Cropper Acme
Crop­per Acme

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.