The Arab

The Arab is claimed by some to be the finest hand-fed platen in the World. In terms of cost and weight, it out-performs other machines; and the fact it is designed to be dis-assembled and rebuilt makes it easier to transport than other, similar, presses.


There were two major models of the Arab: in Foolscap size (13″ x 9″ chase – 16cwt) and Crown Folio size (15″ x 10″ chase – 18cwt). A third size was made (21″ x 14″ – Demy Folio – 21cwt), but few, if any, survive.


The Arab was certainly inspired by the George Gordon’s Press, and accounts tell us that Josiah Wade had imported a number of presses from America to study. One explanation for the close link between the Franklin Press (invented by Gordon) and the Arab is that the two men shared a voyage between the UK and America. Gordon was keen to make money from his Patents, and Wade was already on the periphery of the printing business. Wade bought the patents, designed the castings, and made some improvements.

The Patent of 1872 for the Arab indicates that the machine had ten novel features beyond the current state of the art including leather roller bearers to secure better inking; special guides for the paper on the platen; and a way of controlling ‘dwell’. This dwell issue was important: simple presses just open and close. Wade’s design allowed the platen to stay open longer (making for easier feeding of paper), and dwell to last longer (for a better impression). This erratic movement was possible even with the constant and uniform speed of a treadle or belt drive. The Patent shows a gear mechanism used to get this motion; but most models included a more simple wheel running within a cam. This sits behind the large cog stamped ‘J Wade Patentee, Halifax’.

The Arab is a ‘clamshell platen‘, and works by bringing together both the ‘forme’ of type; and the platen holding the paper. The back platen moves on an axis at the foot of the machine.

Press reports of 1872 — re-printed in the Printers’ Register from the Halifax Guardian — show that Wade had named the machine ‘The Arab’. The view at the time was that the Arab race was hard-working and reliable. I assume that the term ‘Anglo-American’ was later added to secure appeal on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Arab was supplied in parts like modern-day flat-pack furniture. It was built ‘in the black’ (unpainted); run at the works and adjusted; painted, polished and coated in oil; re-erected when the forme was adjusted; and then dismantled and packed. Wade offered to send the machine along with a man to build it; but the instructions claimed that any man competent with a screwdriver could build the thing. The weight of each part could be carried by a man; but personal experience tells me that strong men are needed, especially when dismantling. This approach also cut transport costs and might be one factor in the spread of the machines over the ‘civilised world’. Indeed, the Halifax Courier reported that Wade’s machines were on the Shackleton Expedition

Wade was invited to send an example of his press to the Patents Museum in London in December 1881 to contrast with earlier presses. The Halifax Courier reported that Wade was pleased with this accolade, as it demonstrated the quality of what could be produced in the North of England.

The 1920’s models of the press show a solid wheel in place of the spoked flywheel — presumably to reduce accidents; and a single bar to move the hand away from the platen during feeding.

Arab Advert (c. 1940)
Arab Advert (c. 1940)

Twenty years beyond that, in the 1940’s, a new guard that wrapped over the top of the platen was introduced; but many felt this got in the way of working, and it was often removed. A clutch re-setting system was improved; and a full-width ink duct fitted.

The final models (Model ‘A’) included the facility to ‘inch’ the motion of the press with a motor and boasted that 1,200 impressions per hour could be had. Geoffrey Osborne points out that there was never a mechanism for automatic feeding of paper to the Arab, and this was a crucial in the declining popularity of the machine.

Production stopped in Halifax in 1959 and the interests of the firm were sold to Wellsman and Parry in Liverpool. When they closed, the firm was sold to Excelsior in London. Excelsior were selling Arab parts until at least May 1984; and possibly trading until 1986.

Press Timeline

August 1872 “The Arab” Patented: reported in Halifax Courier, and the Printers Register. The machine was to be exhibited by Mr Powell of Bouvier Street, London
1874 Arab production moved from Well Head Lane, Halifax to Hopwood Lane where Wade built ‘Crown Works’. Later to move to Hope Works on Arundel Street
1881 Wade invited by the Patent Museum, London to provide a specimen of the Arab
1903 Wade buys the Dunkirk Mills Estate, Halifax to match the expanding business
1908 In reports of Josiah Wade’s death, reference is made to agents for Wade in Liverpool and South Africa, amongst other places
1920s The machine is characterised by a solid flywheel, a hand-guard made of a single rising rod, and new impression adjustment
1940s A new guard (looking like a cage) is fitted, a full-width ink duct, and clutch re-setting system is added
1950s Model ‘A’ is developed, which is motorised and offers additional guards and ‘inching’. The press remains without a system for feeding paper
1959 Wade closes in Halifax, having made around 40,000 machines. The firm is bought by Wellsman and Parry of Liverpool
Early 1960s ISPA News reports that Wellsman and Parry continued to make the machine until the early sixties.

Further Information

Key sources for this page are –

  • Geoffrey Osborne article in Matrix Winter 1984
  • Halifax Courier and Halifax Guardian from February 1908
  • BPS Small Printer Magazine, re-print of ISPA News from 1962
  • LETPRESS list


These people have passed me information on the Arab –