Letterset printing - Davidson Dualith

Can anyone shed light on a subject that I can find nothing on…Letterset printing on a Davidson Dualith. As I vaguely recall, long ago, I believe that I was told and perhaps read that you could replace the impression jacket, or maybe the entire impression segment of the Duallith line, to accomodate a raised plate? or rubber plate that would allow for “letterpress style impression printing” on an offset machine. I believe the rails on the cylinder edges of the impression segment had to be removed or swapped out with the rails on the plate segment half of the cylinder, thereby allowing the inking rollers to ink up whatever was attached as a letterset plate to the impression segment. Does this make sense to anyone? Has anyone ever actually done this and would it be possible to adapt the modern photopolymer letterpress plates to this cylinder and get letterpress quality off of this offset machine?
Thanks for reading….peace..neil

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My understanding (I could be wrong ;-) of “letterset”, also called “dry offset”, is that it allowed use of a relief wraparound plate on the plate cylinder, which would be inked by the regular roller train, with the dampening system disabled. The image was then transferred to the blanket and thence to the paper in the usual offset procedure. It would require a right-reading plate just as offset does. Because the plate would not contact the paper there would be no chance for “deep impression”. I’m not sure how the image transfer system was adjusted for the plate thickness.

I don’t know what the Davidson system used, but “Dualith” implies to me a fairly simple change-over.


Back in the early nineties I had a total of 3 Davidson machines, two 241’s, and a 251. I never had or never saw the necessary segments to do letterpress, or “letterset” as it may well be, as Bob describes. I do have some literature somewhere that explains the process, and I’ll try to find it.
I can’t promise I’ll find the literature I’m looking for, but I’ll try sometime today.

Bob is correct. The auxiliary “segment” replaced the plate segment and was simply recessed to offer the ability to mount a relief plate. It may have had grooves to allow some means of locking the plates in proper position.

I never had the opportunity to test that application, but did run a Davidson 221 for a time and thought it was a good press for a couple reasons. It had a good inking system and the paper path was straight through the machine so it would run a bit heavier stock with good register.

Adjustments, I seem to recall, were a bit difficult when switching from another press to the Davidson as some of the adjustments seemed backward due to the plate/impression cylinder being one big cylinder, but after the first couple, you got in the swing of it.

Ok, I found the manual and uploaded 13 pages of it that describe the relief printing capabilities of the Davidson “Dual” (1955 term which was changed to “Dualith” at some point, possibly when ATF took it over from Merganthaler Linotype Co.)
I did not see the term “letterset”.
There were several accessories that could be purchased as optional equipment to achieve different relief printing functions with the dampener system removed.
You could print DIRECTLY from rubber plates, specialized T-slotted type, milled lino slugs, curved electros, and they claimed that you could do imprinting, numbering and perforating simultaneously.
Dry offset was also possible.
It seems entirely possible that one could have adapted it to the use of photopolymer plates, maybe with shimming, although I didn’t try to figure it out, but the dimensions are given for rubber plates.
I believe the accessory segments are exceedingly rare and that you might be better off starting a collection of hens teeth. But, I could be wrong—-if you found the right source tucked away in some cloistered pocket of hard-core Davidson operators/collectors. They may be out there.

The entire set of manual pages may bore most to tears, but it’s all there, 13 pages concerning letterpress (one page covers Dry Offset though).
Reading it may be easier by clicking on the image so that it loads in the “light box”, then selecting “view all sizes” in the upper right to see the larger original size.
I could have assembled a small .pdf, but I don’t have a host to upload it to.

Start here:


For those who have no idea what a Davidson Offset Duplicator is, there was one on eBay that ended unsold the other day, which I just discovered:


If I were ever going to get another offset machine, it would be a Davidson, because I’m familiar with how it works and I agree with jhenry that they were good presses.


It is interesting to note that the photo of the nameplate on the press listed on eBay indicates that the Davidson Company was (at least when this press was made) a division of the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. That gives us a real letterpress tie whether or not we have the appropriate relief printing segments.

Thanks for posting the manual pages. That was indeed interesting stuff.

John Henry

The “specialized T-slotted type” David mentioned might be better known as “Multigraph type.” I don’t know when the Davidson Company started building presses, but as early as the early 1920s (or maybe the teens) they were building a feeder for the Multigraph press (which used the short T-base type but could also take plates of various sorts). So presumably Davidson had a good working relationship with Multigraph and a good understanding of how the Multigraph rotary letterpress worked, and it would have been logical for them to continue with something similar for their press.

Hen’s teeth not withstanding, if anyone ever does run across an available railed type segment for a Davidson, I’d love to find one for my Davidson 221, as it would be a nice tie-in with my Multigraph collection, and I do have plenty of T-base type to experiment with.



There was a lot of T-base type for sale on eBay a few weeks ago, and I did not recognize it until I looked at my manual last night. It even came with several holders as shown on one of the pages.
I will definitely keep my eye out for a rail type segment.
I talked to an equipment dealer a while back and he mentioned that most of the used Davidsons he was selling at the time were going to Mexico. That might be a good place to look for this stuff.
I was searching YouTube for Davidsons and found that most of the videos there had Spanish in the titles and descriptions. Here’s one that shows a numbering operation:

Also, thanks for the correct term T-base type. I wasn’t aware of the Multigraph application, and the connection does make perfect sense. They called it T-bottom in the manual but I’m going to correct it to T-base on my Flickr pages. T-slotted type was a misnomer, and it was late.


Dave, any idea how the T-base type was listed on eBay? I’m always interested in more, but don’t always have time to wade through everything in “letterpress”, and admit I’ve almost never searched “Davidson” on eBay. Also, any chance I could get a copy of the scans of your manual?

It looks like Davidson pretty closely followed Multigraph practice as far as railed segments, type, line lock clips, and so on. And, while I tend to use the term “T-base type” as sort of a generic name for the stuff, I’m not sure what the correct term really is, if there is one. Multigraph, of course, pretty much referred to it just as type, or as Multigraph type, although they did mention something about it being “milled” to fit the Multigraph slots or rails (which it wasn’t, it was cast that way!). “T-bottom” or “slotted” probably makes just as much sense as “T-base.”


As I recall, it was simply listed something like “Big Lot Letterpress Printing Type”.
The seller obviously didn’t know exactly what it was, and neither did I, at the time, but I knew that I couldn’t use conventionally, as it was obviously not type high. There must have been at least twenty holders, (these seemed to be rails of some kind maybe from a Multigraph typesetter? Not sure). Many of them with type loosely set in them, and other type seemingly pied, can’t remember if they were in some kind of container or box, but it was a fair amount. It all seemed to be about 12 point or close to that.
It did sell, and I thought to myself somebody bought something that they didn’t know what it was either, but maybe they did !
I have no idea on how to access the ended auction…

There is precious little info on the internet about Davidsons.
You can still get rollers for them as far as I know, from Syn-Tac through http://printersparts-nc.com/

I would be happy to scan the manual, but alas, no scanner.
I’m seriously thinking of making a few decent copies of it though. There are 116 pages. The ones I posted were pics. The cover is in awful condition with ink all over it, but the contents are intact. I could actually use the back cover for front and back, but it’s just reverse graphically.
It doesn’t mention the 221 specifically, but they were very similar to the 241 & 251…the 241 and 221 share the same feeder.
But I’ve also been thinking of getting a decent scanner lately as well, or I could try to put together a .pdf from pics….I don’t know yet, but I’ll definitely keep you in mind. I’ll try to contact you off the forum…


(Following is excerpted from the 1955
Davidson Offset for Letterpress Manual p. 59.)
They describe, through the use of different optional accessories, how relief printing could be accomplished on the machine in addition to offset printing.
It could print from rubber plates, short T-base Multigraph printing type, MILLED LINOTYPE SLUGS, and curved electros.
It could be set up to do imprinting, numbering and perforating simultaneously.
I am of the opinion that these capabilities were not easily sold to the printing trade at large, and the necessary accessory segments required to do these tasks are rare, and would be very difficult to locate.
Davidsons are very good old presses and are capable of excellent offset duplicating with very good ink coverage and registration.
The Davidson Corporation was a subsidary of Merganthaler Linotype Co., then later bought out by ATF.

I opine that to get the mortgage loans from banks you ought to present a firm reason. However, once I have got a auto loan, because I wanted to buy a car.

I just ran across this post. I realize it’s nearly two years old but the subject may be of interest to some on this forum.

The Davidson Duallith was an ingenious machine designed in the late 30s. Most of the early machines were configured as small offset presses including many on Navy ships during WWII. In those days there was really only three ways to get an image on paper; photo, letterpress and offset. The ship’s newspaper, the Plan of the Day and a great many forms were printed by offset on the larger ships. Back home thousands of small printers used the Davidson for defense and general printing.

In addition, may of these machines were used in specialty manufacturing where the unusual applications were utilized. This included; direct letterpress, usually from thin engravings mounted on a letterpress “segment” which were interchangeable, as well as dry offset which transferred first to the blanket cylinder then to the paper. There were also rail segments for T base type and a small chase for locking up linotype slugs for fast change imprinting in addition to numbering.

Compared to other small offset presses which followed, the Davidson was heavy duty, built to last and would do so as long as the pressman kept them lubed. It’s a pity that most of the early 221, 241 and 251 Davidsons ended up in Mexico or the scrap yard as they became obsolete. In my day I must have owned six or eight of them which made a ton of money over the 40 years they were in service.

As far as the polymer plate idea for letterpress printing, we did it with a specially undercut segment which I still have in the basement along with a bunch of other Davidson stuff including a complete 251.

It was a great ride.


There’s some further information on Davidsons at:


As it happens, Davidson/Mergenthaler was involved in a court case, and the transcript of this case includes an overview of the Davidson company history to that point.

I’ve also re-hosted David Jasmund’s manual photographs and added a scan of the parts book for the Model 221.

David M.

Dave Robison -Read your post this a.m. Just noticed this on e-bay a few minutes ago, thought you might be interested.
http://tinyurl.com/k995wdw Not mine-nor do I know who has it.

Winfred Reed
Black Diamond Press (KY)

Winifred, thanks for thinking of me. The item listed on eBay is a Multigraph Flexo-Typesetter Model 39, the early cast-iron version of the simple gravity-fed “typesetter” for the Multigraph. I think this version may predate Davidson’s involvement with Multigraph, but this or the later sheet-metal version (Model 59) could have been used to set type for the railed segment on either the Multigraph or Davidson.

Since the frame of these are cast iron, they’re heavy to ship (unless disassembled to go in a Flat Rate box). It looks to be in nice condition so I’d be interested if it was less expensive and if I didn’t already have a few of these!


I have a Davidson 251 that I have used for offset printing. I have a second one for spare parts. I picked up an AB Dick 360CD a few years ago that I now use for printing. I have all the manuals for the 251 that show how to emboss and number, but I cannot find the chases that are required for embossing and numbering.

image: Davidsonlabel.JPG


I have been looking around to see what others are doing with their old Davidson 221s. I learned offset printing on this press back in 1974 and had an opportunity to pick one up. It had a few parts that I did not recognize, one being the letterset cylinder.

I have just finished putting the press back together and we are in the process of videotaping us running a four color process print job. On our last run of black I am going to try a trick my father told me about when he ran these presses back in the 1950’s. He would remove the brass impression jacket, mount a plate that had been exposed backwards (wrong reading), and then was able to print both sides of the sheet at one time. The back side would transfer directly to the sheet and the front would transfer from the blanket as the sheet passed through the press.

At some point I would like to try the letterset feature of this press, so if anyone knows where I could get a little type for testing please let me know.

image: Letterset_Cylinder2.jpg


image: Davidson221_start2.jpg


if that takes the same type as the multigraph press I know Don Black has some, I just picked up a multigraph and was going to try a rubber plate on it, that multigraph type is very small, I called Don Black and he said he has some of that type.

Well, my daughter and I just got done running our 4 color process job and video taping much of it. We will be editing the video and we’ll put up links when we get it done.

I want to thank David Jasmund for making the 13 pages of the manual for letterset available. It made me more comfortable when I switched the press over for two sided printing. That took about five minutes to convert over, removing the cams on the impression side of the cylinder so the ink and water rollers would ride on the plate, that replaces the draw sheet.

As I was reading the letterset part of the manual I was surprised to see that they actually advertised the two sided printing feature. What caught my attention was the embossing feature they also advertise. If anyone has additional information on that I would be very interested in seeing what that involves.

The press printed the 4 color side so nicely. The registration is surprisingly accurate and the ink and water balance just wasn’t an issue. The back side printing was somewhat lacking. If the sheet is smooth and you’re only printing line work, you might be okay. It was fun to try it and see it actually work. We’ll have that in our video as well.

In the mean time I’ll start looking for some type and we’ll try some letterset printing in the future. Thanks dickg for the lead.