Lots of questions

HI everyone!
I am new to briar press and very new to letterpress (picture attached). I just bought an old Challenge Gordon letterpress that came with 8 trays of lead type and a Challenge Gordon paper cutter. I paid $800 for all of it. I was wondering if the price I paid was a fair price. Like I said, I do not know much about letterpress and I do not know what to price compare it to. I love the look and feel of letterpress and thought it would be fun to restore the letterpress with my dad. He is very mechanical and I am a graphic designer. Together we thought we could get it up and running. It is a bit rusted and needs new rollers. I am pretty sure all the parts are there though. I am sure I will have many many questions, but here are a couple I thought I would start with:
1. Was $800 for all of the pieces a price fair?
2. I have a TON of type. What is the easiest way to clean it? Can it go in the dishwasher?
3. Any suggestions on where to buy rollers?
4. I live in Madison, Wisconsin. Does anyone know of a good place I might be able to take a class?
Thanks everyone and I and looking forward to learning more about letterpress!

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1. Your price seems very fair if it included a cutter and type.
I assume the press has a flywheel (should be on the left side of the press) which has been removed prior to the photo.

2. A diswasher is not a good place to clean type, unless you don’t plan to use the dishwasher for dishes which will contain food. It is best to keep food and typemetal separated. If the cases contain a lot of dust, use a coarse wire screen over the nozzle of a vacuum and vacuum out the compartments with the type in place. If not dusty, just use the type and it will be cleaned through your use of it and cleaning afterwards. I believe there have been other discussion on this site regarding chemical cleaning of ink deposits etc.

3. For rollers, I have had good success with S.I. Industries Inc,
9983 Baltimore St. NE
Blaine, MN 55449
Phone: 763-784-1430
800-235-8996 (toll free)
Fax: 763-784-3212
Email: [email protected]

If you have old cores, they will recover. Tell them you wish rollers for tarditional letterpress. They are fair in price and very good quality. Check some of the discussions on this site for roller diameter. I order my rollers the same dimension as the supporting trucks. If the rails on the press are short or worn, they should be built up so the rollers pass the form at type height.

4. In Madison, you could contact someone at teh University in the art department or the Silver Buckle Press in the library and you will, I am certain get some names of folks who could be of assistance to you.

Best wishes to you with your project. That press should be a great one for cards, invitations, business cards, etc.

John G. Henry
Cedar Creek Press
Mason City, Iowa

If you want to make a weekend of it, you’re about 3 hours from Two Rivers, WI, home of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. They run weekend workshops every few months, although they are on the Vandercooks, not platen presses.

Wow! Thanks for all the wonderful advice! One more question…. I this considered a “new” style or an “old” style press?

Actually, it is neither old or new style, since it is not as C&P. Those are designations of two of the models which C&P produced. This one is a model unto itself.

Doesn’t look like a Challenge Gordon to me. What is on the nameplate (the part on the rear of the press that holds the two roller arms together)? Where’s the flywheel?
Also….Operating Lesson No. 1: “Keep your hands out of it!” Get some instruction from a knowledgeable, experienced printer. There are too many horror stories of inexperienced people losing fingers and more in printing presses.

HI! - yes, the fly wheel is off right now. I have it, but it isn’t is the picture. We are going to degrease and sand blast it. We have a lot of work to do.

The press says challenge gordon on it. I have attached a picture. Is this a rare one?

Good idea! I would love to take some classes first and I will keep my hands out. ;)


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Sand blasting can do a lot of damage to the outer layer of the casting. Use walnut hull blasting instead. It will remove the paint and grease but not damage the iron itself.


Challenge Machinery began in Chicago as a partnership of James Lee and Paul Shniedewend, about 1870. Shniedewend split about 1894 and established Paul Shniedewend & Co. and Shniedewend & Lee became Challenge Machinery. They operated in Chicago for a short while before moving to Grand Haven. I believe there may be a few Shniedewend & Lee Gordon platen jobbers around.

Hi Paul-
Will the walnut hull blasting take off the rust. Can I get it an Home Depot or Menards?

Also, does anyone know where I can find a manual for my letterpress? I can only seam to find manuals for C & P letterpresses similar to mine. I would really like to find the correct one.

more important than a manual (i’ve never seen one for any platen press) you should find someone in your area to take a few lessons from, these presses can and will hurt you if you are not careful. Good Luck Dick G.

For reading, Polk’s Elementary Platen Presswork and of course General Printing by Cleeton & Pitkin are good for a start, and Platen Press Operation by Mills is a good intermediate text. General Printing is still available as a print-on-demand book, and the Mills will be reprinted at some point soon.
I have a slightly older Challenge-Gordon, pretty similar to yours but not identical. C&P rollers and trucks worked for me, and you can get them from NA Graphics, American Printing Equipment, or Tarheel roller, which sells both rubber and composition.

Ramco rollers is also a viable optoion, just got a set of rollers, good price and quick turn around.

I have the exact same press. I also just acquired it and would like to know the outside measurement of the chase. Also you will probably not find a manual as Challenge destroyed most of their old records and materials in 2001. I just spoke with them yesterday. My press is in need of repair, could you post a photo of the fly wheel side showing the throw out arm. I also need to determine the diameter of the ink rollers and am seeking a feeder tray. As far as a manual the Chandler Price new series is very similar download @ boxcarpress.com

Upon further examination my press is a foot treadle and yours has a belt drive? Other than that they are the same. Mine is # 7061 found on the right side drive wheel

I have a 10 x 15 Challenge-Gordon with serial number 8529. The brass name plate behind the platen reads as in the photo above, Grand Haven and Chicago, which apparently dates it between 1903 when Challenge moved to Grand Haven and 1910 when they stopped making platen presses. So the press is at least 100 years old this year.

Another Challenge-Gordon owner told me his press’s serial number is 5438, and the plate just says Chicago, so it is probably from before 1903.

Matt Kelsey

From New Zealand.
Great to read there are lots of Challenge Gordons still around. To find your models history look for the stampings on the face of the right drive wheel. Near the hub are stamped the patent dates back to about 1894., The latest on my press is 1907 which suggest manufacture in that year or perhaps 1908. My press came treadle less. Have had an ornate footplate made with a foot step from an old horse drawn coach.
My next problem is the frisket mechanism at the LEFT hand side. Appreciate help with a drawing and dimensions of the “wheel” that rides the shaped casting next to the flywheel.

http://www.briarpress.org/19718. i am not from madison but maybe this post can help.
a good sandblasting shop should have the walnut shell you need. we have a place where you can go spray the item yourself using their equipment or they will spray for you. if have your own sprayer with air to supply it and you need to buy, try “eastwood.com”.

Hi - from Toronto,

We have a 10x15 Challenge Gordon - in pretty good shape, but we need roller cores. Resurfacing is no problem, but without the cores and trucks… Any leads would be appreciated.


Ps. We’re also looking for a chase - it’s a bit of an odd size

Try Don Black, he sold presses to Ben Franklin, he has been a machinery dealer in Canada for a long time, his contact info is in the yellow pages on this site, Good Luck Dick G.

I found 8x12 Challenge-Gordon rollers and trucks to be interchangeable with those for an 8x12 C&P. But as you say, the chase may be a slightly different outer dimension.

Thanks Dick, Parallel - we have rollers from a similar C&P - the cores are ever so slightly too wide to fit - am thinking of having them fabricated - Stan at Coachouse here in Toronto has the actual rollers from our press - weird story. Anyway, I’m thinking we can have copies made from his.

As it turns out I spoke to Craig at Don Black Linecasting - he doesn’t have them, but will keep an eye out.

The press itself is in really great shape, so after all the blood, sweat and tears to get it (basement extraction) - it’s really hard to just look at it — we really want to print with it!!!