Monday, 11 February 2008

Letterpress: Evolution

Above: my 1902 Chandler & Price Old Style 8x12 letterpress "in the wild" in a little town outside Yakima, Washington, when I bought it on April 28 last year. Even before it got outside (it was only in the elements for about a week) it had accumulated a substantial coat of dirt, oil and grime, and was showing its age.

Ten months and 4000-odd miles later, the letterpress emerges from climate-controlled storage and undergoes the "Dad treatment". My dad used 'down time' during his visit from Australia to whip the press into shape: new motor, new pulley, new belt, gear rebuild, comprehensive oiling, and more cleaning than it had probably seen in decades. The photo above shows it without its upper feed table (which tends to obscure some of the work). The photo below shows what it looked like before Dad came along.

See? It was a bit scary. And deeply dirty.

The picture below shows the press after Nathan's Dad got going on it last week. Among other things, he cleaned and shined the ink disk, fitted a kill switch (which my Dad lamented not having time to do before he left) and attached the upper feed table after a minor repair.

You'll notice two of the three rollers are missing in the photo above. The previous owner had apparently been getting by on two rollers, but I've ordered three new vinylith rollers from NA Graphics in Colorado, along with trucks, California wash, tympan and packing.

Above: another "before" photo, showing years of accumulated grime.

Now that's better... lots of olive oil, fine-grade steel wool, 3-in-1, marine grease, compressed air, fine-grade sandpaper, kerosene, WD-40, and two Dads later – I have a letterpress to be proud of.

I still need to order grippers (just last week I realised they were missing, not just packed elsewhere) and a new bail to replace one that looks like it broke off years ago... but I'm getting scarily close to having no excuses not to use this monster! It's exciting and daunting.

But mostly exciting.



  1. You're making me green with envy! Gorgeous machine.

  2. I read the other parts to your "letterpress saga." I can't believe you got it off of the moving truck in one piece. It took guts and ingenuity for sure.

  3. I'm in love with this machine. I've been having a gear fascination lately.

  4. Had to come see the transformation. It looks spectacular. I want a letterpress now, and I don't even need one.

  5. Wow, that is so cool! Can't wait to see the creations that come out of it.

  6. Wow, that's amazing! Please keep documenting the process ;]

  7. Ok, I don't know anything about printing, but I love your work, and the difference in that machine is amazing. Wow.

    And as far as Sunday's post, I feel your pain. I gained 55 with the first, and 60 with the second. Oops.

  8. Good luck with the new press! We also just got done restoring an 8x12 C&P OS we got 2 months ago. All thats left for our press is to get the trucks and we'll be ready to print!

    You should check out american printing supply ( who sells rollers and other press equipment cheaper than NA graphics. It also works for us because we're on the east coast so we get our packages in 1-2 days.

    Happy Printing!
    Evan (

  9. Cool old machines!Very nice blog!

  10. Have fun printing with that baby! Can't wait to see the results :)

    Oh & your Dad sounds awesome.

  11. That's a spectacular machine, impressive! I would love to see how you work with it, very interesting!

  12. Seeing how beautiful your C&P almost (almost) makes me regret selling my C&P this week. Have fun with it!