First Press Suggestions

This note about a press for a beginner is reprinted with thanks to John Horn - an experienced and enthusiastic supporter of letterpress.

I would recommend a table top platen press for your first press. What follows are some opinions I expressed a couple of years ago on this list.
I dare say there are few people out there who have printed on or are printing on as many different presses as I have. Here's a brief list of a few presses and my personal opinions of the presses.
Hohner - Absolutely the best table top platen made. Very few sold in this country (U.S.) and are hard to find and expensive. Very heavy too; ask Dave Churchman who had one dropped on his leg a couple of years ago.
Sigwalt - The 6 x 9 and the 5 x 8 are excellent little presses and my second choice. The platen opens very wide and it's fairly easy to set guage pins. The platen adjustment is a wonderful touch. Fairly easy to find at a resonalble price. Early Sigwalts had a round base much like a Golding but later models had a square base.
Golding - Very similar to the Sigwalt (some think Sigwalt stole Golding's ideas) but harder to find. Golding made an 8 x 12 table top and it's a bear to move. Pilot - I'm talking Chandler & Price Pilot here, there are many imitations. A nice press, sturdy and well built. The platen opens to a very steep angle and it's difficult the set pins and you'll end up with inky knuckles. A stirrup handle was avaiable and I recommend it. It will save some were and tear on your wrist. There are a couple of presses very similar to the Pilot. One is the Curtis and Mitchell Columbian No. 2 and the other is a Standard. Both are hard to come by but operate and look like a Pilot.
Superior - Sorting out the different Superior presses is a difficult task as there are several different types and castings. Some Superiors look like a Pilot (and sometimes are even called Pilots) but they don't operate as smoothly as Pilots. Later a beefier-looking model of the Superior was sold but still the action is not as smooth and positive as a Pilot. There was even an aluminum model of the Superior. I haven't printed on my aluminum Superior yet but expect it to work about like the cast-iron version. Superiors were marked as being made by Craftsman Machinery Co., sometimes marked C.M.C. and some were made in the U.S. and some in Canada. They also sold a 5 x 8 sometimes called an Imperial or Victory and a little Sigwalt knockoff they called a "Hobby" press (chase 2 3/8 x 3 3/4 inches). The smaller C.M.C. presses look OK sitting on a shelf.
Daugaday Model Presses - Probably the best-looking table top presses made. They look like and operate in the same manner as Kelseys but work so much better it's hard to believe. The platen opens steep and the original rollers were very small in diameter. A Model press with all the original pin stripping is a sight to behold.
Baltimore - The 6 x 9 and the 5 x 8 are decent little presses but sometimes fussy to print with. I've seen beautiful work come off a Baltimore but patience is required. I wouldn't want to use one frequently. A handsome press.
Kelsey - My least favorite table top press. They're poorly designed and difficult to operate. They'll wear you out pumping that lever even if you should find a side lever. But . . . they're cheap and readibly available. Unfortunately many people try a Kelsey for their first press and are disappointed with the results. There would probably be a lot more letterpress printers out there if everyone started with Sigwalt or Golding.
There are several more brands of presses and sizes of presses out there but these are the most common I find. Generaly speaking, side levers, particularily stirrup handles, are easier to operate that front levers. If you intend to do any serious printing avoid presses smaller than 5 x 8. Yeah, I know they're cute but if used for anything more than as something to show off, they will become tiresome.
Approximate weights of various small presses:
  • Hohner - 250 lbs.
  • Sigwalt 6 x 9 - 190 lbs.
  • Sigwalt 5 x 7 1/2 - 90 lbs.
  • Golding - probably about like the Sigwalt
  • Pilot - 200 lbs.
  • Craftsman 6 x 10 - 200 lbs.
  • Craftsman 5 x 8 - 100 lbs.
  • Craftsman 4 x 6 - 72 lbs.
    • Model No. 1 - 5 x 7 1/2 - 125 lbs.
    • Model No. 2 - 6 x 9 - 190 lbs.
    • Model No. 3 - 6 x 10 - 200 lbs.
  • Baltimore No. 14 - 6 x 9 - no weight given in catalogue but I'd guess well over 200 lbs.
  • Baltimore No. 13 - 5 1/2 x 8 - 125 lbs.
  • Baltimore No.12 - 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 - 80 lbs.
  • Kelsey 3 x 5 - 35 lbs.
  • Kelsey 5 x 8 - 72 lbs.
  • Kelsey 6 x 10 - 92 lbs.
  • Kelsey 9 x 13 - 205 lbs

These weights are usually listed in the catalogues as "boxed weight."

John Horn

Why buying from Don Black Linecasting is better than buying from ebay

eBay is a great place to look around - we all look for bargains on there. However, when it comes to something like Letterpress equipment and supplies, you really have to compare apples to apples. Often on eBay the presses that look like a 'good deal', or the price seems 'to good to be true' - well, you know the rest.

When you buy from eBay, it could be from anyone, the item could be in any condition, and it may or may not be working. When you buy from Don Black Linecasting, you know you will be buying quality. We buy presses and equipment from reputable companies or private collections around the world. Each press is then cleaned, tested and has new rollers added. We don’t sell presses without new rollers unless you specifically say that you don't want them. When you buy a press from us, it is ready to go on day 1 - open the box or crate, set it up, ink it up and you should be ready to go.

Think of eBay like a used car lot - sometimes you may get lucky, but often you are buying someone else's headaches and you are on your own. Think of the number of descriptions on eBay which say 'I don't really know much about this, it has been sitting in the attic for years'. Perhaps it was sitting there because it didn't work.

You may not have known but Don was a Linotype machinist at a large Canadian newspaper. Craig Black also shares that mechanical aptitude - so when you buy from us, you are getting quality - time has been taken to examine the press, check over the parts, fix or replace parts where necessary, and then new rollers have been ordered to fit. Are our prices sometimes higher than the "deal" you see on eBay - yes. However, if you were to price it out over the long run, including the time and money to get new rollers, you would find that our prices are very competitive.   |  Information Request  |  Phone - (416) 751-5944  |  Fax (416) 751-5413
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