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 2013

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January 17, 2013

Well, another year begins.  Starting off pretty busy. Let's see how well I can keep up...

Jan 19
Just updated my Kelsey Type Case page with the layout of the 2/3 California Job Case. Couldn't find any other images on the web, so I lifted this one from an old Kelsey catalog...

Presses in School
Jan 20
Prepping for the "Press Goes To School Program!" I'll be presenting to a group of elementary students on Tuesday, Jan. 22 and Tuesday, Jan. 29. Gonna bring some presses, type cases & sticks, talk about printing a bit and get the kids to set their names and print cards on the Student Proof Press that I made last year for the Bower Museum in Costa Mesa, Ca.

Bruce Olgilvey with his father's 6x9
                  Kelsey/Cook's Victor Printing PressApril 24, 2013
Well, it's about time I got back to the blog. It's been neglected for so long simply because I've been so busy doing things, that there's been no time to document them. Of course, most of the things I've been so busy doing were not here in the shop, but at "The Little Yellow House in The Woods" - our new home across the road from the farm. Now that Cathy & I have finally realized our dream of a "smaller house on a larger lot with a long gravel driveway and room to build a barn", I find it hard to cross the road and get to "work" here, with so much to do on the land at home.

But on this beautiful spring day, we had a very important visitor and now there's a need for an update from the print shop. The reason is a too-brief visit from Bruce Ogilvie, who drove all the way from northern Michigan and arrived today with a pickup truck filled with his Dad's printing gear - the 6x9 Kelsey/Cook Victor that his father got from Bruce's uncle way back in 1970, and all the type and lots of the paper which he used to print cards and keepsakes and miniature books until he was 88 years old. Dad's gone now, after 94 years on this earth, but his press lives on - and will continue to be used for another 50-100 years. The plan was to restore it and resell to raise funds for a favored charity - St. Andrews Society of Illinois. But after hearing the story of this press, I think we'll probably sell our own Kelsey/Cook Victor and pass the funds on to the charity, and keep this historical press as part of the permanent collection of The Excelsior Press Museum. There's just become too much of a bond here. Bruce found us a few years ago and at first, the plan was for me to restore the press for donation to a local Michigan Museum, but the plan evolved to raising funds for St. Andrews Society of Illinois, which his father helped to found.

But now that we have met in person and have learned (a small part of) the history of Bruce, his father and this press, it will be hard to part with. (Cathy will have to deal with that after I'm gone.) I will put this press back into production and print some things with it and share it with the students I tutor here at the shop. I can sell my own Kelsey/Cook Victor to raise funds for St. Andrews, but parting with this one will be difficult...

April 27
Kiss The Paper has updated its Facebook Page - another film showing in Maryland next week:

Wednesday, May 1 - STOP THE BAC
                PRESSDonna had some problems keeping her opinion signs on the lawn - they were taken by the opposition - a group proposing a major aquatic center development in a nearby wooded area that is properly zoned residential. When the Pro BAC faction left two of THEIR signs on her lawn - signs that were left without inquiry or permission, Donna was not pleased. But she kept them and posted them - after some very effective image editing that reversed the message they had intended to promote. She is, obviously opposed to the BAC development.

But the opposition group didn't like the fact that she had done that, so they took back (stole)  their modified signs and posted a photo of them on their web page to illustrate how mean the local home-owning opposition was.

Now Donna and her neighbors needed some signs of their own.  Having them printed at some large retail copy center could be very expensive, but setting some wood type and printing some simple signs on a Vandercook need not be.... Since Donna &  I are friends and she now owns and lives in the house I grew up in, and, since I agree with her and her neighbors' (my old neighbors') opposition to this outrageous development plan, I  offered to help her print some more signs  - of her own - and enough for her neighbors to post on their lawns as well.

So we did. She came down today, we had a great chat about life today in the house (our house from 1950-1994) - and in the yard that I grew up in, discussed specific trees in the yard and features of the house.... and printed some lawn signs for her and her neighbors to post in order to publicly announce their opposition to the BAC.

Update May 8, 2013 - It worked! The townspeople came out to vote down the BAC plan 80%/20%. Donna and her neighbors - my old neighbors - are very pleased to have stopped this intrusion by a large, well-funded corporation to take over this quiet wooded area nearby - and they even bought Google Ads to promotye their position. Grass Roots wins!

Friday, May 3 - The Youngest Printer

Aiden printing on the VandercookEver since Aidan saw Will Smith fixing a Heidelberg in the movies, he wanted to see a printing press for himself.

Well, he turned 11 this week, and his Aunt Alana decided to take him to see a Heidelberg Windmill in a real print shop.

Aidan and Alana at the Excelsior PressThey arrived this afternoon and he was amazed to not only see a Heidelberg, but an old Gordon, a bunch of little Kelseys, some C&Ps and a few Vandercooks. He learned to pump the treadle on the the Pearl, how to score on the Gordon and how to die cut an oval on Big Ben, our 12x18 C&P. And then he actually set some Foundry type and printed his name on the Vandercook. Then he did the same for his sister Julia, took the printed pieces back to Big Ben and die cut both of their names into ovals.

Needless to say, he seemed quite pleased - and, I might point out, he was a natural, and took to both spinning the flywheel on Big Ben and feeding and printing on the Vandercook just about as quickly as anyone who's ever come here to do that.

I began printing fifty years ago, and recall those earliest days quite fondly. In fact, I recently began a short essay about my time with Joseph Ishill when I was a young printer - some fifty years ago... I wonder how Aidan will recall this day when he turns sixty-one in the year 2073....

Saturday, May 4
Donna Globus and her 5x8 KelseyDonna Globus came to visit the shop today. She has been doing letterpress printing since 1995, studied at the Grabhorn Institute in California and currently teaches courses in Letterpress Printing at the University of the Arts MFA Book Arts / Printmaking program in Philadelphia, so she knows her way around the California Job Case, platen presses, proof presses, photopolymer plates and metal engravings. She prints at her Darkroom Press - on her own 7x11 Pearl Oldstyle - the one with the heart-shaped treadle and no impression throw-off lever as well as her Vandercook SP-15.

But she's gotten an interest in little presses, too, and recently turned up a little Sigwalt Chicago via Craigslist, and this press was just a few miles up the road from Frenchtown. Since she was driving up this way for the press, today would be a good time for us to meet and compare notes. I agree. It was great.

She brought along her 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior as well and decided that although it is nearly serviceable in its current condition (after we quickly adjusted the platen using the Kelsey platen leveling gauges given to me by Gene Mosher last year), it would look really nice fully restored and painted. So we tagged it and put it in line for a bang-up restoration job including new grippers and a new set of our Excelsior Press ink rollers with our original locking trucks.

The little Sigwalt actually came in its original shipping box and still had its original - but now very dried-up and rusty rollers & trucks with it, it needs a new set of rollers, too, so we finally have an original set of Sigwalt Chicago rollers, shafts & trucks to study and duplicate. We'll be adding the stats to our specifications page soon - along with details on the Kelsey Star which I've been making notes on in preparation to cast some rollers and cut some trucks for it as well.

And tomorrow - Sunday, we'll meet another letterpress printing teacher - this one from Lancaster, PA - with another 5x8 Kelsey to set up and put back into production...

Shop Update:

And, finally, most of the presses in the process of restoration now have their own mobile carts - the ones I got from Darby Litho when we cleared out their shop and moved their Heidelberg over the winter. These are solid 18x24" waist-high industrial carts with the large 4" wheels and sturdy frames. With the help of my new "hydraulic lift-cart", I've been moving those presses off of their hodge-podge of cobbled-together 2" wheel rolling carts that don't really move so well - or safely - to these new carts... Now, the dozen or more presses in process (Pilots, Kelseys, Vandercook Galley Presses, & an Adana)  are much, much easier to move around the shop as we play "Chinese Checkers" in the aisles of this far-too-cluttered shop. Sixty! presses at last count! I'm being drowned in table top platen presses! Help!!! ;)

But seriously. With the warmer weather, this old man is finding more time to "putter" in the barn as well as work in the print shop, and it feels good to be organizing this chaos and to be actually able to get back to work on these projects, rather than spend all my time moving things (slowly) to get to things I need.

Sunday, May 5

Randy Hess printing cards on his 5x8 Kelsey
                  at The Excelsior PressRandy Hess came by today with his 5x8 Kelsey. Randy teaches graphic arts at a local high school in New Holland - near Lancaster, PA. But letterpress has not - until now - been a part of the curriculum. So, he picked up his own 5x8 and brought it with him for an afternoon here to set up the press and learn how to print with it. We did some dis-assembly and reassembly, leveled the platen, resurfaced the bed, cleaned and oiled the press and particularly the roller hooks, then set some hand type to print a real letterpress form. He did great! And,l since he is a professional photographer, he got some great shots. See his photos and short video

Monday, May 13

The Excelsior-Franklin Wooden Composing Stick
                    -#AR1Well, at the prodding of Jane M - a very creative and inventive teacher in Wisconsin- who has built her own horizontal platen press, we have reproduced a wooden composing stick based upon one thought to have been purchased by Ben Franklin in France in 1780.

We will be adding an image of Jane's press to this blog posting, and have plans to begin making more of what we have chosen to call The Excelsior-Franklin (Reproduction) 40-pica Wooden Composing Stick. Now students can set Bill Reiss' (Quaker City Type Foundry) Classic "Franklin Caslon" foundry type in a stick just like Ben Franklin used over 200 years ago. Same font, same stick. Now, that's "touching history"...

Tuesday, May 14
Dave Robison - "the Ink in Tubes Guy" -
has sent us his updated price list/availability .pdf file. For more info: Ink in Tubes

Friday, May 24
Nicole Annette on the Heidelberg WindmillNicole Annette Miller 
was coming from Salt Lake City to attend the big annual National Stationary Show in NYC (where letterpress is really cool) and decided that it would be a good time to venture out into the country and spend a day learning a few tidbits - particularly how to set up the feed to run "to the guides" on the Heidelberg Windmill. She'd already purchased her Windmill, had read the manual and even had someone "show her" how it was done. The problem is that the person who showed her simply ran through the process without explaining important detaile about how it was done or letting Nic do it herself - hands-on. But by the end of her afternoon at the Excelsior Press, she not only saw it being done, but she understood how it worked and - most importantly- she did it all herself as well so that when she went home, she'd be able to set up her Windmill to feed what ever she had to.

Hands-on is the best way to learn to run a machine like this...

Nic Annette is featured showing others how to print on a 5x8 Kelsey in this short video from "Friends Make Prints" in Salt Lake City...

Wednesday, Thursday, June 19, 20 

Nicole is an NYC Illustrator & Graphic Designer. Her father John lives in NJ, has a long background in the printing trades and is handy with machines  John
                  Comperatore & Daughter NicoleShe wanted to do letterpress printing and John wanted to help his daughter achieve her goal. John found a good deal on a 10x15 C&P, bought it, took it apart, moved it to his garage; put it back together, found me and scheduled a training day for him and his daughter.

IJohn Comperatore & Daughter Nicolet was fun. They were great. The job we printed was perhaps a bit more complex than ought to have been tackled as a first project, but by the time we were done (late evening of the second day), they both knew a *lot* more about letterpress printing on the 10x15 C&P than they did when they first embarked on this adventure...

We were running 3 passes each on both a wedding invitation and a response card. Only two colors, but the graphics and the type had very different printing characteristics. The type was fine-line; the graphics were bold. The plates were photo-polymer. Not a good combination. Nicole mixed the colors and we printed two passes of the same ink; got great coverage of the solid areas and kept the fine lined type open by using less ink and pressure. We did practice some "extreme makeready" to punch the couple's name deep into the card, but by kissing the paper for the fine small text, it was kept legible and attractive.

Nicole finishing the press runThe Pony Ink Fountain on
                  the C&PThe first color was a light yellow and ink coverage was light, so we added ink as needed by hand. But, to maintain ink color consistency during the four darker second-color runs, we installed our old C&P Pony ink fountain to meter out the ink precisely. It certainly was very helpful.

Nicole mixed the ink and set the plates, but both father & daughter took turns running the press and printing the cards - a total of 6 plate changes, and 6 passes of approx 150 impressions each. to yield a final count of 120 finished pieces. 

We were able to use the plate-mounting technique described in our reference section so that for all 6 passes, we needed to make only a few minor gauge pin adjustments. Otherwise, Nicole managed to perfectly align each plate right in the press as we moved from form to form.

Next, Nicole's husband wants to come and learn to set hand type. A day in the shop will be his birthday present....

Saturday, June 22

Daughaday Model Printing PressHad a phone call today from my friend Michael, whose wife Deborah had learned to use her 5x8 Kelsey here at the shop. He had a classic old press that needed a good home.  The owners wanted to hold on to it until they found a good home at a registered non-profit organization, but no "perfect home" had been found so far. But now it does have a good home - although technically temporary, it will be "on loan" to the Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop. We'll restore the press to function (no fancy new paint job, just a proper clean-up and repair) and will be "curating", displaying and, more importantly, using this press for the first time in perhaps 30-40-50 years.

The press is a 5x8 Daughaday Model #2 Table Top Platen Press. These presses were manufactured from 1874 through 1893 by Daughaday, who had been one of Kelsey's dealers in the early days, but he decided to compete with an improved model press. His press included an extra little bit of leverage - a knee-action that would lock straight out - like the "elbow" on an old horizontal platen press. This improvement was copied by Kelsey in the post 1900 models that persisted, pretty much unchanged, through 1993.

Daughaday produced this press for about 20 years, from 1874 until the company f A copy of this press was licensed to a British company

Daughaday's "How to Print" manual in .pdf

Our thanks to Michael & Deborah who made this happen, and to the owners who will be trusting this precious old functional antique press.

June 28, 2013
No work today; no visitors to the print shop. The Print Shop was closed and quiet, with only the barn cats wandering around the type cabinet & presses.... today was a "family day"...

The Garden at the HomesteadToday my wife Cathy & I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary (see invitation) with a pleasant day together followed by an early evening visit to the Indian Rock Inn - where we spent our wedding night ten years ago. Then we returned home to our own back yard - the nicest, quietest, most pleasant place we could find to spend a peaceful, quiet evening together, just sitting in the garden, enjoying the night sky & each other...

July 2014 -

Working on the Hammond again last night. I cut down blanks to make 7 more sets of 8x12 & 10x15 Roller Bearers to restock the inventory. These things are becoming popular as printers find out that "when all else fails, stick in some roller bearers" - to solve inking and image problems. Roller bearers make sure that your rollers roll, not slide across the form...

Wednesday, July 3
Josh Franklin Printing on the VandercookLauren is a documentary film maker from NYC. She saw "Kiss The Paper" at the NY Docs Film Festival (DOCNYC) in NYC last winter and met with Fiona & I after the showing. After seeing the film and visiting with us, she decided that her friend Josh - a graphic designer from Vermont - would enjoy spending his birthday at The Excelsior Press Museum Print Josh Setting Type
                for his own cardShop learning about letterpress printing.

And, boy, did he ever! Josh certainly "got a taste" of letterpress printing and got to see how it is done - and learned how to do it himself as well.

By the end of the afternoon, he'd gotten quite an introduction to hands-on letterpress printing and the equipment used to do it. He made prints from some of our old engravings on the Vandercook, then he and Lauren selected and set the type for his own new personal card, proofing the layout on the Vandercook until the fonts and spacing were just right. Once the design work was done, we inked up the Pearl with opaque white ink, locked up the form, set the gauge pins and packing and proceeded to and Josh proceeded to print his new cards on the Pearl - in Opaque White ink on darker card stocks. Josh
                Franklin Printing on the 5x8 PearlThey came out very nice...

And, as you might deduce from the photo to the right, these two kids really enjoyed themselves....

And I enjoyed having them here as well....

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, July 5,6,7
Antonia & I have done a few printing projects in the past, so we had already discussed  her interest in coming up here to see how it was done at the Excelsior Press and learn a few tricks from the old man. So. It became time to do it. Plans were made, flights were scheduled and Antonia & Juan flew up from Florida this weekend to do some printing and learn some new stuff. She has a Pilot, wanted some more complete instruction regarding its use, adjustments and maintenance and wanted to learn, as she put it "everything she could"...  With three days scheduled to work together, we'd expected to cover quite a bit of letterpress technology and technique. But she had also brought along the plates and paper for a wedding invitation she had designed, and we realized that doing six setups and six press runs would take some time, and it had to be done, so we started off with the invitation suite hoping to get it done quickly enough for some other stuff later on.

Antonia & Juan Printing on the
                    VandercookSunday night, wind-down....
And, wow. What a great three days it was. A bit stressful at times, since our focus became producing a wedding suite for a client and we wound up working late into the night. Two colors on an invitation - plus an envelope - printed on the Vandercook, Two colors, 2 sides for the response cards printed on the Pilot. Six press runs all in all. A last-minute design change - converting a landscape layout to portrait - was accomplished by cutting the photo-polymer plate into elements and literally laying out the form on the plate base - quite a feat, but totally practical and worth the time and effort.

Mixing "just the right shades" of brown and "only slightly off-white"  took some time as well but the colors worked marvelously together and the time and effort was again worth it.

In the end, the job was completed and damn, it looks good!  Eric and Pilar have some beautiful and unique wedding invitations.

Antonia Dmitrova Printing on the PilotHaving Juan and Antonia in the shop and working - one on the Vandercook, the other on the Pilot, printing cards, getting the job done - and making it look good - reminded me of the old active days of The Excelsior Press, when we ran two 8-hour shifts with three printers (& me) on each of them.  I love the peace and quiet of working alone in the shop, but all that activity can be fun once in a while as well.... Like maybe once or twice a month for a day or two...

Monday - Friday.  July 8-12
I think that ( I *hope* that) I'll be resting up after 4 almost consecutive days with visitors and projects. I'll spend a few days catching up with a making parts, shipping orders, email, bookkeeping, & chores at home. The orders keep coming, and keeping up is a challenge. Then at home, there's the constantly-growing 3 acres of lawn that needs to be cut often - now that I finally repaired those electrical problems and have gotten both Cub Cadets back into service...

And, there's some printing to do, too - and orders to ship - and a shop to straigten up and organize, and

Thursday & Friday, July 25 & 26
Antonia Dmitrova Printing on the PilotElizabeyta and Russell drove up from Houston with their grandson Gabriel on Thursday, and brought along their ailing 5x8 Kelsey for some evaluation, adjustment & repair - plus some training on how to use it to best effect. We had fun.

The press was indeed in need of some adjustment - and some new parts. And, it turned out that the "new" rollers that came with the press wouldn't take ink. Fortunately, we had a good set of our own on hand and swapped them out, leveled the platen, shimmed the ink disk, taped the trucks to get the roller height just right and did some printing.

Elizabeyta printing on Kelsey 5x8Elizabeyta printed some cards for her sister, and then some cards for her husband. There are more cards to print - and other projects as well, but now that they know all about their little press, they'll be able to do more printing at home. She had already taken a class elsewhere but very kindly said that she learned more here - from the old printer - than at the museum with the somewhat less experienced docent/instructor.

Antonia Dmitrova Printing on the PilotIt was a busy two days and little Gabriel felt very comfortable in the shop - so comfortable that he decided to lie down on the rug and take a nap...

And then, just as they were leaving to head back towards Houston, I mentioned that I had a cousin and a nephew who lived in the area. My nephew Todd is a carver who had maintained a space at the "Ren Fair" Renaissance Festival north of Houston.  When I mentioned "Todd the Carver" and "Todd and Dolly", they looked at each other and exclaimed "We know Todd and Dolly!" Wow. Small world. Half a continent away, and they knew my nephew... Now they know two of the Runfeldt craftsmen...  Yes. It is a small world indeed.

Jack The Ripper In AmericaSaturday, August 10, 2013 - I finally found an online reference - and in fact the actual video clip that was filmed by a British film crew at the Excelsior Press four years ago. The clip filmed in the shop begins at 42 seconds into the promo clip and shows the headline "JACK the RIPPER IN AMERICA" being printed on the Vandercook Model 17. Interesting technical note: The clip shows the second line turn to red as the press stops. I printed the headline in black. I believe they added the red text post-production.

(see 2009 blog post) See Video Clip at 
JACK the RIPPER IN AMERICA  at Fulcrum TV, Britain or on Youtube

Sunday, August 11 - Joseph - Post Cards on WindmillFrom Philly with Love -by Joseph

Joseph has been busy printing a lot of things on his 10x15 C&P, but when it was time to print yet another few hundred of his popular "From Philly with Love" two-color chipboard post cards, he opted instead to bring the plates and stocks to the shop and watch me run them on the Windmill.

We made some really neat post cards and he got some great video, btw....

From Philly with Love -by Joseph
August 14 - Jason - Prints Keepsakes on Vandercook
Jason had a job that was a bit large for his Pilot - an 8x10 image to be printed by letterpress on a super high-quality soft paper. He brought the plate and the paper and we had a good afternoon doing some "assisted printing" (he works, I watch) on The Vandercook.

BTW - We have also finally identified our nifty Bucking Bronco print that can be seen on the wall behind him. According to our friend Mark, the name on the corner appears to be the signature of western artist Randy Steffens.

This is printed from an engraving we found in a box of junk that came with a press we picked up a few years ago. the engraving base was split and in pieces; the engraving plate itself was loosened from the base and bent a bit. We decided to restore it to make it usable and and see what printed. Boy, were we surprised! The Bucking Bronco has become arguably the most popular print taken home by our visitors..

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cast Iron Foundry - parts for presses
I made a two-hour trek today to a farm down in Amish country - near Lancaster, Pa - to meet a man I've been looking forward to meeting for years. Emmanuel King runs a cast-iron foundry on the family farm there. It was begun by his father who needed replacement parts for old tractors. Since then, they have become well-known among the antique tractor crowd and soon will be casting replacement parts for old printing presses as well. I brought along a few complete presses to show him the end results of our restoration work, as well as a fully disassembled 5x8 Kelsey and ink disks for Sigwalts and Craftsmnen and a Pearl. Yes. He can cast them all. Once the raw blanks are cast, we will have to machine them make finished parts that will be used to restore presses both here at the museum as well as in home shops and garage workshops and print shops around the country. This is part of a project I have been focused on for years. But sometimes things work slowly - as has this. But the good news is that it is moving ahead and we do have real plans and arrangements and agreements in place.

When we actually have parts available to sell, we will let the world know via the internet - here, on Briar Press, Letpress List, etc. It will still be months, but the work is in process.

Quaker City Type Foundry - Type. New Type! @@@ signs & spacingType
                        being cast at Quaker City Type Foundry

While in the area, we also stopped by Quaker City Type Foundry in Honey Brook, PA. Quaker City Type Foundry is one of the last remaining commercial type foundries still in existance. In fact, QCT may well be the only full-time commerical type foundry that outlasted ATF and everyone else. QCT was being founded in 1922 by Bill Reiss' grandfather, and has operated continuously since then - first by Bill's grandfather, then Bill's father, and now Bill.

And he is casting type. On the day I stopped by, there was 24-point Goudy sitting in the delivery tray coming out of the Thompson. He hadn't fired up the Thompson for the day when I stopped by, but there was beautiful new type in the delivery of the Thompson caster and he'd continue casting the Goudy when he turned the heater on again.

Type shelves at Quaker City Type
Bill gave me a tour and we discussed type and type casting and lead, tin & antimony and all that fun stuff, and then he took me into his office/stockroom where I saw something I  had not seen since I was a boy at Globe Printers Supply in Newark New Jersey sometime around 1966 or so. I saw shelves and shelves of brand new fonts of hand type. Some Thompson-cast at QCT, some old new stock of unused ATF fonts he had picked up over the years. If you need some ATF Lydian, Spartan or Century Bold, Call Bill. He may have it. 

I also picked up some fonts of spacing as well as some handy boxes selections - specifically the "@" signs folks have been asking about. Now we have them - "@"  signs in 6, 8, 10 & 12pt.

Mom - March 20, 1925 - September 5, 2013

Mom on Ted's tractor
After a wonderful day with some great people I'd been looking forward to meeting for years, I came home to the saddest news a son can receive. It began with that dreaded phone call from my brother and ended with a quick flight to Michigan to be with the family...

Needless to say, the shop will be closed for a while.....

Geraldine McDowell Runfeldt. 1925-2013.

Happy as can be, driving Ted's tractor last summer...
Mom lived life to the fullest and found
something precious and good in each day.

September 10, 2013Gillian Pokalo Art Show

Back in January, I spent two days with Gillian Pokalo, demonstrating letterpress printing to a wonderful group of kids who were very eager to pull the handle and print a card on the Golding Official and see the model of the wooden press like Ben Franklin used.

The older students even got to set type and lay in old cuts to design their own piece. The younger kids got to print a copy on the little Vandercook 99 Galley Proof Press.

It was a fun time.

But now it's Gillian's time to shine with a big event of her own:

(click on the image for full-sized version) --->>

Donna and her restored "to like
                          new" 5x8 Kelsey ExcelsiorSunday, October 13

Donna Globus came back to pick up the press she left with us a few months ago.

She had picked it up from a New York artist quite a few years ago, but had never used it. It was rusty and needed some attention, and she decided that we wanted it to look like new - as it came from the Kelsey Company in February of 1949. She knew that we could do that, so we did a complete factory restoration - tore it down to its component parts, sand blasted, primed, and painted with the boring - but original Kelsey Gray paint. A few new shafts, new grippers, and our new 5x8 gripper spring - made from a 20mm stainless steel bicycle spoke. Yes. It works perfectly!

Then, we leveled the platen using the same Kelsey Platen Leveling Gauges that the Kelsey Company used when this press was first made in February of 1949. These were given to us a few years ago by Gene Mosher, the last owner of the Kelsey Company.

Interesting, her old rollers were usable - for now, but we are casting a new set of our 20-durometore Reo-Flex soft rollers that will be great for type, lino blocks, new or old engravings, and - when set to the perfect height - photo polymer plates.

See the animation of the press putting itself back together after all parts were sandblasted and primed, then painted in the color we refer to as "Kelsey Gray"

Thursday, October 31

Logo of Aardvark LetterpressLetterpress on NPR!
- I just heard a short piece on NPR's Marketplace Money broadcast. They're doing a series on "Disappearing jobs" This one is entitled "Letterpress Operator". Actually, they're about 30 years late for that one, since the trade had been in decline for the past fifty years or so, and was pretty much extinct until the internet came along and allowed us to keep in touch - and be found by customers - via our web sites and email lists... I think this one should be in the "resurging crafts" category instead, since I think it's fair to say that more folks are getting into letterpress printing these days than are leaving it for some other trade. In any case, here's a link to their short audio presentation as well as a video shot at Aardvark Letterpress in Los Angeles, California - Guy Rysdall visits Aardvark Letterpress

November  -  Where did the month go? So much happened; lots of printing, work on the land where we'll be building our new restoration workshop, winterizing the garage - so many projects. But sorry, there was no time for blogging...
But while I was tied up running some large jobs on the Heidelberg, Jason continued to work on his Pilot. It's pretty well cleaned up now and soon it will be time to ink it up and do some printing. I'll post photos when I can.  Sorry, no time to update and reorganize the web site this month either...

December 2, 2013

Bob and the 6x9 ASigwalt Platen PressBob drove all the way out from Long Island to this open farmland on the western edge of Hunterdon County to bring his family's last two presses to us today.  His family had a printing business when he was a boy - with larger press, of course than these two. Seeing our 10x15 C&P in operation brought back some memories for him of his father's shop. He had fun taking photos of all the presses and cabinets and laughed at the clutter "just like our shop"...

Ther little Kelsey 3x5 and the larger and far less common Sigwalt 6x9, (Sigwalt No. 5)  were the two presses he used himself when he was a boy - about the same time I was doing the same thing myself. A number of the presses in our collection came from printers who had used the presses themselves when they were young. Our little "working museum"  is kind of like a retirement home for old printing presses, I suppose...

And these two presses have found a good home. The 3x5 Kelsey will be fully restored to better than new condition (along with the other 8-10 currently in the shop) and sold to some new printer who wants a small, but usable - and ever-so-portable press for small cards and such.

Once fully restored, this Sigwalt would go up against any Golding or Pilot as an excellent and quite capable press for all sorts of work. However, since it's the only large Sigwalt we have, and it has a good story, it's going into the permanent collection and it's not likely that it will be for sale.... But it will be put to good use.

So much for "business" vs "private museum", eh? But this press will be restored to operation and will also serve well as a source of patterns for parts needed by other Sigwalt owners. For example, it came with a good chase. We will soon be able to duplicate that chase - or that ink disk, make new grippers, etc. to help other Sigwalt owners get the most out of their presses. We'll also be casting some of our new 20-durmeter "soft and sticky" rubber ink rollers for it. Of course it will take some effort to remove the rust and restore the finish on this old press, but we're doing a lot of that these days, so it's just so much more routine - but enjoyable - work to us... Bob was happy to have found a good new home for these old friends. He left content that they are in the right place and will both restored to their former glory. We have promised him photos..

December 28, 2013

A New Book About George Clymer's Classic Columbian Press

Georege Clumer's Columbian Printing
                Press circa 181`4Although best known for - and recognized by it's ornate ornamentation, the Clymer Columbian was actually designed for the very practical purpose of printing a full sheet newspaper in one impression, something difficult to do using the (Wooden) American Common Presses popular at the time.

Our Friend, Platen Press Expert  Bob Oldham and Patrick Goossens will be printing a new book about the Columbian and its inventor, as well as Bob's world-wide census of Columbians for the 200th anniversary of this press' invention in Philadelpia.

The book will include a biographical summary about George Clymer, some new information about the development of the Columbian, and a report on the world-wide census results. We also plan to include a census listing of recorded presses and a reprinting of the first Testimonials issued by Clymer when he introduced the press in England in 1818.

The book will be printed by hand on Patrick's Clymer Columbian No. 375, made in 1828, from Monotype Baskerville types, on Zerkall mould-made paper.

Bob and Patrick are seeking funding help for this project. Contributions can be made at (see the page above for details of the project and "perks" available for contributors, and how to contribute). They welcome your support for this important addition to knowledge about one of the most important developments in the history of printing technology.

We just chipped in to support this project, and hope that you will, too.
- Alan

December 29

Old Style Kelsey 5x8 Roller Hooks
- they are different

A new customer recently spent over $125 and four weeks - working with two different suppliers before she found us - trying to find the correct roller hook for her old style 5x8 Kelsey. Her press looks like the more common models we see all of the time, but it is older, and there are important differences. - Differences that many people are not aware of...

This press has a patent date of 1893, and can be identified by the 4 very large flat head screws used to level the platen. It also has an extremely large hammer to drive the ink disk rotation - larger than the ones shown on our Ink Disk discussion.The chase bed is cast with wedges where newer models have pins or set screws to set the bottom position of the chase as it fits in. This chase bed is also about 6 points wider than the one used on newer models, although they are interchangeable. But the old style chase will not fit in the new style chase bed. It's just too tight. Newer chases fit into the older chase bed, so that's no problem.

Otherwise, it looks a lot like the Model N,O,P,U Models we see more frequently these days.  But the new style roller hooks are made of 1/4" round rod; the holes in the roller saddle of this "1893 model" are drilled for 5/16". 1/4" roller hooks might work, but would be undersized for this press' saddle. It needs 5/16" hooks - same as the larger 6x10 presses.

5x8 Kelsey Old Style
                        Roller Hook Patent date 1893

But these 5/16" 5x8 Roller hooks are not generally available. We have some, we may make some, but most folks making hooks these days make the 1/4" hooks made for the later model 5x8's. These older style hooks are not much in demand, and are much harder to fabricate than the simple round 1/4" hooks. These hooks appear to have been forged, flattened and shaped using heat. The newer style can be easily made using readily available steel rod and a simple rod bender.

The roller hooks used for this older model are made of 5/16", not 1/4" steel rod. But on this model, the hook stock was heated and flattened before being bent into position. In addition, the hooks were drilled to allow small  pins to be inserted to keep the roller shafts within the hook.

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