Tag Archives: book press

A Copy Press With Two Threads

Mark Anderson, Furniture Conservator at the WInterthur/ University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, is fixing up a copy press for their Book Conservation Lab.  At first glance, it is a large but typical press, though with a nice hand-wheel with spokes extending beyond the rim, useful for extra leverage or pretending to be a captain steering a ship.

Copy press usually have a steep thread pitch, which is great to move up and down rapidly, but they generate a lot of friction when tightening, therefore can’t generate as much pressure as a real book press. This is compounded by a common tendency of not attaching them to the bench. There is a reason almost all presses — like the one below — have four holes cast into the base, in order to screw into the bench! I guess that by having to hold a press with one hand, and tighten it with the other, the total compressional force is reduced by 25% or more.

Large copy press. Photo: Mark Anderson

Once Mark took apart the press to clean it, he noticed an unusual aspect: the central screw had two different screw pitches and diameters on it. Apparently the finer thread is internally threaded into the larger one, though it is currently frozen.

Two different thread pitches and diameters. Photo: Mark Anderson.

A similar style of screw is mentioned in the 1843 Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine. There  may be earlier examples. Even today, external threads are sometimes referred to as male, and internal threads as female. In a surprisingly contemporary note, the writer in 1843 recommends that this coarse language should be abolished.

Source: The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine, Volume 2, p. 204.

Although Mark’s example is inoperable at the moment, presumably the larger external coarse thread raises and lowers the platen quickly, and at the same time the internal thread moves more slowly, due to the finer pitch. But when the press firmly tightened, the smaller internal thread kicks in to apply more pressure. Fast operation and lots of pressure would be ideal for a copy or book press.

Source: The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine, Volume 2, p. 204.

For this to work, the finer thread needs to be affixed to the platen, as in the image from The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine. In the press Mark is working on, it looks like it spins in the top of the platen, like most copy presses. An alternative explanation might be that the finer threads were left over from a different project, or cut wrong? But if this mechanism works as advertised, why wasn’t this a more popular mechanism for copy and book presses? Hopefully he can get the screw unfrozen and we can find out.




A W.O. Hickok Press

On the one hand, I am happy to see this beautiful Hickok press, apparently still functioning, was not thrown into the trash heap. The repurposed aspects of this press appear easily reversible, simply by removing the wine box.

However, many artifacts are totally destroyed by being “repurposed”, which is often code for sold in the interior design marketplace. The Retrofactory blurb dates this press to ca. 1860’s, which seems like a wild guess. Hickok started in 1844, there are very scanty records pre-1930. If this date is correct, this press is the earliest known transitional Hickok book press I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see the documentation.

Transitional presses have metal and wood components. I used to sneer at them, so old fashioned!

Then I used one.

They develop wonderful creaking noises when gradually fully tightened, which gives some auditory feedback on the amount of compression. Look at the intelligent engineering of the thick cross-bracing on the upper platen — this is where rigidity is necessary in a press. The whole press is elegantly built for maximum lightness. The wood and iron elements interact complexly and organically. I think this helps prevent the press from backing off as much as all metal ones. The wood moves a bit, and the steel threads can settle in more parellel? The size of this press is very nice, the tightening wheel at a comfortable hand height. The wooden base is convenient to brace a foot against to keep the press from twisting in operation.

One of my pet peeves are presses that are not attached to a workbench or floor. You know who you are! If you have to hold onto the press while tightening it, you loose at least 30% of the compressional power, and are much more likely to damage whatever you are pressing.

Looking at the image of the press above, I bet a lot of shoes have braced themselves against it, though it was likely also bolted to the floor at some point, note the small slots at the ends of the feet. Given the distinctive shape of the four knobs on top of the wheel, there must have been a specialized press pin designed to fit them.

It irks me to see this beautiful press being removed from the functional bookbinding world, and co-opted into the interior design world, where its only value is to feed the appetite of the 1%. An unnecessary and silly wine storage rack for $3450.00.

More broadly, is sad when our collective culture values one of a limited number of remaining functioning 19th century Hickok presses more as a decorative object than functional one. Tools have become so invisible that we no longer even notice them, or value them.

Even though the W. O. Hickok Manufacturing Company is still in business, they have transitioned into primarily a job machining shop due to lack of demand for bookbinding equipment. Their web site mentions they still make presses and job backers on special order. The genuine Hickok 001/2 is my favorite press for general bookbinding and book conservation, much nicer than the copies of it. Please support them!

W.O. Hickok
Manufacturing Company

900 Cumberland St.
Harrisburg, PA 17103
ph 717.234.8041
fx 717.234.2587





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.