Choosing a proof press

When I bought my CP table top press it took me all of about a month to realize I needed / wanted something bigger. I am now seriously considering a Challenge proof press ( SP 15 ). Its a big purchase for me. What I am wondering though are the limitations if any on a press this size vs a universal outside of the automation. Could anyone way in on this? Am I going to be wishing I waited to buy a bigger one?

I print mainly stationary, small posters and recently have the need to print larger sheets - 17 inches. All runs of 75 - 200.

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I usually move around when I am printing. :)

You are truly hooked, no matter what size press you have you will always want bigger, better, more, if I only had this press I could do this or that,

“It’s a big purchase for me”. Sorry, I can’t help but comment here. Has letterpress printing interest grown this much in the past five years or so? I had a Challenge 15MP proof press that was in mint condition; came out of a vocational school. I couldn’t give it away so I junked it out - sold the paper guide and locking bar through two Briar Press wanted ads but that’s it.

The Challenge is a good press (if it is in good shape) You can probably pick one up for less than the comparable Vandercook, and it should work well for the projects you mentioned.


Yes. In the past several years prices have continued to rise. There have been multiple Vandercooks selling for 10,000-15,000 dollars. Crazy, perhaps… but true nonetheless.


About ten or twelve years ago we had to junk 2 Vandercook 219 presses because there were no takers. We saved some parts from them that people have used, but the presses themselves were not the “right” models to sell at the time. We replaced them at the time with a couple Universal III presses which were purchased for $300.00 each. As Brad said, the picture has changed greatly.

John Henry

Musikwerke.. guess it is crazy though I did not set the market… wish I could change it. had you hung on to your press you would probably be able to sell it pretty quickly for a lot.

Platten Printer.. that was actually funny.

Jhenry.. thank you.

Any of you that think they are not worth the money want to sell them?

Inking is an issue. I have a Poco and a line-o-scribe and am still struggling to find a good, precise, efficient inking method. I wish I was clever enough to make an inking roller like some sign card presses have and of course like the Vandercooks have.

I think your best bet with the Poco/Line-O-Scribe is to spend a bunch of money for a large wide 2-handed brayer and a large piece of 1/4 inch or thicker plate glass on which to roll out the ink. A brayer 12 inches wide and 3 or so inches in diameter will lay down a good uniform film of ink. A 6 inch brayer requires multiple recharging passes which are very hard to do and get a uniform film of ink on the plate/type. I used to have a great roller for large work — it was about 5 inches in diameter and about 15 inches wide. But it needed a large surface on which to roll out the ink in order to get good coverage. I wish I still had it for my Poco!


I really like my challenge 15mp if you can get your hands on one, you can make some really great prints.

Anyone still trying to get rid of a 219 I’d be glad to take it off your hands as long as its west of the Atlantic and East of the Pacific.

Thanks Daniel, what would you say a fair price in todays market would be? Anyone else feel free to chime in.


You say a Challenge SP15. Vandercook made a SP15. The very similar Challenge is a MP15. But Challenge made a MA15 that does not have power to ink the rollers. You have to turn a crank. I much prefer power.

Also, Challenge made type high (.918) presses and galley high (.968) presses. The galley highs can be made type high with a galley plate (NA Graphics sells one for the Vandercook SP 15 that will fit).

I paid 3k for a Challenge MP15 18 months ago and felt like I got a good deal. It was dirty and needed cleaning and new rolloers, but overall in good shape As demand rises, I suspect prices are up. Since no one is making these, the price is what you will pay and what the seller will take.

the max form size is 14 by 18. So you figure out if this is big enough.

For volume printing, proof press are slow and you need to look to a platen for speed.


That’s a good ballpark price. Location and condition are big factors in cost. Mine was basically ready to print minus the rollers needing to be recovered. $500 to freight it half way across the country.

CP - sorry yes I am aware the difference between the two - did not mean to mix it up. I have a platen press for speed, just want / need a bit bigger. Nothing that would require speed.

Location - its about an hour away

Condition - its in great condition would be buying it from Don Black.

Price - $6500.00 just seems like a hell of a lot - but seeing as I can not find anything else other than $15,000.00 universal III that would not fit in my shop anyway - I am in a bit of a bind. Hence all the questions, going back and forth etc.

Do I bite the bullet and take it or gamble that these high prices will not last ( and not go up even more ) and hope someone will post one for sale on this side of the planet ( southern ontario ) or suck it up and pay the piper.

Thanks for your input everyone.

My friend has a vandercook free for the taking, his father put it in the woods in their back yard about 30 years ago, I walked out there last year to take a look, its very rusty and trees have grown up all around it making it impossible to get to it. there is also a linotype out there but I couldn’t find it.


You aren’t likely to find a vandercook SP15 for 6500, particularly if it has power inking. The challenge doesn’t have the “snob appeal” of a vandercook, but its virtually the same press - most of the parts are interchangeable.

Prices are not going down anytime soon.

Except for the once-and-awhile find in someone’s basement, there is no more supply. But as the various “letterpress schools” pump out graduates looking for a SP15 - and there are are a lot each year when you look around the country - demand is up and increasing.

If you can afford the press and it makes economic sense, you are not taking much risk. You should be able to sell it in the foreseeable future and make money, break even, or possibly lose only a little.


CP - Thank you, I really feel much better about this.

Dickg - WHERE??? if its not too far I am ready to go

should have read that more :) 30 years of rust… hmmm.. The trees can be dealt with..

What it can and cant do is your most important consideration if its ten grand cheaper but can do the same job and as well as the dearer press what is there to be choosing over it ????

I just wanna see the photos!


Ok I guess I do not feel so bad spending the money now..

here is a SP 15 selling for $15,500 on ebay

The bubble is inflated down here in the USA (You’re in Canada, right Paul?) and there’s no sign of a burst anytime soon.

If you bought a proof press 7 years ago, chances are even if you paid a high price for then- you could double or triple your money now.

HP, yes I am in Canada. The presses are not as available here as they are in the US. I am close enough to the border though that its not that big of a deal. I did bring a table top C&P across about a year ago. Moved it and the cabinet in my VW golf.

I am looking to pick up a windmill in the fall hopefully things do not get too out of hand with them.