Unique International Printing Presses

Across the globe, letterpress printing has captured the heart of many a printer, be they from Italy, Brazil, the U.K. and beyond. Each country has dipped its own pen and added to our collective letterpress history through the beautiful creation of presses and the ingenious pressman at the helm of these metal beauties. We reached out to some our printing colleagues to check out what unique international printing presses are founded in their country or rare presses they have had the honor to ink up. Some are of their own countries’ origin in production and some are foreign-born masterpieces. Either way, the global letterpress community grows stronger as more of these special presses are inked up and shared with others.

Davide Tomatis – Italy – Archivio Tipografico  our latest press is a Schelter&Giesecke – Phoenix IV. This press is a sliding platen press, designed and produced in Leipzig at the beginning of last century (around 1905). The maximum printable format is 40 x 66 cm and its weight reaches 1600 Kg. It has 4 inking rollers that work in couples: one couple inks the form on its way down and the other couple on its way up. It’s a very sophisticated inking system that we’ve only ever seen on this kind of press. It ensures a perfect inking of the form, as the active inking rollers are always evenly inked and don’t carry back on the form the sign of the type they just inked.

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press) | Unique International Printing Presses feature

We acquired it in January 2015; our friend Luca of Anonima Impressori told us about a place near Bologna with an incredible collection of platen and piano-cylinder presses. We weren’t in need of any new press but – as you can imagine –  we couldn’t help ourselves. We immediately went there and what we found was a very big, dark, cold and humid warehouse with presses everywhere. We never saw such a large place before.

Most of the machines were quite conventional: Saroglia, Heidelberg, Nebiolo… but just around a corner, hidden by a Nebiolo Urania 70×100, Emanuele couldn’t believe his expert eyes when he recognized his dream press: the Phoenix!

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press)

The Phoenix press series, produced by Schelter & Giesecke, are a particularly big and sturdy model of presses and one of the biggest ever built in the history of printing. As far as we knew the only working Phoenix in Italy was in Enrico Tallone’s printshop; what’s more, the model in the warehouse, was the biggest one of the series. No need to specify that seconds after the discovery a decision was taken: we had to make place for her in our printshop. We had a lot of work to do on her: she had no inking rollers, no engine, no cleaning system and she was covered in years and years of dust and dried ink.

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press)

The restoration was quite a long and difficult process; as we didn’t have any manual or technical info we pretty much had to guess everything, from the size of the rollers to the right kind of engine. After a few tries we found the right size of the rollers and we were very lucky with the discovery of a super engine by our trusted and experienced electrician (a beautiful original AEG model). After that we engineered a cleaning system for maximum practicality of use.

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press) | Unique International Printing Presses feature

We had to come up with an original solution as the machine wasn’t originally equipped with any cleaning system: the printer had to dismantle the rollers after each use and clean them manually. Lastly, to look as beautiful and as majestic as she deserves, we restored the amazing details embossed in cast-iron on the body of the machine, as Schelter & Giesecke mark on the side of the press and the name of the model on the front and we brought them back to their original golden color.

Davide Tomatis of Archivio Tipografico (Italy) prints on a Phoenix IV (German press)

Now the Phoenix press holds pride of place in our space: it’s the most elegant, powerful and historically relevant press we’ve ever owned, and we’re very proud for having brought her back into printing shape!

Marcelo Pinheiro – Brazil – Carimbo Studio The first press we had was a small tabletop one. We found it with a guy who buys and sells graphic equipment here in Brazil. He also had some metal type with it (in fact he was going to sell it to the junkyard and have all the type melt). Its original colour was black, but they had it painted with this green hammered textured paint, that helps disguise imperfections, but on the other hand is good for cleaning with solvents.

It is a Japanese press, manufactured by Osaka Printing Ink company (serial number L603) but we don’t know much more about it.

Osaka Printing Ink Company press | Unique International Printing Presses

Here in Brazil this kind of press is called ‘socadeira’ or ‘prelo de soco’ as you have to pull the lever to make an impression (punch = soco, in Portuguese). We are trying to get this press back to its glory days and we plan to use it to show people how letterpress printing works, demonstration and such, as it’s very simple to operate (once you have already made all previous adjustments).

Another press we have in the shop is from a Brazilian manufacturer called Catu (meaning ‘Very Good’ in Tupi Guarani – Brazilian indians’ language). I think that “Minerva” – like the Goddess of Wisdom and Arts – is kind of a generic name that all platen presses are called here and on Latin America as well. The company was founded by German immigrants and started producing printing equipment in 1946 – and they still make offset equipment nowadays. It’s very common around here, but despite that, we can’t find much information about it – we don’t know when it was made and we don’t have a manual. It was still working as a printing press when we found it, but people also modify it for die cutting, thus removing all the inking system and all rollers.

This model is often referred to as Minerva Catu 1/4 – as its printing size corresponds for a quarter of a 99×66 cm (Brazilian standard) paper sheet. We heard that its design is based on some German model, but we really don’t know. It’s a hand fed platen press and it has adjustments for rail height and printing pressure. We find interesting the lever for turning the flywheel on – and off, as it also works as a break. It has adjustable speed but we like to run it slowly and appreciate the work as we go!

Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

There are lots of these presses here in Brazil, but they ended up mostly used for finishing (die cutting, scoring, numbering). We have seen people painting Catus with all sorts of colors (black, white, red, etc.) but we like ours as it was made and its greenish industrial paint. But we made special leather grippers for the impression handle and the start / stop lever. It gives our press a much cooler look! Coincidentally, we ended up buying it from the same person that we bought our Heidelberg Windmill from, but it was totally random.

Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

It weights over 2500 pounds (1150 Kg) and has a printing area of 13 x 19 inches (335 x 487 mm). On our Catu we have printed album covers for a French / Brazilian Music label and we made posters for Association Typographique Internationale  and for Englewood Letterpress Depot, besides several other projects. It is our press of choice when running larger pieces.

The Catus are always accompanied by two side tables to keep the paper sheets: on one side you leave the blank paper and on the other one you put the sheets that were just printed as you are hand feeding the press.

We find it easy to setup and it has a feature that I haven’t seen on other presses: it is possible to adjust the parallelism of the platen vs. the form. This is sometimes useful when adjusting makeready. The maintenance is somewhat curious, mainly because of spare parts… Even with just one model, not all Catu Minervas have exactly the same design on parts and holes. It is said that if you disassemble 3 Heidelberg Windmills you will be able to reassemble the 3 machines again perfectly. But if you disassemble 3 Catus and mix all parts you won’t get 1 single machine assembled back again!

There are other machines on the Catu family though. It has a younger sister: Catu Mirim (something like Small Catu) – as the name says, the printing size area is smaller. They also used to make cylinder letterpresses as well and that’s something that we are considering adding to our roster, too!

Marcelo Pinheiro of Carimbo Studio (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

Pamella Farrell – UK – Farrell Press We currently have three beautiful presses in studio, a 15×10 Arab Press c1894, an 8×5 No.1 Cropperette Press c1888 and an 8×5 Adana Press which were all lovingly restored by my husband.

I started out printing on the Adana, I’m mainly self-taught. I was the first letterpress printer in Ireland to reintroduce the craft to brides and grooms, offering letterpress wedding stationery in 2008 and the business has gone from strength to strength. As demand grew I knew I had to invest in a larger press. I searched throughout Ireland to no avail, I found out a lot of presses had been sold for scrap when litho printing became popular!

I then looked at the feasibility of importing a press from the UK or the US. I was lucky to stumble across a sale ad for the Cropperette and the Arab press. They were owned by a photographer in London, UK, who was moving house and found them while emptying his garage. He hadn’t used them in over 20 years. Myself and my husband took the ferry over to the UK and drove to London in a van to collect them.

Pamela Farrell of Farrell & Chase (UK) has a delightful Arab press in her printshop.

The Arab had to be taken apart as it was too heavy for us to lift, lucky they were designed to be “flat packed” and with the manual my husband (who is a construction plant fitter), knew what he was doing. A nerve-wracking journey home and a few days later, the two presses were up and running with thanks to my husband’s skill.

“The Arab is claimed by some to be the finest hand-fed platen in the World. In terms of cost and weight, it out-performs other machines; and the fact it is designed to be dis-assembled and rebuilt makes it easier to trans­port than other, sim­ilar, presses.” (source: http://britishletterpress.co.uk)

The Arab Presses were produced in the North of England and our Arab press is still painted the original blue with red accents and has a spoked flywheel which was later replaced by a solid wheel to reduce accidents.

The Cropperette is a very rare British press built in Nottingham by The Cropper Company, if you have ever heard the term ‘to come a cropper’, a common phrase in Ireland and the UK, it relates to printers catching their hands in the printing press! The Cropperette is the more beautiful press of the two and has been very hard to find information on. It’s painted black with gold accents and a beautiful heart shaped foot peddle. It is lovely and free, very light to use with foot power where as the Arab is a very heavy press and difficult to operate by foot power alone. I have since added a motor to run the Arab press.

Pamela Farrell of Farrell & Chase (UK) has a delightful Cropperette press in her printshop.

The Arab press is the work horse which I use daily, the Cropperette is reserved for smaller jobs like labels and business cards and is used quite rarely and the Adana has become redundant. I have toyed with selling it but just can’t let go of my first letterpress.

Fabiano Santos – Brazil – Pergam Press The press is a Model “Minerva Catu” also known as “Catuzinha” here. I’m not sure what year it was manufactured, but I believe it is around the 1960s. The origin of the Catu press manufacturer company has been through a family coming from Hamburg, Germany, and they began manufacturing the machines here in Brazil around the 1940s.

Fabiano Santos of Pergram Press (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

Like the Windmill, it has all settings right at your fingertips, and it functions as an extension of our arms. It is very easy to adjust something on the press (according to the job being printed) because she “accepts” any setting. Even wire to hold up a few pieces of barnates tape for roller height adjustment. It is not widely used in Brazil. Some graphic design/print shops rarely use it for die cuts, but I have never seen anyone use it here to print other projects.

Fabiano Santos of Pergram Press (Brazil) prints with a Minerva Catu press, a press made originally in Brazil.

When I started looking for a machine to work with letterpress printing, I visited many old printers wondering where they had left their old equipment, and it was on one of these visits I met an experienced operator/printer who worked during the height of Minerva Catu. He had kept one of them in his garage. Since he had retired and no longer operated the machine, I bought it from him and now she has won a special place at our shop.

Corby – Singapore – Papypress Our press is a Super Ace on the machine with serial number 3361 on it. The labels are all in Japanese, and it’s an 8” x 10” Platen. Is this machine good? Not really, it has quite a few silly features that I haven’t quite figured out yet actually.

Corby of Papypress (Singapore) prints on a Japanese Super Ace press (detail: inkwell).).

This is the ink fountain.The knobs, as you would already know, control the flow of ink. However this is not a cylinder inking plate. It is an ink plate that rotates like an Adana. That means I can’t play with colors like one would do on a Vandercook. So why have knobs? Looks cool though.

Corby of Papypress (Singapore) prints on a Japanese Super Ace press (detail: inkwell).

This flywheel is like the tiniest thing I have ever seen. No bigger than 10” in diameter.

Corby of Papypress (Singapore) prints on a Japanese Super Ace press (detail: flywheel).

Sometimes when I want to print with a heavier depression the platen jams up and I would have to give it a manual push. But once you get the hang of it you’ll know what to do. Nonetheless it’s a nice “semi-automatic” machine to have around and not as bulky as a C&P. We use if for smaller cards that have images really close to the edge. By hand feeding, I can minimize gauge pin space.

Once we were at an old print shop looking for wooden stools to use in the studio (these type of wooden stools are always found in old print shops in Asia). In the corner of the shop I first saw the inking plate in the corner, when I asked if the machine was still around he pulled the cloth off and showed it to me. He said why would I want something like that? Why not buy a digital machine? Best deal I ever made.

Corby of Papypress (Singapore) prints on a Japanese Super Ace press (detail: wooden stool).

Presses like these were common in our region, the more common ones were even more block looking. Space was always an issue in Singapore, and these machines were built with big motors and smaller flywheels. I guess deep impressions only came much later and it would have worked perfectly for “kiss” printing.

If you have a unique printing press you’d like to share & gush about, join in on the conversation and post it in our comments section!

Have Press, Will Travel

Meet Erin Fae, a self-proclaimed dreamer and printer. Last year, she dreamed of putting a new spin on letterpress. With visions of a traveling tabletop press and a new set of wheels, the Press Cycle project began. Erin explains how her idea took off with the help of others who shared her slightly unique vision.

Erin Fae of the Press Cycle

In 2013, I bought an 8×5 Adana on Trade Me from a woman in Christchurch, New Zealand. She was so excited that the press would help teach people printing at Alphabet City (the community art space I used to run) that she offered me a bonus press for free: an Adana 5×3. As soon as the small press came into our lives, I knew this gift presented an opportunity to be able to share letterpress printing with even more people than those who wandered into our studio.

I was returning to my beloved home of New York City for the summer of 2014. I knew I wanted to run a portable print project that would take letterpress printing outdoors and into various communities. I wanted to expose as many people to letterpress printing as possible and find a way for people who had never heard about letterpress to try it out.

The dream came to fruition with the help of Press Cycle Kickstarter and over a hundred backers.

I called the project The Press Cycle: Letterpress on Three Wheels. Running the Kickstarter meant I was able to purchase a vintage Schwinn Tri-Wheeler adult tricycle and outfit it with a custom box (built by the super talented folks over at Nightwood in Brooklyn that converted the tricycle into the mini studio). I had originally thought that the project would use magnesium dies for printing…and had started an order when I got a pretty magic phone message.

Letterpress printing by The Press Cycle The Press Cycle in NYC

When Boxcar told me that they wanted to donate a base and a page of plates, I was beyond thrilled. By nature, I am every shade of enthusiastic: I had a solo dance party in my borrowed Brooklyn apartment. This wasn’t just because the donation helped the project immensely, but because the Press Cycle is all about collaboration. I wanted every stage of the project to be about collaboration and community, and teaming up with Boxcar meant this was evermore true.

The Press Cycle on tour

The project wrapped up in September. How did The Press Cycle go on the slightly more inky streets of New York? I think it went marvelously. I said from the beginning that even if one person learned about letterpress, all the work would be worth it. By the end of the Summer, not one person, but hundreds of people in different Brooklyn and Manhattan neighbourhoods got to try out letterpress printing. We even took the press to the Greenpoint branch of the Brooklyn Public Library for their Greenpoint Handskills workshop.

I love teaching printing and one of my favorite things in the world is watching people pull their first print. Even if they’ve watched someone else do it, even when they know what is going to happen, doing it themselves is always a wonder. One woman told me that she needed something to make her day and that the Press Cycle did it. An older man in Brooklyn told me about how he printed on a hobby press in high school. Young children were especially amazed at the instant nature of printing, that they could pull one lever and make an image—no waiting for something to come out of a machine; they had the power to do the work.

Erin Fae of the Press Cycle

I handed out pamphlets to anyone who printed since most people didn’t have time to hang out and chat. I wanted everyone who encountered the Press Cycle to know that they were helping keep letterpress printing alive and are part of a long lineage of printers, even with just that short encounter. All printers matter. I hope that some of the folks who tried letterpress for the first time went on to learn more about printing. Who knows?

Letterpress printing samples from The Press Cycle

Maybe someone will take a class, maybe someone will one day have their own press.

It wasn’t all roses. Before I put up a giant laminated sign that said “FREE (Yes, really)” it was sometimes hard to lure people into printing since New Yorkers were suspicious that I was selling something. Also, I was somewhat limited by being a human. I didn’t have the power to wheel the 100+ pounds of Press Cycle as often as I would have liked, and needed to give my body time to rest and recharge.

Letterpress printing with The Press Cycle

What was always amazing was the community that came together around this project. I collaborated with various artists to make the images for the plates; Boxcar’s amazing donation; the enthusiasm of letterpress printers online and off; and the amazing backers on Kickstarter. People coming together around learning and creativity is always humbling and wonderful. I feel grateful that I was able to lead a project that gave so many people a peek into the world of printing and how letterpress works.

Absoloot-ly In Love With Letterpress

Plunked down in the vibrant heart of the entrancing Hungarian capital of Budapest (and a easy stroll from the Danube River) sits the thrum and hum of the Absoloot printshop. The sunny, spacious shop houses laughter, good cheer and a heaping dose of the ever-alluring smell of ink and paper. Andrea Hermann, one of Absoloot‘s founders, shares with us stories about the true worth of a good night’s sleep and the irresistible appeal of paper & design.

Judit, Andrea Hermann, Juci & Reni of Absoloot in their bright letterpress print shop.
(from left to right: Judit, Andrea Hermann, Juci & Reni)   

PRINTING HERITAGE We are two gals, Judit & Andrea, who live in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary.  We love paper, we love design and in 2011 we thought about starting our own business involving paper & design. That’s how Absoloot was born. We wanted to work with talented young artists, so we emailed and invited them to participate in our business. They receive a percentage of our sales, so you are an investor in their future with each purchase.

Dazzling letterpress work printed by Absoloot printshop.

IN THE BEGINNING We believe in everyday luxury that you can feel. We bought an Adana table press for our first range of notebooks, but then we found out it would be too small for our ideas. Then we got to know some letterpress printers over here – there are only a handful. One of them is an avid collector of these machines and he sold us a more than 100 years old Joseph Anger und Söhne platen press. We had to renew her a bit and still need newer rollers, but it’s awesome!

Clever notebook printed by Absoloot printshop.

HUNGARY FOR LETTERPRESS We have a nice studio with an industrial feel to it. It’s more like an office where we work on computers, but of course our printing presses have their own corner (we do everything ourselves, unless the job requires different machines or higher volumes) and this is where we hold workshops or exhibitions, since it’s quite spacious, more than 100 square-meters. We love to work for others, to create a nice design and fulfill customer orders, but the focus is on the products of our own brand.

Clean spacious press floor of Absoloot letterpress printshop.

DESIGNED FOR PRINT We are working with a bunch of young, talented designers and illustrators from Hungary and Europe, so we can always help out a customer with the design. We send out the project to our friends and anyone who’s interested sends us a price and some references and the customer can choose from them. It’s a good opportunity because you have multiple choices.

FULL TIME FUN Yes, but we do a lot of other things, too… Organizing workshops, exhibitions, designing our products, going to design markets and so on.

PRINTING FEATS We haven’t really advertised ourselves, yet we’ve got very good reviews from our customers and thanks to this word-of-mouth, inquiries are coming in from all over the world! Our products are starting to gain international recognition, so we’re actually looking for an investor to work on expanding our business.

Letterpress press gear details.

SHOP TIPS Well, we’re beginners, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned: if you’ve been trying to set up the press for hours in vain, that means you’re tired and you should stop trying and get back to it after a good night’s sleep.

Detail shot of the wall at Absoloot printshop.

WHAT’S NEXT Workshops and a series of exhibitions, finding an investor, expanding our brand worldwide, hiring new colleagues and interns and getting new machines for the print shop.

Big round of thanks out to Andrea, Judit, Juci, & Reni for letting us get the skinny on the fine presswork of Absoloot!