Wooden Common Press
Dressing Notes for the 1850

Newspaper Printing Office
with historical accuracy

Printing Press(s) ~ Stone Table ~ Proof Press ~ Bindery Cart ~ Type Cabinet ~ Suggested Layout ~ Other Items
*note all items are functional and usable for printing and are period accurate - circa 1860

The old
                              Print Shop

Typesetter, Pressman and Inker at work printing a book.

They could just as well be printing a newspaper, but the sheets drying on the rails are 4-page signatures that would be gathered, folded, stitched and bound into a book.
The inker is using "ink balls" which would may have been replaced by an ink roller by 1859.
We have supplied both ink balls and an ink roller ("brayer")

First of all, with the exception of the press itself and the "faux stone" made as a prop, everything else is approx. 100 years old and has a history of its own. These are museum pieces. The press was made at The Excelsior Press Museum Restoration Facility in 2014 and is based up from plans produced by press restoration experts at the Smithsonian Institute. It is an accurate representation of an 1840's Wooden Common Press.
Below are photos of the equipment we have supplied, with notes about each.

The Wooden Common
                                    Press & Stone TableThe Wooden Common Press

Wooden Common Press:  30x60x80" *
Press Platform:       39x75x4"
Estimated weight:     500 pounds

* 84" when mounted on its platform as shown

This press is mounted on a 6-wheel mobile platform and moves easily across a smooth surface. We have supplied small steel wheel chocks that can be used to immobilize the press and platform once it is in position.

On one side of the press are three sets of pegs. The ink balls and ink brayer can be placed in these pegs - or on the stone table.

One of the shop aprons is intended to hang from the small iron hook on the operator's side.

The press can sit open or closed. It travels in the closed "impression" position, but can be cranked out to the end of the bed using the "Rounce" (round handle on the operator's side.) When the tympan is clear of the platen, it can be raised and laid against the "stay" (aka back stop)

Except for the steel screw, this press is all wood, fitted using mortise & tenon and wooden pegs.

Since it is made of west-coast fir instead of oak and elm or mahogany, and lacks the 200# stone bed, it is relatively light - perhaps 500-600 pounds by estimate. It moves quite easily on its platform. The same press made of hard woods and containing a 200 pound stone bed, would weigh closer to 800-1000 pounds.

Stone-topped Make-up TableStone Table

Stone Table  27x63" - 100 pounds
MDF Faux "Stone"  24x36" - 30 pounds 
Furniture Cabinet 9x12x28h" (approx.) 25-30 pounds
This table is known as "The Stone" due to the heavy 2"x24"x36" smooth granite slab that normally sits on top of it. Stone Table TopIn this case, the stone is a faux-stone, made of laminated mdf and weighs far less than a true stone. The table frame is open. The stone sits on the left side. A small platform is fitted to the right side. The furniture cabinet sits on top. It is filled with 200+ precisely cut pieces of spacing that will likely fall out it it is moved after being unwrapped.

Stone-topped Make-up
                                        TableThe Stone can also be used as an Ink Table, since once the form is made up and in the press, it is no longer needed until the printing job is done. Meanwhile, it serves as an excellent smooth surface for mixing ink and maintaining a supply for inking the form.

The Proof Press
C&P Galley Proof Press         24x35" 300 lbs (est.)
The Galley Proof Press consists of two pieces; the base and the impression roller. The roller weighs 30-40 pounds and must be placed on a narrow ledge between the rails of the bed. Best way to do this is to roll it on from one end. Removal is the same; roll it to the end, then roll it off as you hold the handles and take the weight.

It is best to move the two pieces separately.

The ink brayer can rest on the proof press.
Galley Proof Press

Antique Bindery CartBindery Cart

Bindery Cart         21x27"
50 pounds (est)

Antique Bindery CartThe Bindery Cart would be used to move paper around the shop. The shelves are sloped slightly to the rear to prevent tall stacks of paper from falling over while the cart is being moved from the press room to the bindery. Antique Bindery Cart Shelf

It can also be used to bring blank sheets to the press for printing. We made a proper, historically accurate new shelf for this old cart.

Type Case Stand (aka Type Cabinet)

Type Cabinet         28x36" - 25 pounds
15 type cases - stacked 25x32x20" high - 150 pounds

The Type Case Stand
(aka type rack or type cabinet)  holds ten - fifteen drawers of hand-set foundry type - letters - lots and lots of letters. The Typesetter picks letters out of the cases and assembles them into rows and columns of type for printing.

The Compositor at WorkWhen filled with cases, the one case that contains letters goes on top. The others are empty and slide into the rails below.

The composing stick sits on top - in the spacing case - as shown in the photo.

The proof press can be placed right next to the type cabinet. The compositor would set the type, print a proof on this press, then move to his left to lock up the form on the stone and then place the corrected form in the big press.

                                    Open Frame City Stand Type Case

Type rack & Proof Press

Suggested Layout for Historically Accurate Representation of a small printing office circa 1859

In this layout, the TYPESETTER would move only left and right - from the type cabinet to the proof press, then on to the stone to lock up the form, then back to his type cases without interfering with the printers.

The INKER would stand where he is and move to the left to get ink, then apply it to the form from where he is. The PRESSMAN would stand where he is, crank the bed in and out and pull the lever, then crank the bed out and open the frisket - all without moving much at all. The FEEDER would take blank sheets from the Bindery Cart (or a table), and insert them into the tympan. The pressman would close the frisket, crank the bed under the platen and continue... One printer could do 50-100 pieces per hour. With three printers, output could be more than doubled.

Print Shop Layout
Complete List of  Items:
  1. 1 Full Scale, Wooden Common Press (similar to one that would have been made by Adam Ramage in 1840) - with chase
  2. 1 Stone Makeup Table with with 24x36x2" faux-granite stone surface
  3. 1 Furniture Cabinet (shelves) with wood spacing material
  4. 1 Galley Proof Press on Stand ("made by" Hoe circa 1840)
  5. 1 Bindery Cart
  6. 1 Type Cabinet
  7. 1 type case with type
  8. 11 type cases - empty
  9. 1 Old-style Composing Stick
  10. miscellaneous "stack" of wood-mounted metal engravings
  11. 1 large ink brayer (ink roller)
  12. 1 container of black ink (Van Son Rubber Base 10850 - old style can; no label)
  13. 1 ink knife
  14. 5 sheets press tympan paper
  15. 5 sheets soft packing
  16. 50 sheets 17x22 bond
  17. 50 sheets 11x17 70# offset
  18. 2 printers' shop aprons
  19. selection of wooden quoins & wooden shooting stick
  20. 1 wood mallet
  21. 1 leveling planing block
  22. Hemp Cord for paper drying line.
  23. ...tbd...

Please contact Alan Runfeldt with other questions 

page last updated November, 2019