After the 1830s, the growth of the postal service and the expansion of commerce led to growth in demand for small, printed articles. The Jobbing Platen met this need for the printer: being quicker than the earlier hand presses; and more suited to small work than cylinder presses. It’s tempting to think that the platen press simply appeared — fully formed — but there were many small advances that made that style of press possible. Daniel Treadwell, an American, sought an 1818 patent to protect his design for a modified hand press that used foot power (like a treadle) to deliver the impression. He transferred the invention to England and the firm of Baisler and Napier made the machine at their works at Lloyds Court, Crown Street, Soho; but only one is reported to have been sold. The rotating ink disc was invented between 1819 and 1820 by Sir William Congereve for security printing. John Kitchen of Newcastle Upon Tyne patented the vertical forme in 1834. It seems the machine would not have been commercially successful, but was designed in the style of gothic “church furniture”.
The First Usable Platen
Stephen Ruggles, from Boston USA, developed the Engine press in 1839 but the bed and platen were horizontal. Despite this, the press claimed 1,200 impressions per hour. It was his development of 1851 of the “Card and Billhead Press” that opened the era of the first usable platen: this relied on his strange inking mechanism. The approach is to have a large cylinder, flat on one side for the type. The cylinder is covered in ink and as the rollers pass around it, they draw ink from the circular part of the cylinder and deposit it on the forme. This press was made in Britain by the Birmingham Machinist Company as the Invictus and also Furnival and Company of Reddish. The principle was later adapted by Adana for their T/P48.
The Modern Platen
The prototype platen press was developed by George Gordon of New York. His early press (1851) was named The Alligator because of its reputation of crushing limbs of those feeding the press. This first version had a fixed inking panel, it was 1856 before he added the rotating inking disc. In 1872, the “throw off” was added: a mechanism to allow the operator to disable the impression when a sheet had been mis-fed, for example. Again, the idea was not new having been patented in 1852 by James Young of Philadelphia. Cropper of Nottingham began to make Gordon’s presses under the name Minerva, but the term Cropper to define that type of press became commonplace. Other, locally designed, presses used Gordon’s idea like the Arab from Halifax.
The Parallel Platen
Improving on the “clam shell” approach, Merrit Gally of New York developed a press in 1859 called the Universal which brought the bed and the platen together with a parallel impression. This was improved by the Victoria and Phoenix presses. In the UK, Greenwood and Batley of Leeds sold a very similar press under the name Sun; Dawson’s of Otley the Mitre; and Harrild of London the Fine Art Bremner.
The Powered, Automatically-Fed Platen
Knowing that the effort of a boy could not be sustained to thousands of impressions each hour, work began on making efficiencies of space and power. In 1893, Harrild of London created a platen press running back-to-back: two moving platens each printing against a single, two-sided, fixed bed. With steam and electric power, the next challenge was to feed the press with paper. A gripper was patented by Godfrey in the 1880s, and an automated feed for US Chandler and Price presses was being sold by 1913. Perhaps most known to us in the UK is the invention of Gilke, a Heidelberg Engineer, who created the windmill feed in 1912 which was incorporated in to the 1925 Heidelberg Automatic Platen.