18th century press or early 19th?

I bought a little press on ebay last week and was told it is an18th century printing machine. It has two parts, a bed and a pressure handle with a wooden platen and appears to be made of cast iron with a yellow metal coating. The bed is 8” x 4” and there is a small groove on both sides running down its length. The height of the platen is approximately type high so I will be trying a few blocks on it.
Can anybody confirm it is an 18th century press?


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If it is in fact made of cast iron you want to be careful about the amount of pressure you apply to the handle — cast iron, especially old cast iron, can be very brittle. However, except for the decoration on the platen support, it could be wrought iron, which is a lot stronger. I’m a bit dubious about it having been meant for printing, given the very limited pressure you can obtain with that short handle. If you examine the face of the wooden platen carefully and don’t see any impression of type or other imagery I would suspect a different use. It could probably make a decent impression of an inked image on soft dampened paper.


There is no ink on the platen but plenty of evidence under the base board. When this was produced it would have been normal practice to dampen the paper so I’ll try some of our hand made paper with type and blocks.


If this was a copy press, use onion skin paper for the transfer so the copied text can be read through the paper.
I don’t know how the dampening was usually done for this process. Perhaps a slightly damp rag or damp sheet of paper was placed behind the letter being copied.

Kansas City

The 8” x 4” bed size seems to make it unlikely that this was a copy press, as does the fact that there is a type-high gap/space between the platen and the base when they are parallel.


This looks similar to a type of press called a “Parlor Press” which was popular among 19th century amateur printers. It is different than many I have seen, but certainly would work for a printing application if properly prepared.
Most of the examples I have seen use some sort of cam which applies pressure when the surfaces come into contact.
John Henry

John Henry is right, this looks like a Parlor Press. A reprint of a book on printing with ‘Parlor Presses’ exists. I had a copy in my possession, but sold it a few years ago. Maybe St Bride’s in London can shed some light here. The press also resembles the presses that are used in schools that use the Célestin Freinet method (the schools with the printing press). Drucken und Lernen in Germany sells a press of this type.