A Copy Press in Use? Or a Prop?

A still from Billy Wilder’s 1951 “Ace in the Hole”

Many — most? — bookbinders use a letterpress copy press for quick and light pressing needs, often called a “nip”. These presses were originally used in offices, for duplicating letters and other memoranda. Intriguingly, there are alternative uses for them.

They often have little daylight, which is the distance between the platens when fully open, and the thread pitch allows them to speedily move up and down. Because of this, they don’t generate a ton of pressure. Rhodes and Streeter have written a wonderfully comprehensive book about them.(1)

But apart from some advertising (and possibly some photos?), we don’t really know a lot about how these were used and installed in an office. They are often quite ornate, since they were presumably on display.

This is why the still from Wilder’s movie (which is a great and relevant movie to our current time, btw) interests me.  It makes a lot of sense to mount it on top of a safe, since they are both extremely heavy and there is a lot of torque when twisting the wheel. And the height of the tightening wheel looks to be a very comfortable chest height.  But is it a reflection of actual placement or just a prop?


1. Barbara Rhodes and William Wells Streeter. Before Photocopying: The Art and History of Mechanical Copying 1780 – 1938 (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press and Northampton, Massachusetts: Heraldry Bindery, 1999)

Ron Lieberman sent an image of a gorgeous press stand he has.


One of the book presses at THE FAMILY ALBUM

An Unusual Sewing Frame from the Roycroft Bindery

A very unusual sewing frame. Roycroft Campus, East Arora, New York.

I was excited to find a small display of bindery tools at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, New York.  Elbert Hubbard started Roycroft, was inspired by William Morris, and promoted the Arts and Crafts ethos in America during the first part of the 20th century. His press produced many books that today look aggressively “hand-made”.

The sewing frame from his bindery, however, is strikingly innovative and elegant.  The support attachments are similar to the Hickock blank book sewing frame, which I think was designed and produced at least by the 1920’s. I’m uncertain which came first. I use a similar idea for clamping supports in my Nokey Sewing Frame. The curved and cantilevered uprights allow for arm clearance and stability. The late 20th century Clarkson sewing frame uses a similar design.

The rod in the front might be to wrap tapes on, so they can be continually fed upwards.  It also looks like the rod itself can slide a bit in a recess, to the weight helps apply tension?  There are two hinged areas, the front one may also trap the supports, and the one towards the back may contain a storage area? There is some residue on the rod, suggesting something was adhered at some point. But what and why?

The uprights can be removed, and the frame stored in the wooden box it rests on, like the Clarkson design. Given the aesthetics and the use of oak which is common in arts and crafts furniture, but uncommon for bookbinding tools, I would guess  it was made at Roycroft.  But the bindery display contained many other pieces of equipment from other sources, including a very nice Leo Finishing Press, so it may come from another source. It is a clever and compact design.

The Persistence of Imposition

The signatures in this mass market paperback (Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil, a great read, BTW) continue to group together, even though the book is perfect bound, and the spinefolds are cut.

Paper memory. Not enough pressing or pressure during or after folding. We could reconstruct the imposition based on this visual evidence, even though there are no conjugate leaves or other signature markings.

Whatever glue was used on the spine (PUR?) grips the newsprint-like leaves solidly, with no throw-up and lots of drape, making the book easy to hold and read. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the tactile qualities are very satisfying in this book, at least in the short term, better than many high-end hand bound books.

%d bloggers like this: