The Arab

The ‘finest clam-shell platen in the world’

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)

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 -