1900 Porter Press

I am delighted to be a new member of Briar Press. I have acquired a Porter Press (Patent No. 640,808 Jan. 9, 1900). I was able to locate Patent Office documents with diagrams and descriptions (they differ slightly from the actual production press). The inventor is George W. Porter of Muscatine, Iowa. It appears to be a proof press, but is large enough for other press work. I have found very little other material about this particular press online (and no images). What makes this press unique, in my observation, is the toggle. It appears to be a typical “Figure 4” toggle upon first examination; but, if one looks more closely, has a different action. I am curious if anyone in the letterpress community knows any more about this press. It appears complete (except for frisket/tympan) and I am looking forward to restoring and using it. — Bryan Jones

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Bryan… That is the 1st time I’ve ever seen a “Porter” iron handpress. Can’t imagine that there are many of these out there. Thank you very much for sharing the photos. Would love to see more images should you care to post.

Oh, boy! This may a one-of-a-kind. I’ve never seen nor heard of this brand. It’s not in Saxe’a “American Iron Hand Presses.” Steve Saxe and Bob Oldham are really gonna have some fun with this. And there’s some printers in Iowa that would love to own this. May we ask where it’s located?

What a gem! And looks to be in fine condition, too.

In my Field Guide to North American Hand Presses I included an appendix chronology listing of North American hand press makers, compiled from several sources including Ralph Green’s list of iron hand press makers. In that list is Porter, 1900-???, in Muscatine, Iowa, but that is the only evidence I have ever seen of their existence until now. Green, however, must have known about them somehow, perhaps because of his proximity, being in Chicago, or perhaps because he had seen this or another example of the press.

I would still classify the toggle as a “figure-4”, with the slight difference in the way the draw-bar link connects to the toggle and the bar. I’m also intrigued by the fact that it appears to be on the pattern of a two-pull press, though I can’t see the bed and the configuration. The platen return springs are also unique, to my knowledge, pushing the platen up rather than pulling it up.

So I would also like to see more photos, including a shot showing the entire press from the front, slightly to one side, to show the configuration better — from about the same angle as your first photo above. And in order to add it to the North American Hand Press Database I would appreciate more info about the location of the new owner as well as the platen and bed dimensions. You can email me through BP.

But congratulations on scoring what is probably the only example existing of a very unusual iron hand press!


That’s a fascinating mechanism. I’d love to see more shots of it. How does the drawbar linkage not get bound inside the bar as it passes through? The handle is traveling in an arc and the linkage must move in a straight line, yet I see no method for the linkage to flex nor does it appear that the bar/toggle/linkage assembly can rotate. I’m obviously missing something.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Thank you to everyone for taking the time to comment about my Porter press and confirming my suspicion of its rarity. I have posted another photo showing the back side of the press. The bed has been removed and is leaning on the base. There is no rounce barrel and/or forestay included in the design. The bed is approximately 18 x 24 ? (I am not near the press right now to take exact measurements). The bed is pulled out using two handles, which can be seen in the photo. Perhaps because of the “sideways” orientation of the platen/bed and the broad spread of the legs, a forestay was not necessary. Bryan

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Bryan… Thanks for the additional photo. Operation makes more sense now. Just thinking out loud… unlike a standard Washington Press, this press must have been operated while standing in front of, and directly facing the press. The handle (tail) probably traveled less than a foot and came straight out at the operator. Interesting how Porters design reduced the footprint of a press this size. Noticed additional rails on inside(s) of press. Do you know if these guides were to assist keeping the bed squarely in place and the platen from twisting (?) or did the bed ride on these in addition to the tracks below (?).

Butch: The bed was off when I got the press and I haven’t operated it, so I can’t be 100-percent sure; but looking at the design of the bed it appears the bed may actually ride on those upper guides in addition to the lower tracks — See close-up pic I just posted. THANKS for your interest and input. This is fun!

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Wow! Great find. I’ve been printing in and around Iowa for over 50 years now, and I have never seen one of these.

John Henry

Assuming the toggle mechanism reaches full impression when the toggle and bar are both roughly vertical and parallel to each other (as they do in a Washington), the handle travel would have to be more than a foot. The drawbar linkage looks to be approximately 10” long and it looks to connect to the handle about a quarter of the way out from the pivot. That would put the travel of the end of the handle at around 30” at least. It’s hard to tell for sure with the angles of the pictures posted so far, but it also looks like the distance from the handle pivot to the drawbar linkage is perhaps only a couple of inches longer than the linkage itself so the sweep of the handle would be on the order of 45 or 50 degrees. I’m still confused as to how the drawbar doesn’t bind on the bar, though, and may be totally misreading the design entirely.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Bryan… Out of curiosity I just looked up the patent. In the illustration a toggle adjusting & tightening mechanism is illustrated as part of Porter’s patent on a variant designed press. Does such an adjustment exist on your press above the head (bridge-beam) of the frame? The photo is cropped to close for me to tell.

Michael… The patent goes into some detail on the movement of the arm in relation to the toggle. The description has some vast differences from Bryan’s press, and for me was not a pleasurable bed-time read, but Porter does seem to address the arc issue. After re-reading it a few times, I’m still not sure if it specifically answers your question. I can read English, a little Italian and Spanish, but I’m not to well versed in “Patent”.

I looks like there is a larger vertical “box” in the center of the head that could be a channel for an adjuster for the toggle.

It also looks to me like the combination of the position of the bar, its short stroke, and the shape of the link to the toggle would permit the slight swing caused by the arc of the bar to pass through the slot without causing a problem.

What is curious to me is that he even bothered creating a new hand press mechanism at a time when the hand press had evolved to be a heavy-duty proof press and the cylinder proof press had essentially replaced the hand press for the printer’s lighter-duty proofing and limited production. It doesn’t seem like there would have been much of a need for this style of press.

What was the full name of the inventor, Butch? I am suspicious of Russell W. Porter even though he didn’t live in Muscatine.


Good morning, all. This has been a fun and enlightening discussion. Thank you! The inventor’s listed name on the patent paperwork is George W. Porter. I have attached the patent diagram for reference and to provide visuals. The press design in the drawing does differ from the actual press in my possession. However, the toggle mechanism is identical. Butch — Yes, my press has the adjusting and tightening mechanism on top of the bridge-beam. (I have attached another pic showing this).

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Bob… Looks like Bryan already gave you the correct name while I was getting some coffee.
George W Porter is the press’s namesake and carries the patent to the similar press. It wasn’t filed until mid 1899 and I agree that choosing to build a new proof press at that time seems rather late in the game. But, other companies were still making them into the 1920’s+ and change didn’t occur overnight back then as it does does now. At first, I wondered if his impetus was based on using existing machinery parts, such as the frame, from other industries thus making the press for much less money, but still, there were too many other parts that had to be hand cast and fitted.

Here’s the patent link:


I gather it was not at all uncommon for inventors of portions of a mechanism like a hand press to show the invented mechanism accurately on a representation of the overall machine that differs from the actual machine — whether this was to mis-lead possible copyists I don’t know. It is also possible that the form shown was what he intended to build but he found that it was not as practical as what he wound up with which does incorporate his patented improvement.

It’s an interesting story we probably will never know completely, and a very interesting addition to the fund of knowledge of hand presses. Thanks, Bryan and Butch!


Bryan… Early in the discussion I was concerned that you wouldn’t be able to attach a tympan & frisket unless the bed came out far enough to clear the press frame. Seems that Porter was concerned enough about including one that he accounted for this in his patent diagram. Hopefully he figured in this clearance when making your press.

I’m still left wondering how you will attach corner irons to the bed for chase lock-up should you want to make this press more functional. Although Porter mentions locking-up a form on the bed is common understanding amongst printers, his written words don’t follow thru with locking the form to the bed. Makes sense as this was a proof press. But, by adding a frisket, he seemed to want his proof press to retain a part of what was good about older hand presses. From your photos, the platen looks as-if it “might” overlap the bed with a rabbeted edge. Any clearance near the side rails is minimal. Perhaps there is something unique about the bed that already incorporates corner irons(?). I believe I see a couple large chases lying against the bed in one of the photos. Any chance they somehow lock onto the bed?

The more I see of your press, and baring there are no major breaks, the more convinced I am that that you are one lucky guy to have all the original components to such a rare model. Should make for a relatively easy restoration and you’ll end up with a very unique, desirable and usable press. I also “thank you” for bringing something new to those of us who appreciate iron hand presses.

Update: Well the Porter Press has finally been moved to its new home where it will be restored and put on display in my hometown newspaper office. Then, upon my retirement from the newspaper trade, in about 20 years, it will be the centerpiece of my own hobby shop. The short version: moving required four men, strong oak boards, a hydraulic pallet jack, a covered trailer, a Bobcat with forks, and nerves of cast iron! I will post photos as things progress with the restoration. Then I will need to find everything from type and furniture to quoins and brayers. :o)


Congratulations, Bryan! I look forward to your progress updates as you work through the restoration. Such an interesting press, and it will be great to see it whole again.


This press and the discussion about it have been fascinating! As John Horn noted, this is a press that never came to light when I was researching “American Iron Hand Presses” back in 1990. Of course, I didn’t have the benefit of Google searching back then.

The toggle is a variation of the Washington press “figure-4” toggle, and the base looks like it was influenced by platen job press bases.

Congratulations! a truly unusual press - perhaps even one of a kind.
-Steve Saxe

Bryan - any updates???

Steve from Liberty Press - 20 miles from Muscatine, IA

Greetings All!

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve updated everyone on the Porter Press. Well, the press is beautiful and now sits in my office at the newspaper for all to see and appreciate. I just got it moved in today. I has been a slow-going, labor of love.

I have attached a couple of photos to show off the results.

It looks like when the bed is fully extended there are spring steel mounts, possibly to attach a frisket/tympan. Any ideas?

I love the press and I am looking forward to operating it. I am in the process of acquiring furniture, type, tools, etc.

Thanks again for all the information, enthusiasm, input and advice. It’s nice to have a community who appreciates these sort of things.


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OH MY….You’ve done a great job cleaning and restoring this press!!!! Very very nice!!! So glad to see it back into printable shape!!!! Let me (or us) know where this beauty is at and I’ll stop by to see it in person if my travels bring me close to you!!!! THANKS!!! Steve Alt Liberty Press (close to Muscatine)

Thank you for the compliments, Steve. Anyone in the Briar Press community who wants to see the press, it’s on display in the newspaper office of the Versailles Leader-Statesman in Versailles, Missouri. Versailles is a small town just north of the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri. The town is the county seat of Morgan County and is on the intersection of Highway 52 and Highway 5. The newspaper office is at 104 W. Jasper, on the southwest corner of the downtown square by the courthouse.