When John Jenkins met the Campbell...

This is the second of a series of blogs by John Major Jenkins about the finding and restoration of disappearing presses.  We are reprinting them in his memory and in honor of all the work he did keeping presses alive.  He generously left this Campbell Press to the Depot. See a short obituary on news and notes.

I have returned to the long journey of restoring, or resurrecting, a beautiful piece of antique printing machinery, the Campbell “Century Pony” flatbed cylinder press. It is a two-revolution press which, unlike the larger “drum cylinder” presses, uses a smaller cylinder that makes two revolutions for each impression on the horizontal bed that moves back and forth underneath. On the bed’s return under the cylinder, impression is avoided by a slight upward movement of the cylinder. 

The Campbell Century Pony presses were a great success and were made between 1895 and 1906, being developed out of Campbell’s earlier “Economic” model. My Campbell came with a counter that was dated 1897. This could be a good clue as to its production year. Moreover, during the life-span of a press’s production the number produced is usually weighted toward the beginning. (Yearly production numbers usually tailed off sharply in the final years.) The “Century” was marketed to the approaching new century, and most of the advertisements are seen in the mid-to-late 90s. For example, a picture in an article of 1896 depicts my press very accurately (From Printer’s Ink, Vol. 18):

Campbell 1.jpg

The article states that the press weighs over 8600 pounds and is valued at $1600 – a pretty penny back then! One online source states that the average wage earner in 1890 made $1.53 a day and worked 279 days a year, thus making about $480 for the year. The Campbell was thus 3.33 years of wages for the average worker of the time. A low wage today ($10 / hr), at 5 days a week for 52 weeks gets you about $20,800 for the year. We might say that the Campbell would be valued at $70,000 in today’s dollars.  It’s a high-end “19th century flatbed cylinder press” in design and spirit, which was a major purchase for any upstart printer that took decades of hard work to pay off.  One question lingered for me: where was it born? 

Where the Campbell Was Built

A little research reveals that the Campbell Printing Press and Manufacturing Company originally built its own presses in Brooklyn but in 1879 the patent owners contracted with Mason Machine Works in Taunton, Massachusetts, to build the presses. It was a windfall for that company, and they expanded their operations. By 1893 some 950 people were employed.

campbell 2.jpg

A 1904 article in the Iron Age, Vol. 74, proves that Mason Machine works was still building the presses in 1904. Consequently, it’s almost completely certain that my Campbell was forged and built in this facility in Taunton, Massachusetts:

Campbell 3.jpg

This is from an 1899 publication of the company. Shipping of presses west probably routed through Illinois. More research in Leadville might uncover its arrival and presence there. I wonder how and when my Campbell press made it to Colorado. There are several scenarios. It may have shipped new to the printing operation in Leadville, sometime between 1895 and 1906. It may have begun its work in some other town, and was purchased used at some later date. It went from Leadville to Arvada in the 1970s, where Mr Stoddardt used it to print posters for Lakeside Amusement Park. It supposedly hadn’t been run for 20 years by the time I heard of it in 2010. It was moved to my shop in Fort Collins in March, 2011.  Two weeks ago I inked up the press and flawlessly hand fed 100 newsprint sheets for a letterpress poster through the press. It took one minute, running at 1200 impressions per hour.

Again, thanks to John for all his support and friendship. We miss him.



Heavy metal met its match in John Jenkins

The following is the first of a series of blogs by John Major Jenkins about the finding and restoration of disappearing presses. We are reprinting them in his memory and in honor of all the work he did keeping presses alive. See a short obituary at News & Notes.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, these big cylinder printing presses cranked out newspapers in towns and cities across the country. They weighed several tons and once in place, they were bound to stay there until it was time to haul them away to the scrap yard. Today, there are only a few of these presses surviving. Even if the desire to save a big old press exists among letterpress enthusiasts, the expense and difficulty of moving it all too often ends up with the same result — off to the scrap yard it goes. This was sadly the case just recently, when two flatbed Miehle presses from Globe Printing in Baltimore could not be saved.

The legacy of printing in America — which paralleled the rise of industry and steel manufacturing, followed by the Detroit car-making boom — is fast becoming a fading echo, a legend of when America produced lasting things of quality. It’s a testimony to solid engineering, design, and attention to quality, that many of the old Chandler & Price platen presses are still around today. They’re lighter than the big cylinder machines, and because of that many of those are still to be found in hobby shops. But a big four-ton beast like the Campbell newspaper press? What are the chances of one of these 19th-century Goliaths making it into the 21st century? Well, not very good. When I heard of one in a garage near Denver, I had to investigate…

Before restoration

Before restoration

The Campbell Printing & Manufacturing Company produced presses as far back as the 1880s. Its “Century Pony” press came in three sizes. The one I found is the smallest, with a printing area of 22” x 34”. Advertised as a “book press” capable of consistent registration over long runs, it could also be used to print the standard newspaper sheet. The Century Pony presses were made between 1894 and 1905, with the bulk of production on the front end of that timeline. The design is related to the Campbell Country Cylinder press of the 1880s, which was hand cranked. No serial numbers can be found on the press for precise dating, but I estimate that it could date to around 1897-1900, because I found an old counter in a box with a patent date of 1897. Production always trailed off toward the end of a model’s lifespan, so very few presses were probably made after 1900. After all, it was promoted as the “Century” press, a turn-of-the-century wonder. In any case, the model was designed in the 19th century.

And so it came to pass. With the help of my friend Don Hildred, we moved the press from Arvada to my shop in Fort Collins in March of 2011. It was a tight squeeze getting it situated in my shop, Oak Root Press. Working on various issues, such as finding a new motor, it took over a year to get it running and do some test prints. I was told that, in the 1980s, it was used to print posters for the Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver. It is the highlight of any visit to my shop, and was featured in a “Forgotten Fort Collins” article in 2013. I know of only two other Campbell Century Pony presses in the United States, and both of those are non-operating, and one of them is soon to be scrapped. I have printed large format posters and news-sheet tests, and plan on producing a one-sheet newspaper called The Poudre Valley Letterpress Times.

Want to know more? Go to