Over the years, The Grunge Papers has acquired four presses, three of which I still have and use.
My first press, and one that still gets a lot work, is a Chandler & Price New Style Pilot. One of the best quality presses in the “tabletop platen” category, it is the latest and last model of a line of small platen presses that Chandler & Price began putting out in the 1890s. The Pilot is hand-operated, has two rollers, a 6 ˝” x 10” printing area, and gives a very satisfying “ka-chunk” feel to it when an impression is made. Make-ready – setting the press up to print a forme of type – is simple, and the clean-up afterwards is quick, so this was the perfect press for me to learn to print on.
Buying the press and the starter’s kit of type, leading, furniture and other gear was my first introduction to Don Black Linecasting in Toronto, an outfit about whom I can’t say enough good things. I’ve bought another press and a lot more type and gear from them since, and can’t recommend them highly enough.
My second press is a Kelsey Star platen press, which I bought from Ottawa area printer Douglas Franklin a number of years ago, after he decided to retire and move to the west coast. A small, motorized jobbing press with a 7" x 11" printing area, this press gives a very good impression. It has taken me a while to replace the original motor on the press - which ran too fast for my comfort - but now that it has a new, slower motor (many thanks to my Dad for his expertise in such things), I can do relatively large runs of things like business cards, bookmarks, etc. I still operate the press by hand a lot - close registration, especially with handmade paper is a tricky thing - but being able to use it both ways is a great plus.
My smallest press is a Grauel B-3, a very small tabletop platen press produced by B. Grauel & Co, a German firm. I haven't been able to find much about the history of this press or its manufacturer, and can only guess at a production date somewhere between the 1950s and the 1970s. With a chase measuring only 3" x 4", it looks like it was intended to function less as a press and more as simply a label-printing machine. It isn't useful for printing any more than a couple of words, but it is small enough and portable enough that it's good for demonstrations at small press fairs, book arts fairs, and that sort of thing. I picked it up about eight years ago, from a secondhand press & printing supply shop in Peterborough, Ontario that has long since closed up.
For several years I also had an Atlantic semi-automatic proof press, a type of press that had been manufactured in the 1960s in Germany and distributed in North America by Lutz Machinery. As is obvious from the name, proof presses were originally made for the taking of proofs. They were smaller, more easily used presses on which a forme of type could be quickly proofed and corrected, before being transfered to the larger press on which the document was actually to be printed.
In recent decades, the larger, higher quality proof presses - notably the various Vandercook models - have become popular with fine printers. These presses were never intended to do work in great volume, but the good ones can give an excellent impression over a large print area, making short runs of posters, broadsides and even limited run books a workable proposition. Today they are especially favoured by printers of woodcuts, linocuts and the like.
My Atlantic was a smaller, table-top model of these sorts of proof presses, and was entirely manually operated. It had a large impression area, which meant that I could do larger format work on it - something that isn't practical on my platen presses - but it didn't have the impression weight of a Vandercook or the larger proof presses, so it's capacity to do high quality printing or to print on the less even surfaces of handmade paper was limited. In the end, with my printing efforts focused on small formats and handmade paper, I didn't use it often enough to justify the space it was taking up - and so I sold it.