C&P 10x15 or 12x18 for a beginner

I am interested in getting into letterpress, as a hobby, not commercially. Somebody nearby (in Seattle) is selling these presses for $500 each:
C&P 10x15 Open Letterpress Serial # 055885
C&P 12x18 Open Letterpress Serial # D50796

Both are in well working condition, and are motorized. I am under the impression that these are not suitable beginner’s presses (“ouch, my hand”). I have never done any printing work. But then, they are easy to obtain, and cheap. I would love to have a Pilot but cannot find one in the Seattle area.

What do you think? Would you recommend either of these as beginner’s presses?


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I would not recommend a motorized C&P for a beginner. C&P’s are fine machines, no doubt….. but they can and will bite a persons fingers off if they are not careful. It’s not worth the risk.

A hand-operated machines like a C&P Pilot, Craftsmen, Sigwalt or a Kelsey are far better for one’s first venture into letterpress. One of the primary reasons that these smaller machines are expensive nowadays is due to the fact that they are seen by most folks as safer.

There always seems to be a lot of back & forth when it comes to getting a motorized press the first time out. I was trained on a motorized C&P 10x15 & it was my first (and is my only) press.

It doesn’t love me, and will take my hand off if it can; I respect it’s power & its ability to interrupt all sorts of expectations I have about my future (i.e., having hands.)

That said, it’s a fine press. I wouldn’t have wanted to use it without training; I wouldn’t want it in the house if I had children or a dog that might slink in there. It’s completely not a toy, and way, way less safe than a pilot or kelsey. But it’s a really good press, and I really love it.

If you’re not in a rush (and do you need to be in Seattle? I bet someone would let you work on theirs?) wait for something you’ll be comfortable with. If you can contact someone who’ll have you over to learn on their C&P, do so, then make the decision.

Good luck! Don’t grab at the misfeeds! I’m sure others will comment; remember: a motorized press isn’t looking out for your good. It will take off fingers if you let it. Use it attentively, wisely & properly and you minimize—but never erase—the risks.

The 10x15 could be converted to treadle operation — a lot more controllable and somewhat safer (at least you have yourself to blame for mashed fingers! ;-). If the flywheel shaft has a crank in it you just need a treadle — otherwise you’d have to find a flywheel shaft too. 10x15 new treadles are available, but not 12x18.


I say go for it and be safe! I’m learning on a C&P 10x15.

A 10x15 can be treadled; a 12x18 is a little big for that. But you need to check the main shaft, underneath the press. Is there a U-shaped bend in the middle of it? If so, you can reconvert to treadle. If not, you’re stuck with the motor.

Consult a person familiar with motors. If you can’t retrofit a treadle, you might at least be able to gear down or get a motor that runs very slowly, so your learning process will be trauma free. Make sure you know how to operate the throw-off, which skips an impression if you misfeed.

And keep those kids & dogs away from a running press!

Above all, have fun. Good luck, ==Marjorie

It’s no different than any other piece of machinery, or even a butter knife for that matter. If you run with a butter knife and fall, you may die. If you stick your hand in a press where it shouldn’t go, you may loose it. You must learn to use and handle the machine, or the knife, properly. If a person can learn to drive three thousand pounds of steel rubber and glass on the public roadways they can learn to operate a motorized platen press. No one recommends would-be drivers start out with a peddle car or, for that matter, jump in a Honda Civic without basic instruction and practise in driving it.

As far as kids are concerned, most people put the poisons out of reach as well as the car keys, etc. That’s common sense. If you have a motorized platen press in the house (or a table saw or other power tools) you make sure the switch has a lock on it or that it is otherwise securely disconnected from the power source when adults aren’t around. And at the earliest opportunity you teach them how to use it. That will stem the curiosity of the unknown that so often leads to trouble in the first place. And even if they never print that will probably keep them from hurting themselves or friends if they decide to do some unauthorized experimentation. Of course, you can’t protect them from everything. I imagine most people do not wall off the stove with barbed-wire when they are not home so the kids can’t get to it.

I think the main reasons to choose a tabletop press would be available space or the need to do only limited runs of smaller-sized work. From what I’ve seen on this site and elsewhere, if space is not an issue most people (not all) who start with a tabletop soon want a full-sized press, whether treadled or motorized. And a lot of people with space restrictions are able to make a compromise and get a smaller-sized Pearl. Check out Maggie’s Gamewell Press blog for how she purchased a small Kelsey, was gifted a slightly larger Kelsey, but snatched at the opportunity for a Pearl even tghough she lives in a small NY apartment. She tells a good story and gives her reasons.

I’m self-taught in the sense that I’ve never had a class (couldn’t afford it) but have had much input from printer friends, books, this forum, and elsewhere and of course I’ve been practising. I started with an 8x12 C&P motorized platen press and have not been disappointed. Last Fall I had the opportunity to trade that in for a 10x15 so now I can do the size chapbooks, booklets, etc. that I want. You can see my blog for that story.

It sounds like either press would be a great deal. If you’re serious about printing and that would include learning the craft properly, press operation included, I would definitely buy one. The 12x18 does give a greater printing area, but it is really a huge beast. I now have the 10x15 and my friend has a 12x18 amoung other presses. I’m really happy with the 10x15 and am not sure if I would want a 12x18 even if my living room floor would accommodate it. If I was in business I might think differently. Even C&P used to advertise that the 10x15 was perhaps the most versatile press in terms of size. But then if you’re doing runs of larger phamphlets or even books, the larger size would be an advantage. Others can offer further advice I’m sure. Only you can decide in the end.

P.S. I realize that many printers use a tabletop press for extremely fine quality work on long and short runs and that sometimes large work can be printed on a small press by various techniques. They are a great option in many cases. I was speaking only in general terms; no hate mail from tabletop afficionadoes please!


Front Room Press
Milford, NJ