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Copy Press Replies

Peter -

I have received a number of interesting replies from people who have asked
me to post them to the Book Arts list, so I am forwarding a few to you.
Thanks you for your help and thanks to all who responded.

>From: bpress <bpress@xxxxxxxxxxx>
>To: pdverhey@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
>Subject: Copy Press info
>Just a quick question that you might be able to answer. Our son is
>working on an upgrade for the Briar Press web site and Letterpress
>Museum. In the museum we do have a lovely copy press
>(http://www.westnet.com/~bpress/press/copypress.html) . Our son asked me
>to tell him something about the press and I was stumped. All I know is
 >that people commonly refer to this as a book press, but a while ago I
 >was told that it is really called a copy press because it was the Xerox
>machine of the day.  If this is so, what  (how) did it copy?    . . . .etc.
>--Elizabeth Nevin <mailto:bpress@xxxxxxxxxxx>

Elizabeth Harris wrote:

"I'm sure you'll get lots of answers from the Book Arts list about your
press, but here's my tuppence: most strictly, the copy press was used with
a specially treated thin paper and water soluble ink, but I'm sure people
used any paper and nearly any ink. Not so much like a Xerox machine as
carbon paper - which really replaced it. The writer wrote on normal writing
paper with his special ink, then stuck the letter in his book of thin
sheets of copy paper (thinner than onion-skin paper) (we have a few of
these books at the Museum) (and a few of the original letters too. Blotchy,
of course) and I think he then barely moistened the onion skin, closed the
book, and pressed it. Bingo, office copy in record book. Backwards. THAT
was the reason for having the copy paper thin - you could read it from the

The process was patented by James Watt in London in 1780 (no. 1244). Watt's
press was different though - he recommended a cylinder press. The process
was used both in Britain and the US through the 19th century (and then
some?) We have copied letters to and from Kelsey, among others, and several
advertising fliers for the whole set-up. If you ever want to see some
original words, ask Stan Nelson for xeroxes of them (they're in the subject
file in his office).

If for any reason it seems appropriate, feel free to use any of this on the
List. I'll be unplugging myself in the fairly near future (if I can
remember how), so I'll leave it to you.. . . ."

Sam Lanham wrote:

"The copy press looks like a pretty one from what I can tell.  As to dates,
in general, the wheel-top ones are later than the ones with straight
handles.  Usually I consider the wheel tops about turn of the century or a
little earlier.  Are there any trademarks or casting marks on it?  As I
said in my previous note, the real expert is Bill Streeter.  He's a great
guy and very helpful when it comes to identifying and dating these presses.
He will be happy to talk to you by phone or correspond by regular mail.  A
photo to him will help.  He's not on line as yet.  I'm sure he will be
familiar with your press---his forthcoming book will have hundreds of
pictures.  He is definitely the one to consult in order to write some cut
lines for your picture.. . . ."

Adrienne Allen wrote:

"I think the  press dates from a time when letters were written using an
indelible or copy pencil. The pencils are often to be found in markets,
they may still be made for all I know try Eberhard Faber or Staedtler.

The original was  damped slightly and offset to a master and then pressed
onto a new sheet of paper to make a copy.  Similar to the Fordigraph
duplicator (ditto master)  method beloved of teachers until the photcopier
arrived on the scene.

There are many of them in existence in Australia, rescued from the rubbish
dump behind the office, sandblasted and polished they make great nipping
presses for bookbinders. I have seen many which have been modified to give
20-30 cm of daylight between the plates and are very useful for a small
scale binder.

Tracy Honn wrote:

 "I was told by Jack Holzueter at the Wisconsin State Historical Society
that these presses were indeed used to make copies, and he showed me some
of the copies. The original letter was placed with several sheets of a very
thin onion skin-like paper and pressed. The ink would be forced through
these sheets which then could be read by reversing them--they are near
transparent. I believe a special ink was used, but don't know what kind,
nor do I know just how many copies could be made at one time./Awhile back
there was a posting about these presses--two people were doing a survey of
them and a book, which may be out--check with Oak Knoll, or the archives." --


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