Is this letterpress suitable as a first press?

Hello, Briar Press community. I am very interested in getting into letter pressing. I think it is such a beautiful art and I am so in love with it! I found a Kelsey 5x8 Mercury for sale at a reasonable price. However, after reading the description, I was unsure if it is worth it to buy it and repair it as I am not yet familiar with the whole thing. I will paste the description below. If anyone has any insight it is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

Description of the Letterpress: I see some surface rust through out. This was seized up when it came in, but through fiddling around with it we did get it to free up some. I notice that both rollers have a flat spot to them. One of the rollers tension spring rods is bent and not allowing the roller to stay in place.

There are some letters in the plate, as shown. Ink wheel turns on press. I see no cracks or splits in the cast metal. I’m sure with a good cleaning, A bit of lube and some tweaking and you’ll have a nice little printing press.

This measures about 17 inches tall and about 12 inches wide and 21 inches long..

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You will have to buy new rollers for it. The roller hook is bent and it is rusty so you will have to do repairs and add lots of elbow grease. This press is made of cast iron and will break if you are not careful when you repair it. Does it have a chase? Grippers? Good luck with your new found letterpress desires and dreams.

I assume there was a picture attached?

Missing one of the grippers, but otherwise seems to be in a pretty good state.

How easy is it for the machine to be cleaned? Will the rust interfere with the performance?

Looks to be in good shape, and at a very good price in that condition. Make sure the guy ships it securely. Remove rust from the ink-disc, platen and chase-bed and you can start printing.


Should be pretty easy to get this print-worthy.

A spot of oil, some vinegar and lemon juice for the rust, few whacks with a hammer to straighten that roller hook should be all it takes.

Shipping these presses is very risky unless the shipper knows the process well — dozens have been broken in transit because they were not packed right. If possible it should be picked up in person.

However, if you are “in love with letterpressing” you may be thinking of the sort of deep impression that is very popular these days for wedding invitations etc. If so this is probably not the press for you, as it is not strong enough for such repeated heavy work — many have been broken in that use as well.


As to Bob’s point, if you are going for impression, start very small and work your way up to larger, but not big, forms. Never try to force anything, use dampened paper, directions for dampening can be found on Briarpress. Be very careful.


Well, I didn’t get it. I asked if they would be shipping it, or would be willing to ship it, in the manner suitable for such a machine. They were not. As it stands, I’m back looking for my first letter press, so if anyone knows of any please let me know! Thank you all so much for the feedback and advice.

you should check out Letterpress Things in Chicopee, MA, he sells table top presses and i’m sure he would ship one to you, he has a web site and you can get his contact info in the yellow pages on this site. there is also Excelsior Press in New Jersey, he has small presses from time to time.