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…
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 http://alignment2012.com/OakRootPress.html