Michael Farr sets out below his approach to printing Edmondson-style railway tickets. It fascinating from both a printer’s perspective and a railway perspective. If you have information about either printing these tickets; or other specialist areas of letterpress please get in touch!
Tickets came first for me, having begun my collection when offered one numbered 000 (the first of the series) for my daily journey to school in Bristol from Sea Mills station to Clifton Down.
Printing followed soon afterwards when I joined members of the Bearpit Press at Clifton College. We used an Adana No 3 H/S and had a reasonable range of type, the most popular faces in “proper” cases and the others in the small Adana 36 division drawers.
The two hobbies came together when I joined the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society, the first rail preservation project in the world. They used Edmondson tickets, initially printed by Edmondson and later by Harlands (of Hull) and Williamson (of Ashton-under-Lyne). In addition to the tickets for regular journeys I could see a need for short runs for special trains and events. The normal capacity of a Talyllyn Railway train was about 200–240, a workable quantity for printing by hand.
You need to remember is that every ticket needs one (or preferably two) serial numbers and there is likely to be a coloured overprint letter, symbol or stripe and wording may be required on the back as well as the front of the card. Thus 240 tickets may need feeding and printing 1200 times.
The traditional material was pasteboard, pre-cut to the size pioneered by Thomas Edmondson in the 1830/40s, 21⁄4 x 13⁄16 or about 57 x 30 mm. The centre layer of the sandwich was a cheap board with thin white or coloured paper laminated to it. British Rail were willing (though they did not advertise the fact) to supply small quantities of the tickets they bought from the Dickinson Robinson Group to bona fide amateur ticket printers. When BR computerised revenue control DRG dismantled the pasteboard machinery.
Update from Michael, June 2021
It may be possible to purchase stock from Aeschbacher AG of Worb, Switzerland.
Update from Norman Brown, Early 2023
It is easy to reproduce blank tickets by sandwiching 700 micron greyboard (the modern equivalent to strawboard) between coloured 80 gsm copier paper, 70 gsm would be nearer the original thickness but there is less of a section of colours and can be more expensive! The finish ticket thickness comes out to .035”
Using the Adana machine
I have tried making special fitments to mount on the platen but experience has shown they are not necessary for printing body text. I have filed away a lay bar so it clears the box around the outside of the Lethaby numbering machines which I use.
Handling such small card is fiddly but thanks to the thickness you can push the printed ticket along the bar with the new one you are laying down. I arrange for the printed card to fall into a tray alongside the machine.
Possibly because I am left-handed, I have always pushed down the handle with my right hand and fed in the card with my left — so the receiving tray is on the right.
Traditionally tickets were printed from hot metal although BR changed to plates when they opened the new combined ticket printing unit at Crewe.
If you use standard Adana chases you will need a large amount of furniture — except perhaps for the No.1 H/S chase. I am fortunate to have some of the very small chases supplied for the Waterlow machines used by most British railways and these will just fit into a 5–3 size chase.
It may well be worth making some small chases if you intend to print large numbers of tickets.
At first I used a hand operated plunger machine (by ENM), with a guide to position the tickets. I was subsequently able to buy two second-hand Lethaby machines for mounting in the machine chase.
The plunger can play havoc with the dressing on the padding card and so I positioned it towards the edge of the platen. I took an initial print and then stuck (with double-sided tape) a small square of pasteboard to take the impact.
One friend has mounted a hand operated machine in a vertical drill stand; two others had twin boxes made especially by Lethaby with a remote plunger to operate them.
I usually feed and remove the tickets from the platen individually, stacking them in piles of 25 until fully dry. Remember that most preserved railways use traditional gravity-feed ticket racks for which the lowest number needs to be at the bottom of the pile, so a forward-counting box is best. Modern plastic ticket racks need them to be numbered with the lowest number at the top of the pile — for which a backwards-counting box is ideal.
Traditionally tickets have been supplied bundled in 250s.
Although I began by producing runs of 240 for the Talyllyn, as my “fame” spread I was asked to produce longer runs and for many other lines at home and abroad. Some weekends would find me pushing the machine hand down 20,000 or more times. Hindsight tells me this was very foolish because I now have a permanent strain in my side which can be most uncomfortable — and has caused me to “retire” from ticket printing at the age of 71.
Certainly there is not so much need for amateurs to produce tickets by hand as there are many individuals and preserved lines who own the former BR Waterlow machines and are willing to print for other customers. I am sure there will always be a need for short runs to be produced by hand.
Adana Machine Models
When I left school I invested £4.17s.6d in an Adana No. 1 “High-speed” machine, which was quite capable of printing Edmondson tickets. I progressed to the 5–3 model which ran much more smoothly (and quietly) but there were several advantages of producing even tiny tickets on a larger machine, such as the 8–5. This needs less effort to obtain a good impression and it is possible to print more than one ticket at a time. I have printed fronts and backs at the same time, though this needs very careful organisation to prevent having some tickets with two fronts and other with two backs!
. . .and finally.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my ticket printing. So far as the Talyllyn was concerned I felt I was able to help the railway even though I lived 200 or more miles away and was unable to visit it regularly. I have also struck up many friendships with people who give so much time to preserving the past.
I would not recommend ticket printing as a lucrative past-time. One has to compete with the people who have power-operated machines and with each card needing more than one run the work is time-consuming. As I became older (and wiser?) I often struck barter deals which mean I can now enjoy a free ride on some lines, knowing that by printing the tickets for a specially low price (or more often free) I helped an impecunious line in its early days.
If you have a small hand-operated letterpress machine and an interest in preserved transport, why not have a go? You can begin by using card cut to size in a guillotine, but please try to cut accurately or your customer will find the tickets stick in the issuing tubes.
Michael Farr, with update in June 2020