Excelsior Press Collection

                            with two of his restored presses
Louis Colavecchio
My Friend the Counterfeiter/Press Restorer
& much more...
"Louie The Coin"

  May he rest in piece


My friend Louis has passed away - at 78, after recently being released from prison (again) for Counterfeiting. Ah, my friend Louis - aka "Louie The Coin"... a truly original character in my life....

We first met via eBay, where he was selling his restored Kelsey presses. I was tied up with my brother on a large programming project for ATT Worldnet and I didn't have the time to do press restorations and I had nothing ready to ship - and the inquiries kept coming in, so when I saw the presses he was selling, I began to pass on the inquiries to him. We finally met in person two years later, when he really opened my eyes to just who it was I was dealing with. He told me his story, showed me newspaper articles about his adventures and we hit it off nicely.

Lou was a gifted mechanical engineer - no degree, just the skills. His father had been a caster of jewelry "findings" - the pieces that the gems would be mounted in. He learned the trade early on.

Lou had recently gotten out of federal prison for having faithfully (& of course, with no authorization) reproduced the tokens used in slot machines in Atlantic City and Las Vegas - millions of dollars' worth.

That's when he earned the nickname "Louie the Coin" - and he wore it proudly. Of course, his counterfeit coins were so good that in the end, he began being hired by the FBI & the casinos to spot other, less perfect counterfeits. The FBI agent who finally tracked him down joined him in public presentations about counterfeiting. He was indeed, the expert...

In fact, he even made it into Wikipedia:

Louis was featured in the series "Breaking Vegas" - he was the guy who counterfeited their tokens - and got away with it for quite a while before they caught up with him . Quite the story.

He even did a materials assessment of legitimate tokens to make sure that the metal he used was exactly the same composition as the metal used in the legit coins. He was good...

Going Legit - he almost made it...

After he got out of prison, and since he was intensely mechanically inclined, a friend asked him to restore her little Kelsey press for her. After he figured out that restoring presses was a legitimate means of earning some easy income, he began doing more. He began picking up old presses cheap, restoring them very nicely and selling them on eBay, which is where I found him.

Some of the presses Lou restored.

Things went well between Louis & I.

I knew the presses and how to set them up and use them, and Louis was a mechanic & machinist who did a good job with these little presses. He did a complete dis-assembly and essentially re-manufactured the presses he sold.  But Louis was not a printer - and didn't really know how to level a platen (until I taught him) or fully set up and test-out a press. He never printed. He would send his customers down to my shop here in NJ where I would set up their presses - and teach them how to use them - often at no cost to them.

It went well - most of the time. But Louis was more focused on cash flow - getting paid for his work than on developing and nurturing a long-term relationship with his customers - as I was. We disagreed often on how to treat the customers and, in fact, he earned a very negative reputation among the letterpress community. Don't get me wrong - most customers were 100% satisfied with their presses and quite pleased with their dealings with Louis - but not all.


There were some pretty nasty comments about Louis on Briar Press Forums and when I added my comments - generally in support of Louis, I was heavily chastised as a crook myself - and his partner - which I never was. I never earned a cent from Louis - although we did some business, he's the one who earned money from it. I did send him many parts over the years, but we bartered most of the time. Little cash passed between us - although i did buy some presses and parts from him. But, still in his defense, I dealt with some of his customers and I must say that they were not all good to deal with.

When someone on Briar Press discovered his nickname - "Louie the Coin" and learned of his counterfeiting work, all hell broke loose online and the mob attacked him. Mostly they were ignorant people, saying ignorant things, but there were, I must admit some legitimate complaints. And, although I generally offered to fix any problems buyers encountered with Lou's presses, no one ever took me up on the offer - even though I offered to fix their presses for free.


When Lou realized the value of the 6 1/2 x10 Chandler & Price Pilot - $2500-3500 vs a restored Kelsey which would sell for $1250-1500 or so, he became interested in them and shifted his focus to the more profitable presses. He would still do Kelseys - because they were easy, but he began doing more Pilots because they paid so much more. And when he found a lot of 6 of them, he scarfed them up and went to work. He must have done dozens of Pilots over the years - and many dozens of Kelseys, Victors, etc.

He had already been casting replacement parts for the Kelseys - but only for the presses he restored. He felt that making parts for resale was too fraught with compications and would cut into his own sales of restored presses. Kelsey replacement parts often need "fitting" to use on old presses and would only lead to problems. I kept pushing him to make parts for all of those presses that were missing chases, chase-beds, ink disks, etc., but he avoided doing so.

In fact, it was one sale to a gentleman in Texas - of a press lacking a chase - that lead me to develop the Excelsior Chase Base for photo-polymer plates. The customer needed a chase and wanted a base for mounting photo polymer plates, so I made the first Excelsior Chase-Base which filled both needs with one piece. The ECB became quite popular and I have made many of them over the years - for all sizes of presses. And I still do - when I have the time...

So then, while discussing Pilots one day - and the value they had in the current market, I suggested that he cast all of the parts for a Pilot and make them new - but not at the 6 1/2 x 10 size that had been the standard since Henry Thorpe began making them in 1888. I suggested a 7x11 chase size to make them competitive with the even more popular Golding Pearl #11.

So, The Excelsior Pilot was born.

Over the next few years, I financed the R&D - with some Pilots I had, a Victor which he restored and resold -and many, many other press parts that he needed for a variety of restorations. I helped with expenses, Lou did all of the work. We knew the presses; we knew the weak points and we both knew how to make presses.

The result was a complete set of resin patterns to manufacture the first new platen press in over fifty years - The Excelsior Pilot. Lou had adopted the business name Excelsior Press Company - which caused a lot of confusion with my business - The Excelsior Press, but he had the right to the name. The Kelsey Company, which had manufactured the Kelsey Excelsior for about 100 years, had closed its doors in the 1990's, so there was no patent infringement or other conflicts.

Besides, the Excelsior Pilot was a new press. It is based upon H. Thorpe's original "Standard Press" design of 1888 - and later popularized as the Chandler & Price Pilot after Thorpe sold the rights to Chandler & Price, but, unlike the Pilot clones made in the past by American Printing Equipment, Craftsmen Machinery and others, this press was all new.

The common-failing parts were strengthened, the chase is larger and, although it looks like and would be mistaken for a Pilot, it was a new press.

One was made. Only one press. And it sold for less than the cost of manufacture. Of course, at this time, Lou did not have his own machine shop or foundry, so he paid to have the parts cast, then paid to have the machining done. Between those two outside expenses, the cost exceeded the selling price.

It was a bust.

So, Lou decided to sell the patterns to someone who was willing to try and make a go of it. The patterns were assembled into a functional model and he offered it for sale on Briar Press. But those idiots on the forum saw only a "plastic printing press" and disparaged it and his efforts.

So I bought it. Now I have the functional model of the Excelsior Pilot among our collection at the Excelsior Press Museum. At the time I took it, I still had plans to assemble myown machine shop to mill the pieces as they came from the foundry. That never happened due to some major health issues - and my own advancing age, it may not come to pass.

But, if someone is interested, equipped and prepared to manufacture a new table top platen press, the casting patterns are here. Hopefully, they will be used some day....

- Alan Runfeldt 7/17/2020



Lou & I had been out of contact for a few years, but there is more to his story.

He told me that he had stopped restoring presses - and he sold me his parts and some of his tools and was going to "retire" He had developed Epstein-Barre Syndrome and could no longer do the work. I figured that Lou had finally retired - but he hadn't...

He should have stayed with printing presses, but he got into it again - and went back to prison for counterfeiting - again -

He did, strangely enough (even as a convicted felon) manage to get a Rhode Island State license to grow medical marijuana - and, as usual, did a really good job at that. He was so successful that he grew more than he was authorized to and was "busted". But during his trial, the judge decided that the only thing he was really guilty of was "having a green thumb" and growing more than he was authorized to.

So the let him off... (or so he told me..)

But there is more....

Unbeknownst to me, Lou had gotten back into counterfeiting during our time apart - $100 bills this time - and he got caught - and went to prison again. That's where he was as his health deteriorated further.

Funny thing - the presses we restored together were table top platen presses - in no way capable of counterfeiting money. He must have gotten an engraving press or - easier - an offset press. But Louis was no printer. Coins were stamped; I could see him doing that, but printing? That surprised me. I'll bet he was actually engraving - like the Feds do. Most counterfeiters try using offset presses - and that's how they get caught. I wonder how he did it?

I know nothing about his counterfeiting operation - it all began long after we had parted company, but apparently, he was not as successful as in similar ventures in the past. I only learned of it while reading his obituary online. But he got busted and went back to prison for another year or so... then came home to hospice and passed away...

Another recent article about Lou - by Katie Mulvane of the Providence Journal ..

He published a book about his adventures -


Please contact Alan Runfeldt with other questions


page last updated July, 2019