Challenge proof press

I’m going to look at a Challenge proof press this week, not a Vandercook clone but a smaller one (1425 E) with the roller in the middle and a bed that moves under the roller.

The owner says the roller is in good shape, the tympan clamp is there, and he says there is some kind of “Donof” clip on the bed. A clip system? Could it be a paper gripper? I have not seen the press yet, and don’t have any idea what a Donof clip is.

I’d like to use it for posters and larger sheets, probably 1-color if registration is a nightmare, though people claim to get good registration using a frisket.

Any thoughts? Especially about the clip he sees and whether that’s a gripper. I’ve seen paper handling on modern offset presses, and I know what the Vandercook #4 gripper looks like and how it works.

They want a lot of money for it, but if it’s negotiable and especially if there’s a gripper, I may get it.


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Thanksgiving kept me from looking at this press, but this weekend I’ll try again. I’ve got a type-high “lollipop” tool and a photo of a press at Don Black’s place that’s in good condition.

Anyone have advice on what to look for/at? The cylinder has to be smooth and not dented, I know. This press was used to press aluminum patterns into wood for some kinda decorative/carving work, and who knows what condition it’s in.

If anyone has pointers on checking a used cylinder proof press, I’d love to hear them.

Here are some tips from the Vandercook Press website (

Is the size of the press appropriate for the kind of work you want to produce?

Will the press fit in its designated space?

How difficult will it be to move? Where is it located: a basement, or a third floor walk-up?

Carriage/Cylinder - there should not be any lateral play when carriage is rolled in print mode over press bed. If so, carriage bearings may be out of adjustment or there may be excessive wear on under rails due to lack of lubrication.
Also test print stroke and return trip.

Under Rails - Run finger along length, feel for fine metal shavings or sharp edge indicating wear and neglect. Press may not be suitable for close register work or fine printing.

Inking System - Is the roller assembly complete? Roller cores and bearing assemby can be replaced. Assume roller rubber will need to be replaced.

Rust - Is it on the surface or deep?

Physical Damage - Bent feed board, broken handles, or levers, dented cabinet.

When you go to see the press, take sopme photos and post them here with any notes you made. It will be easier to offer advice that way.


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ

A press like this isn’t worth much money, but if you are planning to be doing brayer-inked one color posters from wood type or linocuts it might suit you just fine.

It might be a good press to use until you can find your own Vandercook #4.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

I took a look at this press last night. Condition seems OK, the cylinder and bed are smooth with some surface rust, not pitted or dented.

First photo: There’s some surface rust, but it seems minor. The cylinder appears smooth.

Second photo: A spring-loaded clamp at the end of the bed. Paper gripper? It’s hard to tell how well it would work for that, though if you could get the end of the sheet consistently located with the clamp, registration would be a little closer to reality.

Third photo: Seems like the tympan clamp is present, though I wouldn’t know if parts were missing.

Overall, it seems mechanically sound and works fairly smoothly, though it could use some oiling. There’s no looseness to the movement, it seems to track pretty solidly in the directions it’s supposed to.

There’s a cover that goes on top of the frame for the cylinder, it’s not shown in the photo. There are a couple rubber blankets and ancient tympan sheets in the stand.

It was used to put ink on wood blocks most recently, using offset plates a local printer made up, so there wouldn’t have been much stress on the cylinder or bed from that use, the plates appear to have been mounted on foamcore and they eventually got compressed so much that they couldn’t be used.

The guy who has it now used rubber blankets and newspaper to get the height right for his purposes, I don’t think the press has been abused.

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Not to be too forward, but what do you mean when you say “a lot of money”? How much do they want for this press?
Like Daniel said, a press like this is not exactly worth a fortune. Even though the cylinder proof presses are harder to come by these days, doesn’t mean it can justify the cost of a press that really doesn’t offer much in the way of features or registration etc. if there is no inking mechanism, and the paper gripper system is sub par, then you really don’t have much more than what any etching/relief press can do. If it were me, I would hesitate to pay more than a few hundred bucks, but perhaps i am just cranky about what people are charging for these now a days. And if you don’t buy it, maybe someone else will pay a bunch of money for it anyway, but I would try to consider the practicality, or at least a reasonable resale value, when you can upgrade, like Dan said.
Good luck :)

That’s a reasonable question. A search found a similar press someone paid $200 for, and I’m sure plenty of them were given away over the years. The seller wants $500 for it. Don Black has one in Toronto that I asked for a quote on but didn’t hear back. It seems like another search indicated Black is looking for $600, I think.

I’m thinking of offering $300, I think I could live with that. I’m seeing this as useful for poster-size work that doesn’t need tight registration. I’ve got some gothic wood type that might be fun for this kind of thing.

Since you seem to be pretty well aware of the press’s limitations and aren’t fazed by them I say go for it!


Yeah, that seems reasonable, and if it will be something you can give a lot of love too, and getting working smoothly, than that will be something that will probably return it’s value if you want to upgrade. Or, it may be satisfying even in it’s simplicity. Good luck with that :)

I bought the Challenge press I had posted about a couple months ago, and this morning I locked up some wood type to do a silly poster. I’ll get back to it later this weekend, but just as a test I put some Speedball block printing ink on one large word and pulled a few impressions.

I’ll use real ink next, I wanted to see whether I could get ink on paper, and the speedball stuff is easy to clean up.

To get an impression at all on 100 lb cover, I had to back the sheet up with two more sheets of paper behind it. To get the impression right, I’ll need to build up the packing on the cylinder, correct? I don’t want a deep impression, just solid ink on paper.

I don’t have a lot of materials to choose from, so I’ll start with another sheet of oiled tympan paper on the cylinder, pull a proof, and add another maybe.

Does this sound like a reasonable approach? I have no idea if/how the carriage can be adjusted on this press. It’s a Challenge 1425 E, with a stationary cylinder and a moving press bed.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

From the picture you can tell more makeready is probably in order, maybe building up under individual letters.

image: poor letterpress DSC03546.jpg

poor letterpress DSC03546.jpg

you should have some packing on the clyinder under the top sheet, the reason, i think you needed to use 2 more sheets of 100 lb is that these presses were made to pull proofs of galleys of type, you might need a steel plate on the bed of the press or use a galley. good luck dick g.

when setting up the press just try a couple of letters, that way when things go wrong you won’t crush lots of type. dick g.

I did try putting one letter on a galley tray today, and it’s too tall — the cylinder stops when it hits the edge. So I guess it’s type-high, not galley-high.

They cylinder has a blanket then three sheets of packing (tympan paper? It came with the press) then a tympan with lots of printing on it that I took to be the outer layer. I can put a couple more sheets of tympan under the top layer and see where that gets me. There are a couple more blankets that came with it, maybe I used the thinnest one.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to make a little progress with it.

my poco has a rubber blanket that is pretty thin, this press came from a small linotype company where a worked after high school, i put this rubber blanket on the press in 1966, we had no paper to pack the cylinder so i cut newspaper to size, i bought a small rubber stamp company in the mid 70’s and they had the poco, i still have it and the rubber blanket and the packing is still on it. i only use it to proof galleys of ludlow type, there are some galleys that are thicker and will stop the cylinder, i have had it happen to me,most galleys are the same thickness. good luck dick g.

Hi, I have a Challenge 1418C, serial #C356. I haven’t yet taken time to test or restore the press, but is appears to work fine. I have a sentimental attachment to it as it is the same or similar machine I printed my first project with when I was 12 at North Hollywood Junior High, now Walter Reed Middle School in 1948. The project was a California Job Case label with name, period, and “10pt. Garamond Oldstyle”. If I decide to sell it as is, I’ll right an ad for the classifieds. Dick

image: Name plate.jpg

Name plate.jpg

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Challenge 1418C.jpg

I’ll also write an ad.