April 17

Samuel Rust of New York City was granted a patent on this day in 1829 for a printing press, which he named after George Washington. For several years this machine was manufactured by the firm of Rust and Turney, but in 1835 it was taken over by R. Hoe & Company, the principal builders of American presses. The Washington was a hand press. While it was about the last of this type to be developed, it was destined to be a useful machine for another hundred years. During this whole period it was widely admired as the most popular of the hand presses to be constructed in America.

From the time of Gutenberg in the mid15th century, the hand press underwent relatively few technological improvements until about 1800, when Lord Stanhope in England produced the first press completely constructed of iron which could print a full-sized form. Stanhope improved the screw principle of the older wooden presses by adding a second lever to actuate the screw, thereby increasing the power of the impression and diminishing the effort of the pressman to accomplish this. As his lordship refused to patent his press and built it “for the good of the trade,” so to speak, there were within a few years a number of presses manufactured which applied his methods of actuating the platen to make the impression.

George Clymer of Philadelphia produced the Columbian Press, but finding that American printers did not favor it, he went to England in 1817 to manufacture the press there. Here it became one of the most popular presses of its time. John J. Wells of Hartford, Connecticut patented a hand press in 1819, which utilized a fairly simple toggle joint instead of a screw. This was closely followed by an improved press developed by Peter Smith of New York and then a few years later by the Washington Press. The latter became very quickly the standard hand press in the United States. Over six thousand were manufactured by the Hoe firm prior to 1900. Hoe continued to build the press until the Thirties, although for the last forty years of this period, it was used primarily for the proofing of photoengravings. Thomas MacKellar, writing in the 1872 edition of his manual, The American Printer, stated that, “Hand presses are now restricted to country papers of small circulation, and to book-offices devoted to extra-fine printing.”

At the present time there exists a love affair between private press printers and the Washington hand press, making it extremely difficult to find one of the old machines. Many of these establishments have apparently adopted the motto of Porter Garnett, who began his fine article on hand press printing (appearing in Vol. I of The Dolphin in 1933) with the sentence: “The hand-press not only records, it glorifies.”

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