Tag Archives: book press

If You Desire Perfect Fitting Covers; or, the Joint Groove

The International Bookbinder, Vol. 2, No. 4 April 1901.  p. 14

This is an odd looking machine. The stand it is on resembles a typewriter or sewing machine table, which suggests to me it was used while the operator was seated. The foot clamp must open or close the jaws, which were also heated, if it is a gas line coming in from the back. The heat and pressure would soften the animal glue to define the cloth case on the bookblock. I’m not sure if 32 machines in use is impressive, or just a good start, or if any still exist. The cabinets under the table might contain different thickness of jaws for defining the joint groove.

The joint groove is the term Nicholas Pickwoad uses in his Language of Bindings dictionary of bookbinding terminology, and one that I especially like.  It is succinctly descriptive, yet comprehensible to users of older terminology (the French joint, the American groove) without attributing it to a specific nationality or time. It would sound odd to refer to a 17th century Dutch stiffboard parchment binding as having an “American groove”, for example. Reportedly a book based on the Language of Bindings website is forthcoming from Oak Knoll Press.

I recall from a college linguistics class that prescriptive language changes have a poor track record, since language tends to change transactionally and dictionaries usually record usage. Possibly it is different for a very small group of book people using specialized terminology. Will fuzzy language searches and the ease of sharing images negate some of the need for a very strict terminology?  Time will tell.

A New Book Press



In preparation for an upcoming workshop, I realized we could use an extra press. I wanted something slightly nicer than the a basic four carriage bolt type, but didn’t need another real book press.  This version, which we will test out in July at the Winterthur Historic Structures Class, fulfills several basic requirements: relatively inexpensive, rock solid, the platen stays up so that you can accurately load it, and it is easier to use than carriage bolt style presses.

Most of the hardware for this came from Mc-Master Carr, including the Acme bolt assembly and aluminum platen reinforcements.  This version fits books up to 9 x 6 inches and has almost 5 inches a daylight.  I think this press could be scalable, using thicker aluminum, and possibly even four Acme assemblies.

Leonard Bailey’s Copy Press

It is a surprise when a well know name from one area of toolmaking suddenly appears in a different context. Leonard Bailey is best known for his many improvements to woodworking hand planes; in fact the modern metal plane made by virtually all companies is due to Bailey. Eventually he sold his business to Stanley, who often gets credit for his work. Patrick Leach’s Blood and Gore is a great site for Stanley info, BTW. Bailey was also the inventor of several copy presses and by 1903 had nineteen patents related to typing, copying, and pressing.

It is indicative of the popularity and demand for copy presses at the time, that someone like Bailey would devote sustained attention to them over at least a twenty year peroid. But was this really, as the advertising below proclaims, “the only perfect copy press”? It is certainly “elegant and ornamental”, with enough pin striping to pimp out any Victorian office.


New Britain Directory, 1882-3. Price, Lee & Co. (The Winterthur Library F104 N53a 1882), 280.

The top part of the press is an adjustable wringer which was used to partially dry the blotting pad before making a copy in a book. The drawer at the base stored the blotting pad. The double action Acme screw (coarse and fine) allows the press to rapidly rise and fall and provide lots of pressure. There are several actual photos of this machine in Rhodes and Streeter’s Before Photocopying, 229-231. Unlike most copy presses, this one can generate sufficient pressure to use as a nipping press. Almost perfection for a bookbinder, if you can live with the minuscule amount of daylight.

A Cool Press

Luke Herbert. The Engineer’s & Mechanics Encyclopedia, Vol. 2 , 1849 (p. 333)

The above press won a prize for it because it demonstrates the five mechanical powers of a simple machine: the wheel and axle, lever, wedge, inclined plane, and pulley. Sometimes a screw is also considered a sixth basic function, although it is essentially an inclined plane wrapped around a cylinder. Herbert’s article on presses also illustrates a number of high tech screw presses used by bookbinders from this time. The state of the art information contained within this book is reflected by its binding: my 1840 edition is in a caoutchouc binding, which was invented in 1836.

Alternative Uses for a Book Press

Buster Keaton & Fatty Arbuckle, The Bell Boy, 1918


The Three Stooges, Disorder in the Court, 1936


For information on the use, history and dating of copy presses, see Rhodes, Barbara and William Streeter, Before Photocopying: The Art & History of Mechanical Copying 1780-1938. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press and Northhampton, Mass: Heraldry Bindery, 1999.

A Test of a Book Conservator’s Mechanical Aptitude

This test was taken from Popular Science, December 1942.  There were many puzzles like this one during 1940’s when mechanical aptitude was considered key in winning World War Two.  Because this one features something that looks a lot like a book press, I thought some might be interested.  You might have to turn your monitor upside down to read the answers. 


Olive Oil Presses

This olive oil press was in a Turkish store that sold olives and olive oil, in a small town on the Aegean sea.  It is interesting for it’s similarities, and differences, to our modern book presses.  Structurally, it is more similar to a book press than a copy press, which many bookbinders also use.

First of all, it is like a book press on steroids–look at the thickness of the platen, and the massive collar where the screw is threaded.   A nice touch are the thick washers at the top of the uprights, which were never on my Hickok 001/2.  With metal, a nut should always be used with a washer to prevent damage. There is no hand wheel, the barely visible press pin (is something this large considered a press pin?) on the right of the photo is about 5 feet long, and there is a brass ferrule that fits into the slot pictured below. Since the tightening occurs inside the frame of the press, rather than on top, it looks like the two platens could be closed without adding pressing boards.  The depth of the castings reinforcing the upper platen is also evident.  Sorry for the annoying reflection– I wasn’t about to try and move this baby.


The angle of the acme threads seems roughly equivalent to a book press.  It would be laborious to raise and lower the platen, because the press pin can only rotate about 160 degrees.  Then the key  (a square peg near the screw) would have to be raised, the pin rotated back to its original position, the key reinserted, and another half turn performed.  The multiple holes to receive the pin are barely visible, forming a circle around the screw.  Presumably, the olives were stacked in such a way that avoided having to raise and lower the press very far.  I didn’t find any manufacturers marks, but most objects I examined in Turkey was made there –from glasses to cars.



This wooden press, also labeled for pressing olives was in the Roy Koch museum in Istanbul, which specializes in industrial artifacts and the history of technology.  The threads had an odd, rounded shape that didn’t appear to be caused by wear.  The dumbbell shaped tightening knobs look like they could generate a fair amount of force until the friction from the wood would stop the tightening.  It also looks like two people would work together to tighten the press, which would be fun to synchronize.  And then to sample the fresh, first cold pressing….

Earlier, I found a somewhat similar press in Mexico in a small bookbinding museum.  Many of the artifacts in this museum, in my opinion, were from leather workers, not bookbinders, but there is a great deal of interchange. These presses are a bit like a large lying press, with German style tightening nuts, permanently mounted upright.  I’ve never seen anything like this in North America, although many binders use various types of fruit presses that have been adapted for book use, although these are usually the central screw variety.  The difference between the size of the upper and lower platen in this photo is somewhat surprising– it seems the upper one would immediately start to deflect when it was tightened.