History of the Jobbing Platen

The work­horse of com­mer­cial small-scale print­ing in the UK

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.