, then picked it up with a pallet jack. We took it over to the construction trailer Cliff had shown up with (best piece of equipment for moving heavy old letterpress equipment), then put it onto 1 1/2" steel pipes and pulled it up onto the trailer using a come-along. Once it was on the trailer, we removed the pipes, tied it down securely with some 5,000 lb. capacity Air Force cargo straps and headed home.
But before we left - before we'd even loaded the Windmill, we had a surprise visit from Paul Aken of Chicago, who just happened to be passing by with a 12x18 Golding Art Jobber on his way to its new home an hour further east in Connecticut. Small world, eh?
Update: October, 2016: New rule: ALWAYS replace old wooden press rails with fresh lumber. While moving an 8x12 C&P this week, I looked at the sturdy old 4x6 rails under this otherwise clean and dry old press and said "no need to replace these rails, they're solid." Well, I was wrong.
As we loaded the press onto the trailer, I noticed a small split where the front leg's lag bolt went into the wood. 5 hours and 250 miles later, when I got it back to the shop and began to roll it down the ramp, that damned rail split like a piece of old firewood - right at the lag bolt.
Luckily, I had it on pipes and it stopped rolling quickly, and enough of the rail was still under the leg so that it did not tip over, but losing 4" of level while the press is in motion is not a good thing. I learned my lesson and immediately replaced the old, oil-soaked 4x6 rails with some nice, new 2x4 rails before proceeding. I should have done that as the first thing when we moved the press out of its corner in the basement - before moving it at all.
As it turns out, all 4 lag bolt holes had worn to the point that none of the old lag bolts were actually holding the press down into that old, oil-soaked timber. I had new rails with me; I had the lag bolt set for the New Series 8x12. I just didn't bother to change them, because the old ones looked good - from the outside.
They weren't, and it could have cost me a press - or personal injuries. Be careful. Don't rush and do take all precautions when moving a 1,000 pound piece of machinery.
Please contact Alan Runfeldt with other questions.
This page is updated as frequently as we have news. See listings above for most recent update dates.
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