The Excelsior Press Blog

A somewhat frequent update of events at - and new links for the web site of -
the old Excelsior Press Museum Print shop in Frenchtown, NJ

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Alan Runfeldt, grumpy old letterpress printer,
reviewing a print pulled on the Vandercook

Photo by Andrew &/or Nara Lee - August, 2009
Alan Runfeldt, printer on the
                              Vandercook Proof Press

New Blog for 2011

Review past blog pages - 2008-20092010 |   Blog Index


Well, we're starting off a new year with some exciting news.

Megill's Perfect Register Gauge PinsWe have found - and have added to the museum collection - a complete set of three of Edwin Megill's Perfect Register Gauge Pins - patented 1891, but which could be very, very helpful to today's 21st Century letterpress printer - if they were available...

We found these on eBay, but they came from a woman in Flemington - only 10-12 miles east of Frenchtown - home of the the Excelsior Press.

These pins are very special; they allow micrometer-like adjustment of position while the gauge pins remain firmly attached to the tympan. This idea is something we have pondered and discussed with friends for years. We didn't know they ever even existed, but now we do. See more on these amazing gauge pins on our Megill Page

January 28, 2011

We finally made our long-anticipated visit to Gene Mosher in Meriden Connecticut to meet again in person. My last visit to the Kelsey Co. in was nearly forty years ago - in 1972 - when I was just out of the service and only 22 years old. Now I am 61 and Gene is 87. It was time to visit again.

Scale Model of the Kelsey Company Plant in
                Meriden, ConnecticutIn 1958, Gene was hired by Glover Snow to manage the Kelsey Company. Glover had taken over in 1923 from William Kelsey, and after Glover Snow retired, Gene became owner of the company and continued to operate the manufacturing and supplies business in Meriden, Connecticut, building and selling presses and attachments and all of the supplies anyone would need to do his own printing on a small letterpress.

Gene Mosher kept Kelsey Company going until the market for small presses dwindeled to nothing in 1993. At that time, Kelsey Co. was "the last man standing" among manufacturers of small presses. Golding was gone by 1927, Chandler & Price lasted until 1964, even Craftsmen Machinery Company, who essentially copied presses built and popularized by Baltimore, Golding and others, had ceased production while Kelsey kept making presses.

The photo to the right is of a model of the Kelsey plant in Meriden. This model was featured in many Kelsey Catalogs over the years and was preserved by Gene Mosher until he sent it down to The Excelsior Press along with a treasure trove of his own archives and memoribilia - including, but not limited to, the original Norman Bel Geddes illustrations of the 6x10 Kelsey, many  of the engravings used to print Kelsey Company advertisements and catalogs for over one hundred years, and a complete archive of both The Kelsey Printer's Guide and The Printer's Helper from the 1920's.

Kelsey Company Cuts and EngravingsGene Mosher had preserved these and more engravings for many years. We will be cataloging the wood, copperplate and zinc engravings and plan to make frame-able prints and also print a book of them for Kelsey collectors and afficiandos - and anyone interested in the history of this small, but enduring business.

After the printing is done, these engravings will be framed with their print and sold at auction. Poceeds for all sales to go to a college fund for the Grandchildren of Kelsey Company's last owner and manager - and coincidentally, the Grandchildren of Glover Snow.

Watch here for links and updates as we begin the cataloging & printing process.

February 12 & 13, 2011
Chris &
                  Grae printing on the Vandercook
Chris Seiz & Graelyn Brashear
were back to print their wedding invitations - and boy, was it fun. When they visited last June, Grae was a writer for the Asbury Park Press. Now, she is editor of the Patch.comweb site for the town of Barnegat, NJ on Long Beach Island. They are both still in love with letterpress printing and designed a beautiful wedding invitation suite to invite friends for that special day. But, true to form for this new generation of letterpress printers, they also incorporated the lastest technology in their wedding plans and posted their "Save the Date" as an online video and sent out links via email to get the message across to their friends.

But their invitations, response cards & envelopes were all printed in two colors on our old Vandercook Model 4 & Peral #8 Letterpresses. (But, even here there' a twist, because their "directions" card simply contains a nice graphic and a web link to the updateable information...) Nonetheless, the printing is all letterpress; two custom-mixed inks - yellow and green to match their originally intended design - not PMS colors, but the green and the yellow that they wanted - and the colors, mixed from our base set of Van Son Rubber Base CYMW gave them full control over their color.

Images were printed from a set of wood-mounted magnesium photo engravings (nicely made by Hodgkins Engraving of Batavia, New York), on white 100 gsm Lettra - which came in sheets marked "23x35", but which , we found to our surprise were actually 23 1/4" x 35 and would not fit into our 23" Challenge cutter... So, it was out with the straight-edge and exacto knife and Chris' skills with the exacto to make the first cut... Then we cut the big sheets down to smaller sizes for printing.

They printed the first color on Saturday, spent the evening nearby, and came back on Sunday to lay down the second color and to print the envelopes on our little 5x8 Pearl Number 8,  circa 1927, which was a far different experience than printing the invitations on the Vandercook. They worked together and I played "Tom Sawyer painting the white picket fence" and simply watched them enjoy their letterpress adventure, helping out only when needed.

But it seems that the letterpress bug has really bitten these two, because now they're looking for a press for the Art Center that Chris runs on Long Beach Island...

Watch here for some new links. Grae videoed part of the procedure and took more - and far better - photos than I did. I'm sure that they will make for interesting viewing.

March 4, 2011Heidelberg with thermometer

Today's big news is the weather. Outdoor temperatures are promised to get above 40 degrees  - and not go below until next fall. That means that this too-cold winter is just about over. Only a few remants of this winter's big snow banks can still be seen and the days are getting longer and sunnier. Soon the ink will flow and the presses will roll and we won't be freezing now that The Spring Season at The Print Shop is about to begin!

                  Windmill press with thermometerDuring the winter, we monitor the press' temperature as we begin the day. We don't expect the ink to behave well until the press has reached 50 degrees.
This cooking thermomenter, inserted between the platen & the bed of our Heidelberg Windmill serves the purpose well.

It's embedded through a piece of bright red tape so that we don't forget to remove it before turning on the press...  - > more on "printing in the cold"

March 20, 2011

doing our taxes...Not much to report in the shop these past few weeks, but it is time to make a public apology to those of you who may be wondering why we have not been active in the shop, doing any classes, filling orders or even answering emails.

Doing out
                  taxesIt's one word - one big word - TAXES... Yes, believe it or not, we are actually actively involved in doing a hell of a lot of bookkeeping and preparing tax returns. We need to get our financial records in good order as part of a plan to complete our recovery from the financial disaster which struck the family about five years ago when our primary source of income was drastically cut. - and believe me, running a museum print shop is most definitely not a lucrative business... We're trying to buy a house. But first, tax returns need to be filed.

So. Please bear with us as we go through this effort to get our records in order and apply for a mortgage so that we can take advantage of the currently low real-estate prices and buy a home. Besides, Cathy's mother is coming to live with us soon and we need more room for the extended family...  We will be heading out to St. Paul to pick her up next week and will be gone until Mid-April. So. please accept my apologies to anyone who has needed our help during the past few (and coming) weeks.

- Alan

March 27, 2011

Exciting news arrived today. Fiona Otway wrote to let us know that her new letterpress video - KISS THE PAPER - the video about "letterpress printing, then and now" - which was filmed entirely at The Excelsior Press - with appearances from Joe & Andrea of Laughing Owl Press- has been accepted  into its first festival of the season!  Athens International Film Festival in Ohio -- April 22nd -28th.  The Athens Film Festival is supposed to be a great festival for documentaries. - see listing

Please be sure to check it out - and watch for more announcements of film festivals it will be shown in - AND a trailer which we hope Fiona will have time to put together for us to post online for you to see.

                  Runfeldt sits at the keyboard of Barry Mueller's
                  Intertype at The Excelsior PressThe film/video was shot at the Excelsior Press last fall - using both film and video cameras, and shows some type-setting, printing on the Vandercook, Pearl & Heidelberg, and includes a thoughful scene of the C&P running, then coming to a dramatic, slow stop after the power is turned off. The opening scenes may be a bit deceptive, because it begins with a close-up of the dew on the grass outside the barn, then this crusty old printer arriving in his equally crusty old Volvo station wagon. Once inside, we set some type, print some things and generally discuss this new renassaince of letterpress printing, which has come nearly 50 years after the commercial world considered the technology obsolete for most work...

The film ends with a scene of Alan sitting at the keyboard of Barry Mueller's Intertype - which Barry used for many years until moving it to The Excelsior Press a few years ago...

Keep an eye here - or on her web site - for future venues where the story can be seen... Eventually, we hope that Kiss The Paper will be accepted and shown at the Sundance Film Festival, where Fiona has already won a series of awards for her work. 

Fiona Otway is editor of Hell and Back Again, directed by Dennis Danfung and honored as the best film in International Documentary Competition at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

April 2, 2011

Andrea & Joe LanichDelrin Letterpress Printing Plate  (Laughing Owl Press) came by again to use the Vandercook to print some 3-color posters that are too large to print on their Heidelberg Windmill. But this time, they brought an entirely new style of plate - laser-cut Delrin plates that Joe made on Joe's newest 'print-shop' tool - a flat-bed laser cutter. (Joe's the fellow, btw, who made his own photo-polymer plate maker - complete with cool digital controls...)

There were some issues to overcome, but the laser-cut Delrin plates seemed to handle the ink pretty well, and after a rather long day at the press, they went home with a nice pile of 3-color posters, printed on some nice smooth chipboard. You might see the end result on their web site - or here, once we get a photo of the one left on our display wall.

April 5, 2011
If you are interested in updates to the new letterpress documentary video, "Kiss The Paper", by Fiona Otway, it is now listed on the Internet Movie Database

April 11, 2011

Wow! What a trip! Just back from adventures to North Central MinnesotaMike DeCoursey, printer in Isle, MN - where the lakes still have 18 or more inches of ice on them, and some diehards are still ice fishing - even though the daytime temperatures are in the comfortable 50s.

But there's much more than ice fishing in Isle, MN. We visited Mike DeCoursey at his home letterpress shop and then at the offices of The White Pines Times on the grounds of  Minnesota's White Pine Logging and Threshing Showwhich is held annually on Labor Day Weekend.

This visit produced so much information, so many photos and such a story, that it deserves its own set of web pages with photos and captions and everything. But for now, since I just returned home this afternoon and still have to unpack, this brief outline will have to do:

Line Shaft at White Pines PressBetween Mike's shop and the newspaper office, we saw some amazing things; a number of hand-fed platen presses which look like C&Ps, but aren't; a hand-fed Cranston Newspaper press operated by a drive belt connected to a line shaftwhich in turn is powered by a 7-hp hand-start, single-cylinder gasoline engine. This across-the ceiling line shaft even drives drives their Linotype, the hand presses and just about every other machine in the shop - except for the 36-volt dc motor driving the trim saw. Yes. 36 volts. Direct Current, in fact. The Minnesota White Pine Logging and Threshing Showis "off the grid". They produce their own electricity using a variety of historical 36 volt dc generators. Some of their antique generators even supplied power to entire towns long ago.

Antique Cranston Newspaper Press - in
                  operation at Whte Pine PressAnd the newspaper office at White Pine wasn't the only fascinating part of the visit. Mike's father used to use this old Cranston press to print the local newpaper - all 2500 8-page copies each week for many years. And, although his press may represent 19th-century letterpress technology, they did set text using a Linotype and used a Ludlow for headlinFairchild Scan-A-Graver in Isle, MNes.

But Mr. Decoursey also looked to the newest technology to make his newspaper better. This newest technology is a Fairchild Scan-A-Graver, circa 1950. This device would scan a photo mounted on one drum of a central shaft and simultaneously engrave a plastic plate on a similar drum to the left of the scanner - but still on the same shaft. This plastic plate would be mounted on a base and print a pretty darned good halftone. This machine was the newest thing in 1950's letterpress technology and quickly appeared at many local newpapers throughout the USA. For the first time ever, a remote local newspaper could make their own engravings - particularly halftones - of events which occured only hours ago. Sadly, the plastic used to make the plates is no longer readily available. But if Mike can get some, he can still make letterpress printing plates from image to plate in minutes - with one device.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is so much to tell that I will have to create a few more web pages to cover this story and the new things I learned during my visit. So. Although there was still 18 or more inches of snow on the lakes in northerm Minnesota... not so back home. Short pants and t-shirts today - all of a sudden; after one of the longest and continually coldest winters in a long time - and with our last snow on April 1st, today, it's t-shirts and shorts and gotta cut the grass.

...And then unload the Pearl and begin catching up with promised projects in the print shop.

- Alan

April 25th - Update on our favorite letterpress film...

Fiona Otway's film "Kiss The Paper" - about 1930's style letterpress printing during the resurgent interest in letterpress circa 2010 - was nominated recently among other entries for "Best Non-fiction/ Visual Screenplay- Non-fiction" at Temple University's 13th Annual Diamond Film Festival

May 2, 2011

Excelsior Pilot Platen
                  Press - Made in USAWell, the secret is out. Noted press rebuilder Louis of Rhode Island has begin manufacturing - and is taking orders for - what is likely - with the exception of the 1990 model Kelsey Excelsior Model X, the first new table top letterpress made in the past fifty years. 

The Exceslsior Pilot 7x11 Table Top Platen Press
is now available to the public. Unlike copies made in the past of the classic Chandler & Price Pilot, this is a new press, based mostly upon the traditional Pilot design, but incorporating new features and a larger platen size.  This is the press the letterpress community has been waiting for. We wish him luck in his endeavor and are proud of the "from a printer's perspective" advice we were able to share with him during this project - not to mention the presses, parts, photos and dimensions we shared with him during the R&D phase...  see more.

May 2, 2011
Well, I guess this old barn has some sort of "letterpress stuff" magnet  in here - either that or all of the other presses, type cabinets, etc. have their own attraction to more of their kind. My neighbor Jim - aka "Jingles", long a fan of the Excelsior Press and a man who refers to me only as "Printer" (he likes nicknames) showed up with a classic tall Hamilton Cabinet today. What to do with yet another type cabinet when I don't have room for the ones I already have? This old Hamilton 31 case cabinet is a beauty - patented 1891- and filled with cases that have rested in it for perhaps 100 years or so. I would benefit from some tlc, but we simply can't add anything more to our projects list, so I decided that the best thing to do is to pass it on at a bargain price to someone who does have the time to clean and restore and put it back to use. I'll post a page about it as soon as I can and l will come back here and leave a link to it from here and from our fundraising page...

May 5, 2011

Jessa and Alex
of came by the shop today to get some "hands-on" experience operating a full-sized platen press - like the 12x18 C&P they recently purchased from our friend Dan in Norfolk, Virginia

AltJessa and Alex of
                      SqueezeMyHand.comhough they plan to print from photo-engravings and/or photo-poymer plates made from computer-generated images, I managed to convince Jessa that learning to set hand type was a skill worth pursuing, as a willing and enthusastic student, she dove right in and did, indeed set their names in 18pt. Americana and locked up the type in a form which included one of Gene Mosher's old Kelsey advertising engravings.  

The print is hard to see in this photo, but it came out well and she decided that it will make a nice postcard to send to friends. Jessa took notes while we discussed details of cleaning, setup, moving and maintenance of the larger 12x18 Chandler & Price press and then Alex took photos while Jessa learned to set type, lock up a form, mix inks, ink the press, set packing & gauge pins & print these cards. Afterwards, we set up the old Gordon to do some scoring - the old fashioned way using paper tape to build a channel for the score to press into. All in all, it was a very productive "afternoon" of printing lessons. I remarked that we (briefly) covered in one day what would normally take a semester to teach in school. But the student's enthusiasm, the hands-on experience and the reminder photos should make up for the compressed schedule.

We also did something new this time... Realizing that most of these C&Ps were set up for experienced press operators to run at 20-30 or more impressions per minute - and mindfull that for a new printer to attempt to feed at such a speed is just downright dangerous, we focused instead on skip-feeding and using the impression throw-off lever to make an impression, letting the press run through an additional cycle or two to make feeding and delivery safer. I think it was a very good idea and will expand upon the technique in a new web page as soon as I can write it up...

May 6, 2011

                      and Irwin - C&P Platen PressesIrwin and Clara are the two 10x15 C&Ps that have been used at The Fieldston School in The Bronx, NY since Irwin and Clara Strassburger donated them to Fieldston in 1929. Irwin
                      and Clara Stasburger Plaque at The Fieldston
                      Schoo, The Bronx, NY.But times have changed, and Fieldston's old print shop has moved on to the modern digital world, so the decision was made to preserve Irwin (early Series 10x15) for ever as a treadle-operated press and move Clara out to a new home.

But first, we were asked to swap out the New Series crankshaft with the Early Series straight shaft so that a treadle could be installed on old Irwin.

Normally, this would not  be a problem; the flywheel, gear, crankshaft and drive wheel of the Early Series 10x15 are generally interchangeable with the same parts on the Early Series C&P. However, in this case, we found the the Early Series crankshaft (circa 1900) is slightly larger in diameter than the same crankshaft on the New Series (1929) press. Reaming tool used to enlarge
                      Flywheel holeSo, we took the parts back to the shop, borrowed an expandable reamer (photo to the left) from our neighbor Doug and proceeded to ream out the flywheel, drive wheel and drive gear to fit them to the crankshaft so that we could mount the new treadle purchased from Hern Ironworks in Idaho.

Chandler & Price Flywheel Assembly -
                      10x15But, not to worry; after working the reamer through the parts in question, we were able to make  perfect fit of the New Series crankshaft into the Early Series parts. You can see the complete fitted assembly in the photo to the right.

Next, we'll return to The Bronx with the parts, re-install them and mount the treadle. Then, Irwin will be returned to service as a treadle-operated C&P and Carl Smith, manager of the Fieldston Press, will be able to show his students how letterpress printing was done over one hundred years ago - and the students will have the opportunity to have a hands-on experience that few, if any other schools in the country can offer....

Tuesday, May 10

Well, we made our trip from quiet and rural Hunterdon County, NJ to the quiet and urban reaches of upper Manhattan in New York City. A long drive, a day's work and now Carl Smith is a happy man. We have installed the New Series crankshaft and a new Hern Iron Works treadle on the old 1910 Early Series Chandler & Price platen press at The Fieldston School in The Bronx, NY. - and it works - nicely. Carl Smith "Kicking the
                  treadle" on an old platen pressThe photo to the left shows Carl "Kicking his treadle press", as it was said in the old days - "kicking" was the 1910 term for pumping a treadle. Kids all over America did it. Nearly every town or burb had a print shop where some teen-aged kid found himself a job as a printer - "kicking a treadle press"... and hand-feeding cards or stationary or what ever "job work" came by that could be produced on this press.

But today, that trade is gone and the skill is gone for all except those few who chose to "kick a treadle press" and print the old-fashioned way. For most folks, the computer, ink jet and laser printer are the current technology to use....

Fieldston Press once had their own Linotype - and students set and printed their own school newspaper - and much more. It was quite an operation. But times have changed and now Fieldston students do their typesetting and graphic design projects using networked Macs and hi-res color laser printers and large format color plotters. But the end result has not changed - printed pieces of information, created by the students. As part of their well-rounded curriculum, Fieldston School allows their students to use the technology of the day for printing all sorts of things. In 1929, when this press first arrived at Fieldston, that technology was hand-set type and a hand-fed platen press. But not kicking the treadle, this press came with a motor. And it was used to print many important items over the 80 years that it was in regular service.

But now that "Irwin", as this press was named so long ago - is sort of "retired" from production work, we have installed a crankshaft and a foot treadle to make it a "greener" press and a working museum piece - illustrating printing technology as it was in America for nearly 100 years - from the 1870's through the early 1970's....

I began kicking the treadle myself in 1964 - at the end of an era. We still kick the treadle on our old Gordon; just never felt a need to mount a motor on it... For longer hand-fed runs we use the motorized 10x15 C&P, and for even longer runs, the Heidelberg Windmill. But for short run scoring, or printing cards, we still kick the treadle on the Gordon or the Pearl. It's a perfectly practical way to print short-run jobs...

Monday, June 6 -

Well, it's happened. Fiona Otway's new documentary film - Kiss The Paper (filmed at The Excelsior Press & at The Laughing Owl Presslast November) now has a trailer online and is hitting a pretty impressive Film Festival - SilverDocs - the Discovery Channel's own film festival.

and, if we may flatter the director a bit,  here's what the festival director said about it:
From the festival director:

"The screening committee was unanimous in their appreciation for the film, which we all found to be deeply riveting and inspiring. I believe that the subject matter will resonate with our audiences and it will be an honor to present it at our Festival."

Kiss The Paper - by Fiona Otway

Kiss the Paper will be shown at SilverDocs on June 21 & 24. And, if things work out as we hope, I may be there as well. Please take a look at the trailer at Vimeoand let them know if you like it.

Fiona Ptway, Cinematographer
Fiona Otway business card by Laughing Owl Press

June 14
I have finally posted the new page I made showing a Wooden Treadle Rick Polinski made for Sarah's 8x12 C&P.

June 18

Lauren and Amanda visit the Excelsior
                        PressLauren and Amanda came by the shop this weekend with Lauren's 5x8 Kelsey. It needed a tune-up - leveling the platen, adjusting the ink rollers and generally making the press work as it should. See below for details of taping the trucks on the 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior:

Taping the Trucks on a 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior

Properly taped trucks on the 5x8
                      Kelsey ExcelsiorLauren sent me this neat photo she took in the shop after we taped the trucks on her 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior. Note how they appear to be a smooth "tire" around the undersized steel trucks. Now the rollers are set to exactly the proper level to assure good inking. This is easy to do with regular hardware store vinyl electrical tape - (costs about $1/roll) and will let you set your roller height to precisely where it should be for each side of each individual roller. Taping the rails will not do that for you, and on a small press, the rails to too narrow for taping, anyway.

The technique includes measuring out 12-24" of tape, then slowly rotating the truck to apply the tape smoothly. Apply more or remove tape until the roller height is just right - high enough to clear the base, but low enough to ink the form. Once the tape has been applied, it's easy to lay the truck down on its side on the workbench and carefully trim off the overhang with a single-edge razor blade to leave a nice, smooth "tire" around the truck. This is very similar to what is done on larger presses using the Morgan Expansion Trucks, which were the inspiration for this technique. It works well, and I personally recommend it. This, btw is the only way to assure proper height on both ends of both rollers, regardless of variations you may find on old, possibly mismatched trucks.

However - a warning: Do not leave your rollers and taped trucks in the back of a hot car during the summer. We just had a report of someone who did that and now has to retape her trucks. Kept in normal temperatures, the tape on the trucks  should last for many years - but can be quickly and easily replaced if it ever become necessary.

But, at the same time, if your rollers shrink or swell from temperature or humidity, you can also maintain good inking and simky adjust your truck diameter - larger or smaller - by adding or removing tape at any time.

June 25 - from SilverDocs Film Festival in Silver Spring, MD: Viewing Fiona Otway's Letterpress film, Kiss the Paper.
Kiss The Paper promotional Poster
Card pinted at Silverdocs
                        for Kiss The PaperWow!
What a week! Too much to cover in a short comment, but briefly; I did make it down here, brought along the old Golding Official, and actually printed promo cards in the lobby as a surprising number of letterpress afficianados watched, chatted and generally made me feel as though the effort was worth it.

You can see more on our Image Catalog

I was particularly amazed at the interest shown in the film - and a number of folks who were already aware of our work at The Excelsior Press. Our Mobile Print shop as seen at
                        SilverdocsI even had folks lined up, asking me to autograph the poster! It was quite an experience, but it will be good to go back home to the relative obscurity of simply being an old printer in an old barn once again...

Overall, the response to Fiona Otway's film was impressive - and I found out that of over 2200 films submitted to Silverdocs, only 105 were accepted for viewing. So, already, she's made the top 5%. Yes. I think that this film will do well as it continues on the festival circuit.

(Well, it's checkout time at the hotel, so I'll wrap this up for now and prepare a more compete report when  I get home.)

Golding Official Chase made of
This Golding Official came to us without any chases, so to print at Silverdocs, I fabricated some new ones using Brazilan Ironwood - aka "Ipe", lap-jointed and fastened together with steel roll pins. I've tried, but I cannot break the chase. I think we may have found a new solution for unique, chaseless presses...

June 27 - And, some flattering press from The Washington City Paper for Fiona's film...

Washington City Paper comments on Kiss The

And, there's more - some Bruce Guthrie photos from Silverdocs. - (All photos copyright Bruce Guthrie)

July 1, 2011
Someone had some problems figuring out how to use the Megill Flexible Gauge Pins with their Boxcar Base, so I've updated the Megill Gauge Pins page with some simple instructions. You may find this helpful.

July 15 - Paul came by with a truckload of "more letterpress stuff"....

For many years, Paul Nash spent his time maintaining Bowne Publishing's fleet of over 20 Linotype Machines. When Bowne followed the industry's lead and moved on to photo-type and offset printing, Paul salvaged and stored much of the otherwise unappreciated spare parts and tools which so many of us hot metal printers are looking for these days. He packed these unappreciated treasures in his garage for the past 20-some-odd years having "rescued" them from otherwise certain demise in some scrap yard... Among this collection are, of course, many of the more common required parts for Linotype maintenance, a large number of Ludlow sticks - including 3 of the most-desireable self-centering sticks, a brand new set of 8 point Century mats, a box of 80 new spacebands, and  more...

Hand type, wood type, composing sticks - Challenge High Speed Quoins - and dozens of quoin keys of all description. As soon as we can catalog everything, we'll be posting them on his own fundraising page. Watch for a link to it here.

Of course, there was the ubitquitous Kelsey 5x8 Excelsior - including a nice new set of Dave Hauser's Tarheel Composition Rollers - which I am anxious to use and become familiar with, and yet another of those Vandercook 99 galley proof presses. These are all going into the restoration shop for renewal and presentation to the waiting public.

But now it's time to begin making room in the garage, so one new project here at the shop will be cataloging and listing these items for sale. When we have something more than  a comment to show, we'll come back and add a link to the page from here.

July 16 - Kelly's Pilot - Another nice press brought back to productivity...

Kelly has a really nice, restored Pilot. But it needed a tune-up. She's had this press for a while now, but had never been quite able to get it to work. The platen needed leveling, the rollers needed ajustment and the press simply needed "a tune-up"... She posted on Briar Press and received a lot of advice from willing members - one of whom was my good friend DickG - who, among others recommended that she contact me for help. I've been really busy lately - as usual, so I had not been following conversations on Briar Press until Dick "used the EP hot line" to call me, explain Kelly's situation and suggest I offer some help and advice.

Now, there were others who offered to help - knowledgeable and experienced printers who most likely would have been able to help her get her press working, but I was the closest, so she arrived on Saturday with her beautiful, but not-quite-ready-for production restored Pilot.

The first problem was a platen in serious need of leveling. And, now that I have Gene Mosher's Kelsey leveling gauge set* - the same one used to level Kelsey platens for many years at The Kelsey Company- we were able to get to a base level position in short order.

The next problem was the rollers. The new rollers she bought for this press did not have locking trucks, but were free-wheeling as on the Kelsey presses. As it turns out, she did still have the original set of rollers which came with the press - and which had locking Delrin truck from NA Graphics. These rollers were older, but of excellent quality and which we brought back to good condition with only a few minutes of scrubbing with California Wash. But even these locking trucks did not allow the rollers to turn as they came down the rails. The result was very bad inking.

To solve the problem we looked over the press and discovered the first problem was that the trucks were set too wide on the old C&P cores, and rubbed against the roller saddle. This kept them from rolling. We ground down the pips on the roller shaft to move the trucks in towards the center of the form and gain some clearance from the saddles. This helped a bit, but didn't solve the problem. But then we discovered that when the press had been painted, the inside of the roller saddles - the bearing surface - had also been painted - which effectively prevented the rollers from turning freely. A handy car battery terminal cleaner (wire brush) served as a good hand tool to remove the paint and get down to bare steel. A little bit of oil and voila! The rollers began to roll as they should.

But now we discovered that the roller carriage did not go completely down below the form. This was a new and pretty perplexing problem - until I discovered that the connecting rod that drove the roller carriage had been reworked - and shortened by about 3/8" - which was more than enough to prohibit the rollers from going down as far as they should. Fortunately, I had another Pilot press in pieces in the shop and had an arm of the proper length, which we used to solve the problem. If a PRINTER had restored this press, USED it and TESTED it, the problem would have been discovered months ago. As it was, the machinist (who did a fine job otherwise) did not test the reassembled press, and the owner - who was new to printing - had no idea what was wrong. But this old printer figured it out and we moved on...

A little more adjustment on the platen pressure - backed off a bit (well above.918") to allow for levelled printing on thicker paper - and the press was ready to go.

So, after quite a few hours of tinkering, I finally got to see that moment which always seems to occur when a new printer visits the shop - that effervescent joy - the big, bright smile on her face as she began to print her first job on her own press. It was late at night by now, but she was printing - and very happy to finally see her beautiful press also do some beautiful printing.

Once the job was done, they packed up the press and headed home, experienced enough now with leveling the platen, troubleshooting the printing process and with the confidence to know that now she can do it again at her in-home studio. I turned back to the shop, pretty darned pleased with myself as well,  and went to work making the chase bases I'd promised to have for Cate and Laura when they showed up with their presses in the morning...

* I will be posting more information on this ingenious set of leveling gauges soon - and will be fabricating sets for others to use our "Tools available" list as soon as I can.

July 17 - Yet another "Good Day at the Print Shop"...

One of the best things about the work I do these days is the people I meet. First of all, they are all pretty amazing people to begin with - anyone with a serious interest in doing their own letterpress printing is special enough and a pleasure to meet and work with.

But sometimes, that big bell on top of the meter just rings and rings... as it did today when sisters Cate and Laura came to the shop with their new presses, their brilliant ideas and their attentive, cheeful attitudes. Cate has a Craftsmen 4x6 reproduction of the classic Victor 4x6.* Laura has a wonderful old style 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior - the big old 5x8 with the heavy-duty roller hooks. They both needed rollers, Excelsior Chase-Bases, tympan and ink starter kits and a variety of other items to put their presses into operation. Cate drove up from Maryland, Laura down from the Boston area. Oddly enough, they have known Frenchtown for most of their lives since their grandmother lives literally just across the bridge at Frenchtown. I have posted a nice photo of the Frenchtown Bridge which shows Grandma's house across the river.

* Although a pretty much direct copy of the original 4x6 Victor, we found that the Craftsmen "Victory" model does have some interesting differences when compared with the orginal "Victor Mfg Co, Boston Mass" press... Basically, they have a different chase bed width, different roller mounting systems, different size ink disks and different gripper arm systems... More on that on a new Victor/Victory press page to be added to the site as soon as I get the photos together and make the time to write up the comparison.

But the really neat part of this day is the cheerful, adventurous, willing nature of these two women. They are prepping to begin what they call "The Press Wars" wherein each will - with their respective daughters - print items on their presses and try to outdo the other. Fun stuff - greeting cards, little works of typographic art which embody within their designs and execution that craftsmaship and whimsy which makes letterpress printing just so much fun to do. These two women were just such a joy to have in the shop. They brought their presses, their cheerful, optimistic demeanors and a lot of cheeful laughter - all of which, taken together just made the print shop an even more fun place to be today...

... and now it's time for me to clean up, re-inventory, restock and get back to work making some new locking roller trucks, chase-bases, roller bearers and all those other items I've promised to ship out - and then it will be time to get back to printing the Catalog of Kelsey Engravings I promsed to make for Gene Mosher when he loaned me his collection of the orginal old Kelsey advertising cuts so many months ago...

But I think that first, I will take a drive over to The Laughing Owl Press - only ten miles down the road - to check in on Joe and Andrea and see what beautiful new designs they're printing today - and to see the two (more) presses that Joe has dragged into his formerly spacious garage, which is slowing beginning to look like my cluttered-with-old-presses barn here on the farm... - "See, Joe? I warned you that collecting presses can be addictive.... ;) "

- Alan, Sunday afternoon....

Why no photos from this weekend's adventures?

There was a bug in my camera - literally... I had removed the battery to recharge it, but left the camera sitting on the desk while the battery charged. Some bug thought that it would be nice "safe" place to hang out for a while, so it crawled in. Reinserting the charged battery squashed the bug and blocked the contacts. It took me a while to figure it out, but eventually, I did remove the squashed bug and now the camera's working again.

But Kelly and her press, and Cate & Laura and their presses are long gone, so, sorry. No photos due to a "bug" in my camera.

July 23, 2011

Oh, you just GOTTA SEE THIS! Lettepress Alive and well in Taiwan!

Hand-typesetting, casting type and even cutting Matrices for casting Chinese Characters in hot metal type - in Taiwan! -

August 5 -

Trouble on Briar Press... Seems like some folks don't know that Lou's new web site - and are not the same web site - or the same people.  But that's understandable; we supported and promoted Lou's work for the past few years and were intimately involved with; dare I say the inspiration of the new Excelsior Pilot Platen Press which he intends to manufacture. But now he's on his own and we're on our own, and that's the way things work out sometimes.

August 6
But on a more positive note - our newest customer and hope-to-be-friends - the Paper Pounder Press in Beiing, China! -  a real hand-type, hand-fed platen press print shop in China!

Sort of reminds me when I spent those two years as one of the few Vietnamese-speaking Anglos living in Little Saigon in Orange County, California and working with the Bao Nguoi Viet (Vietnamese Daily News) as we developed the first ever Vietnamese-Language PC-based photo typesetting system... The publisher used to call me "Blackthorn" (referring to the story of an Anglo in Japan circa 1600, celebrated in the movie Shogun) while the staff nicknamed me "Anh Lang Tu" (The Noble Vagabond)...

and, while we're on the subject of ME, here's more to add to the story.... in case anyone is interested in my life outside of letterpress.....

August 9
New 3x5 Kelsey Excelsior Roller
                      Shafts with Locking TrucksFinally, we are making our own rollers for Kelsey and other small presses - right here in the print shop. We are no longer getting them from Rhode Island. Part of this project has been to assemble the tools and develop the skills and techniques to make these rollers with locking trucks - just like larger and other more advanced table top presses offered with their machines.

We actually got the idea by studying the trucks of set of Craftsmen 5x8 rollers we recast for Carl at Fieldston School. It works well and we can do it here with our lathe, drill press and the new broaching tool we purchased just for this purpose.

3x5 Kelsey Excelsior Ink Rollers
Above are the new roller shafts and locking trucks. These shafts spent  the next 30 hours in the roller molds -  until the rubber had cured and they could be removed, trimmed, packed - as shown to the left. Once boxed up, theywere shipped to a very nice (and patient) young lady in Seattle - who will soon be printing with a new set of rollers supplied with locking trucks to improve inking on her little 3x5 Kelsey Excelsior press.

August 10 - Back in the spotlight again - Another press in theatre.... I got a call today from the PaperMill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ. They have acquired an 8x12 (?) C&P to use in their production of "Newsies" and would like to have it serviced and made ready for the show. Time to put on the old Press Mechanic's hat and head over to Millburn to help get this show on the road....

August 30, 2011 - Recovering from Hurricane Irene

Apologies are in order to all of those folks who have been waiting to hear from me during this past weekend. We've been  offline a bit, what with the hurricane - which missed us for the most part, but sure did leave a LOT of water behind and blew down a lot of branches in the yard.... the Delaware River (almost)-flood - which kept us on our toes, but didn't get them wet, and the power outage. We lost power, and we do have a generator for emergencies, but it's just not the same...

Anyway, just a quick post here to let everyone know we're alright, just a bit behind schedule for a bit...

Before Irene hit, I figured I'd be smart and make sure my generator was working okay - but it wasn't - not until after I worked on the carburator for three days. I finally got it running properly - just as the power finally came back on...

And then Mary Ellen arrived from California in her RV - just as Irene made her mess of our yard with branches down all over the place - and the power went out - and then the flood hit Frenchtown...

When M.E. was a budding graphic artist, she contributed quite a bit to the culture and reputation of The Excelsior Press at its original location in Berkeley Heights, NJ. She was also skiled in setting hand type, making up metal forms and printing on all the letterpress equipment. Now she has come back to the farm to see the The Excelsior Press in its present form - as a working letterpress printing museum and source of equipment, supply and information about letterpress printing. It's great to have her back - if even just for a visit...

September 21, 2011

Where has this month gone! First there was an earthquake (well, it didn't really effect us here, but it was interesting), then there was Hurricane Irene - (and a flood watch and power outage) , then Tropical Storm Lee, and then the REAL flood of the Delaware River in Frenchtown.

After an earthquake, a hurricane, a tropical storm and a flood, next thing I expect is a volcanic eruption of some sort...

* Servicing the Press for The Paper Mill Playhouse production of "Newsies" -

Wooden Treadle made for 10x15 Chandler
                        & Price Platen Press
Wooden Treadle made for 8x12 Chandler & Price Platen Press used in Newsies at The Paper Mill Playhouse

between Hurrican Irene and the flood resulting from the heavy rainfall of Tropical Storm Lee, we serviced the 8x12 C&P for the Paper Mill Playhouse/Disney production of Newsies. But, since they were in a rush and couldn't wait seven days until Hern's Treadle arrived from Idaho, I opened my big mouth and said "No worries, I can make one for you." I should learn to keep my mouth shut. I spent three days making that treadle and hook assembly, but it did install properly and the press was ready for the show. Mary Ellen came along with her camera and turned the service call into a photo-shoot.

M.E.'s Photos of the day on Facebook

BTW - Newsies is doing very well - and was even the focus of a special by The View with Whoopi Goldberg (Youtube videos)

So now, it's back to playing catch-up with printing jobs, press repair, Chase-Base production and orders to ship out. If you're one of the patient folks still waiting for your supplies, thank you for your patience; I expect to get caught up this week and get all of the roller bearers, rollers, gauge pins and Chase- Bases and other supplies on their way to you.

- Alan

September 28 -

Another Film Festival viewing of Fiona Otway's documentary Kiss the Paper (filmed at the Excelsior Press) will be at The Citizen Jane Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri - to be shown among the group of films entitled "Work of A Thousand" on Oct 1 at 11 am and Oct 2 at 2:15 pm.

Their description of Fiona's Film:
"KISS THE PAPER is a poetic doc that contemplates the revival of the nearly obsolete, centuries-old craft of letterpress printing. A lifelong letterpress printer invites us into his studio to discover."

hmmm. That's me? they're talking about?.. wow. ;)

Oh - and, inspired by a new printer's inquiry, we've just added a new page on type at reference_html/apageabouttype.html
And, in case I forgot to link to it from elsewhere, here's one (from last year) on Moving a Press Safely

More to come as we took a series of photos of loading Joseph Rose's new 10x15 Chandler & Price - and more photos of  unloading Joseph's pressat his studio. A very safe, easy and inexpensive move of a 1250# Platen press...

October 17 -
came by today to pick up the double-wide 3/4 type cabinet and some cases. She's going to clean it up and use it in her card shop in town to display restored antique typewriters.

October 18 -

Although a lot has been happening at the Excelsior Press these past few months, something even more important has been happening at The Dale Guild Type Foundry - Micah has cut the mats and they are about to cast a brand new font - first time in ten years - and one of the very few new fonts being cast any where in the world! Nicholas - a new font designed by Russell Maret, with matrices carefully cut by Micah Slawinski-Currier. Buy it now at the pre-sale price of $125 - a worthy investment for any typographer (just display it on your desk!) - or any true letterpress printer who enjoys setting fresh metal.

October 23 -

Found a great video on moving a large press - just as I recommend - the 5x8 U-Haul Trailer, pipes, not forklifts, etc.. The only problem I see is that they mounted the press on 4x6's that were too long - and caused some problems during the unloading process... and, it took a lot more people than we used while moving Joseph's press from here last weekend... It really only requires one or two people to load and unload a 10x15 safely - IF it's done as we do it...

Oct 24 -
Just found a cool new link to LETTERPRESS SOUTH AFRICA - Here a folks sharing information about doing letterpress printing in South Africa, with sources of supplies, links to printers and the beginning of a South African Letterpress Community.  I just discovered that they had already linked to my old - and sorrowfully outdated LINKS page (last edited over two years ago) - which I will have to clean up and update one of these days...

220v power to my Windmill failed tonight. One leg of what should be two 125volt lines is only showing 75 volts... And, a customer needs 5,000 labels imprinted and shipped to their packing company asap (damn these deadlines!) Time to fire up the generator and see if I can run my Windmill on gasoline... ;)

update: Yes, I can. My big, round, aniquated 220v 10 hp generator (which I purchased with my 6x9 Kelsey Victor Press many years ago) puts out plenty of power and I got the job done and shipped.

... I figured out that my Windmill gets something over 2,000 impressions per gallon...

Oct 25 -
Had a call this evening from a gentleman who introduced himself as "Gabrial Rummonds, the printer." He was looking for some photos of the Craftsman Superior - to be used in a book he was writing - his memoir. We had an interesting chat and found that we recognized some names in common - not that I actually knew the people we were discussing, but I certainly knew of  them - mostly knowledgeable printing historians whose notes or books I had read - or at least heard of...

                        Printed by Chris & Grae in June, 2010As it turns out, Mr. Rummonds is a long-time Iron Press printer - not a simple Job Printer like me - using C&Ps & The Heidelberg Windmill. Although he now claims to be retired from printing, for years he printed books and broadsides the really old way - on horizontal flatbed presses. I quickly realized that he knew a lot about the craft - and the equipment. He told me that he'd published a book about Iron Handpresses, so I asked him for some information about the Reliance Press - one commonly recognized as the last commercially-made Iron Handpress - which was sold into the 1920's as a proofing press. It was well-liked by engravers and only fell out of favor when Mr. Vandercook began producing hit very high-quality flat-bed-cylinder proofing presses.

But what is important now to share - for any of you out there looking for a Reliance Hand Press (as seen in the print to the left) - you may be surprised to discover that the Reliance Hand Press that was sold as a Proofing Press did not include a frisket to hold the sheet.

So. If you are searching for a Reliance Iron Hand Platen Press - be forewarned - it may not come with a frisket and tympan and may also need to be adjusted to increase the platen height a bit to allow room for the frisket, tympan and make-ready.

October 28

Kyle Durrie is in New Jersey this week with her "Movable Type Truck" traveling print shop. We could not meet in person, but I thought it appropriate to add a link to her site - and the intriguing short video she made to introduce her idea to the rest of us.  One remarkable element of her "wild idea", is that she has made this dream come true and is in fact, traveling the country in her mobile print shop and having a good time doing it... Link to Kyle's video

- and, while visiting Kyle's site, I followed a link to the CC Stern Type Foundry museum web site.  This was great to learn about. Type-founding preserved in a working museum! I love the idea of the craft being preserved. It's great to see - and is kind of what I'm trying to do here, myself...

I also found out that The American Typecasting Fellowship finally has its own web site - domain name and everything. If you are at all interested in hot metal printing or cast type, this is a site to visit -

October 29

Early Snow - not much - only 7", but dang, was it heavy! The weight of the snow took down branches, limbs, entire trees - and many of them fell on local power lines - all the way from here up through New England. I'm sure you heard about it...

Well, for us, it meant no power for about a week. The shop generator was conscripted for home use and even the old 4-cylinder generator here on the farm was unable to keep up 24x7, so we had no power at all to the barn for the week.

November 14

- Where have the weeks gone? Power's been back on for a week, but there's still a lot of catch-up and clean-up to be done.  Chain saws and chippers - and still more generator and 220v power issues. Ah, life in the country... We love it, but it does come with some challenges.

The electrician's coming by tomorrow to see about getting power to the barn for my Windmill, Ludlow and Linotype, while two of my regular - and best - printing customers are holding their  breath, waiting for me to get their jobs done. It's the busy season for them both - and that means me, too. - worst time of the year to be having these electircal issues.

Still no new wood to make Chase-Bases - after a lot went bad in the humid September weather. But I did get some samples of Richlite - a new "space-age" material which may prove to be superior to the traditional blocked-cherry base wood I've been using. It costs quite a bit more than wood, but if the quality is there, it may well be worth it. We'll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, I've been so busy dealing with all of these other things that the web page contact form has backed up to what appears to be about 50 unread messages - and quite possibly some supplies orders. If yours is one of them, please accept my apologies. I promise to get to them - and back to you - just as soon as I can. But, as you might guess, it may take some time to catch up. As much as I enjoy it, sometimes it's rough running a one-man show...

November 25
We have power! For the first time in over a month, we have our full 220v power back and can finally shut down that noisy generator!

December 1
Just had a call from Deborah in North Bend, Oregon. She needs some supplies for her 3x5 kelsey. but told me that her interest in letterpress was sparked by a local museum - the Marshfield Sun Printing Museum - whch does not have its own web site yet, but may have some pages here at once we receive some photos.

The story, however, is fascinating. Apparently, the Marshfield Sun  was founded in 1891 and was printed on a horizontal platen press until the publisher died (at the press?) in 1944. The building was closed up then and remained intact until it was reopened recently as a museum. We're hoping to get some photos and information so that we can make up some web pages to tell their story...

December 31
Well, all those forms that had to be perfed and numbered (over 100 individual orders!) are done. All off the Italian Food labels have been imprinted, the power's back to normal - both 110v and 220v, and the year is at an end.

These past few months have been so hectic that this blog - the record of our work, our visitors and our projects - remains woefully inadequate to the task. To all who have sent inquiries and have not had responses, our most sincere apologies. It's just been overwhelming here, trying to keep up with the work, the challenges, the inquiries and the visitors.

Let's hope that we can do better in 2012. Watch out, here it comes!

- Alan