First Floor Press
The First Floor Press is a studio with 19th-century iron hand presses where students learn to set type and print by hand. Library staff use the presses for printing projects.
Inspired by Dr. Edward Petko’s generous loan of a 19th century Columbian press to the library, Professor Jeff Groves of Harvey Mudd College has partnered with Special Collections to establish the First Floor Press in The Claremont Colleges Library. Professor Groves’ interest in nineteenth-century printing history led him to take up letterpress printing several years ago. He currently offers a workshop in that topic every semester at the Press, located on the first floor of Honnold. In the printing workshop, students learn the basics of typesetting, printing, and binding, a process that allows them to think practically about the relationship between art and technology.
The press has three nineteenth-century hand presses and one jobbing platen press.
- Manufacturer: R. Ritchie & Son, Edinburgh
- Patented: 1813 (U.S.); 1817 (England)
- Manufacture: circa 1850
- Size: “Royal” (platen measures 20 x 25)
Our Columbian was manufactured by R. Ritchie & Son of Edinburgh between 1850 and 1860. The Columbian was designed by George Clymer, who patented his invention in 1813 in the United States and in 1817 in England. The Columbian sold well in Europe, and it was the first widely distributed iron hand press to use compound levers rather than the threaded spindle that had powered earlier presses. After Clymer’s English patent expired, the press was manufactured by a number of European firms as late as the early twentieth century. Our Columbian was purchased in Scotland by Edward Petko in the 1970s, where it had long been used as a proofing press at a printing office. Petko restored the press and in 1982 placed it on long-term loan at Honnold Library.
- Manufacturer: Wood & Sharwoods, London
- Patented: 1820
- Manufacture: circa 1870
- Size: “Foolscap Folio” (platen measures 10 x 15)
Our Albion press was manufactured by Wood & Sharwoods of London around 1870. The Albion was invented by Richard W. Cope around 1820. In comparison to the Columbian, the Albion is a much simpler design. It too uses compound levers instead of a threaded spindle, but it adds an ingenious toggle mechanism to lower the platen. Harvey Mudd College purchased the press in 2008 for use at the First Floor Press.
- Manufacturer: The Chandler & Price Co., Cleveland, OH
- Patented: 1884
- Manufacture: 1907
- Size: “Old style 8 x 12” (inside chase measures 8 x 12)
Our “C&P” jobbing platen was manufactured by Chandler & Price in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1907. The patent for this press dates from 1887. Between that date and 1911, when this series was discontinued, something like 25,000 C&Ps in this particular size were manufactured. Smaller and larger sizes were on sale as well, and later versions of them were sold until Chandler & Price went out of business in 1964. Jobbing platens are fast and efficient machines, and they were intended for “job” work—the printing of flyers, posters, forms, cards—rather than for the printing of books, magazines, or newspapers. Our C&P was used in a newspaper office in Council, Idaho, the Adams County Leader, that also did job printing. The Leader was founded in 1900. Whether this press was purchased new by the Leader is now impossible to say, but we do know that it was last used there around 1994, just before the newspaper was closed. It was brought to Claremont in 2009 by Jeff Groves, who restored it to its present condition.
- Manufacturer: William A. Field Co., Chicago, IL
- Patented: 1895
- Manufacture: 1912
- Size: “Crown” (platen measures 16 x 21)
Our Reliance press was manufactured by the Wm. A. Field Company in Chicago, Illinois, probably around 1911. The Reliance was introduced by Paul Shiedewend of Chicago in 1898. It is often referred to as a “Washington-style press” because it uses the same general mechanism as the Washington press patented more than seventy years earlier. Reliance presses were made specifically as proofing presses—that is, they were used to pull a limited number of proofs that could then be used for correcting a printing plate or type prior to printing the finished copies on a different press. After Shiedewend’s death, the Reliance was manufactured by several companies successively, including Wm. A Field. Our Reliance was purchased in 1954 by Don and Kathi Fleming as the first press at The Golden Key Press in Orinda, California. Don donated the Reliance to the First Floor Press shortly before his death in 2009.
- Built by Dr. Jeffrey D. Groves, Harvey Mudd College, while on sabbatical, 2011-12.
- Modeled on the Isaiah Thomas press (1747) at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.
- The press is constructed of vintage white oak and elm timbers, plus new oak and scavenged olive wood (from the HMC campus).
- This press is located in the Special Collections Reading Room located on Honnold 2nd floor.
Jeffrey D. Groves. “Pressing Matters: An experiential study of the Isaiah Thomas printing press at the American Antiquarian Society” Common-Place, vol. 13, no. 1O (October 2012).
- Building a Common Press: Or, my Excellent Sabbatical Adventure: Report 1 (January 2012), in which my appreciation for eighteenth-century joinery grows immensely.
- Building a Common Press: Or, my Excellent Sabbatical Adventure: Report 2 (March 2012), in which our author observes that the largest saw in your workshop is never quite large enough.
- Building a Common Press: Or, my Excellent Sabbatical Adventure: Report 3 (April 2012), in which our author balances real progress made against considerable work yet to do.
- Building a Common Press: Or, my Excellent Sabbatical Adventure: Report 4 (June 2012), in which the press, having reached an appropriate level of maturity, leaves home.