I am doing research on Joseph Charless. In 1808 he used a Ramage hand-printing press to print the first newspaper in
St. Louis. Would anyone happen to know what this press looked like? Also, if you have an image of it, can I use for a children’s book? It would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for any help you can offer.

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Hi - at the upper right of this screen, click on the “Museum” section of this website (which will get you into press pictures), then click “Wooden hand” under “Browse by category” at the left, and you will see two pictures of different Ramage presses there. Regards, Geoff

Thanks Geoff,

When I googled Ramage press, I stumbled onto this website discussion. According to Elizabeth, the Ramage Screw press in the museum section was originally a copy press and would not have been used for a newspaper. The Ramage Foolscap was a small press, that might be the right one but wasn’t sure of the date when it was in use or if there was another model which Charless could have used. That’s where I’m at now.

Hi, Looking—

If I remember correctly, Ramage built hybrid presses of wood and metal. Did he work to order?—that is, is each Ramage a custom press, and not mass-produced?

Maybe the Smithsonian?

Good luck, Brian

Thanks. Think you may be onto something Brian. I did email the Smithsonian, but the woman who is going to respond is out until Thursday. Will let you know what she has to say.

I appreciate yours and Geoff’s input.

Ramage presses were common in the U.S. at that time. The first presses in Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri were Ramages. Working with the Historic Arkansas Museum, we located several original Ramage presses, most notably the ones in Vincennes, Indiana and another at Greenfield Village, Michigan. From these presses, working drawings were made and two reproduction presses were built. Here’s a photo of one of these reproduction presses.



The press that Charless would have used in 1808 was a common press (whether it had improvements by Ramage or not). There seems to be strong disagreement that Charless even had a Ramage. The iron platen and/or iron bed were not used by Ramage until after 1820. The fact that the first paper (actually the third, as no copies of the first two issues exist) had a page size of 8 1/4 x 12 1/2 inches is less an indication of press size, but rather a limitation of paper size, lack of real news, or lack of available type or some other extenuating circumstance. The press John Horn shows would have been closer to the press Charless used. The press shown on the cover of Kaser’s book on Charless would therefore have not yet been invented when he was doing his first printing in St. Louis.


I want to thank everyone for their help. I still am waiting to hear from the Smithsonian and Missouri history museum, but from my research think John Horn might already have the answer. Did wonder though, how many wagons it would take to move one.

Thanks again.

Just one, depending on the size of the wagon. The press would come apart for shipping. The amount of type and all of the other necessary tools would take additional room (and perhaps additional wagons). In those days the roads were very poor and they would have moved along the rivers on flatboats. If you have the chance you should read “The American Printer, 1787-1825” by Rollo G. Silver. It is probably hard to find, but “Adam Ramage and His Presses”, by Milton W. Hamilton is an excellent resource as well. The Journal of the American Printing History Association, 22, Volume XI, No. 2, 1989 has an excellent article about Philadelphia pressmakers and Adam Ramage in particular. The presses he was making in 1808 were similar to the one John pictured, the differences were rather small, as Ramage was not a great innovator. I’m not sure which is the oldest Ramage in existance, but I’m sure the presses he made at the particular time to which you are referring are classified as ‘common presses’. Because Ramage was a well known maker, a lot of wooden presses over the years have been called “Ramage” when they are not.


The story is that the first press in Arkansas was disassembled, loaded in a flat boat along with probably a couple hundred pounds of type and paper in Nashville, floated down the Cumberland, the Mississippi and White Rivers, then loaded on to two dugout canoes and paddled through back channels to the Arkansas River to a place called Arkansas Post.
Ramage presses are easy to disassemble and carry, the largest pieces being the cheeks or side frames. The heaviest part is the stone bed. I suspect this is one of the reasons they were favored by “frontier” printers, as well as the fact that they could be repaired easily by local cabinet makers and blacksmiths.

The Smithsonian graphics art department is neat, and a great resource.

Another resource: Take a look at the book “Recasting A Craft: St. Louis Typefounders respond to industrialization”

It might have some good info, though it is much later than your subject. I’m traveling right now, or I would pull it out and check the bibliography for you. The author is also heavily involved in printing history in St. Louis, and is quite personable. His name is Robert Mullen, and his contact info should be somewhere out there…

Good luck!

If you think the Smithsonian graphic arts department is neat now, you should have seen it when it, um, existed!

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

If Charless actually used a Ramage press in 1808 it would certainly have been a Common press, as Ramage apparently did not begin building other kinds (except for book standing presses) until around 1818-1820. The Ramage Proof press (also sometimes called a Foolscap for the size) was patented about 1818 and was built by Ramage until his death in 1850 and afterwards by Frederick Bronstrup until about 1875. The earliest hand press currently in Missouri is a Ramage Proof press at UMo J-School.

The problem is that in that period many writers referred to a Common press as a Ramage no matter who made it, because of the number of Ramage presses extant then. Even some built before Ramage came to the US were called “Ramage” presses! So Charless may have used a real Ramage or an earlier English Common press someone called a Ramage. Confusing!


Haven’t given up quite yet on getting an image of a press like Charless used.

John, If you think the press above is similar to that which Charless used, could you suggest who I could contact to get permission to print it in my children’s book?

Robert Mullen’s gave me information on the press. You guys were right on. In case you’re interested here is part of his reply. Unfortunately the Missouri History Museum does not own one:The first editions of the /Missouri Gazette/ measured about 12 1/2” high by 7 1/4” wide. But paper was hard to come by in those days, and Charless had to use what was available. He counted four different sizes in the first year of publication. By April of 1809, Charless was printing a paper about 18” by 12”.

Thanks for all your help. I had never been involved in a discussion group before and find it very interesting. I find it’s key to remember your password.
Thanks again.


You might want to contact Bob Oldham who has some photos of real Ramage presses (he is AdLib on this list), and get a copy of his Field Guide to North American Hand Presses and their Manufacturers. It would be nice to illustrate with a real press instead of a reproduction. Please click the link below:


Thanks for the lead Paul. I emailed Bob Oldham. Will let you know what he has to say.

Thanks everyone for all your help and support. Bob Oldham sent me my image. Yeah!!! Will let you know how things turn out.