September 6

George Clymer, teacher, carpenter, cabinet-maker, and indefatigable inventor, received on September 6, 1827 a patent for a platen press capable of printing, as the specification read in part, “two forms of double royal paper at one time, being a surface of four feet six inches by three feet three inches, which is twice the size of the largest newspaper at present printed.”

This monster probably was never actually built. Its inventor’s reputation remains secure for the development of another press, called the Columbian, which was a distinctive contribution to the history of the hand press. Clymer, who at the age of sixteen had invented a new type of plow for use on his father’s Bucks County, Pennsylvania farm, had begun to experiment with printing presses as early as 1800. The first Columbian press was built in 18 13 and by April of the following year its manufacturer was ready to make deliveries. The Philadelphia Aurora, in its issue of April 26, 18 14, printed a panagyric to Clymer, describing two of his presses and their purchase:

“Mr. George Clymer, of this city, with a spirit of persevering industry seldom combined with genius, has directed his attention principally for the last twelve or thirteen years, to the improvement of the printing press. Every scheme that appeared at all likely to answer the desired end, has been successively tried by him. . . . The defects of the common press are so numerous, that it is impossible to provide a remedy for every evil. Perhaps there never was a machine invented to effect any purpose that leaves so much to depend on the skill and attention of the workman. To construct a press possessing none of these evils, required the exertions of an ingenious mind cooperating with a mechanical hand. Mr. Clymer has united in himself, those advantages to an eminent degree, and has applied them with a perseverance that deserved and attained success. He has completed, of the most durable metals two presses and through [sic] these are constructed on distinct or different plans, they approach as near perfection as it appears possible. All the defects of the old press are conquered in these. They are planned and perfected on true mechanical principles; not subject to alter or get out of order: there can neither be adjusting, regulating, levelling, mackling, slurring, nor doubling: they possess so much power that no exertion of strength is required of the workman on the heaviest form. The impression is given at once, by what is termed a double platen, and is equable, clear, and perfect. . . .”

The Columbians were two iron presses, of intricate manufacture, and were considerably more expensive than the then popular Ramage press. As a result, American printers were slow to take advantage of their superiority. Clymer therefore journeyed to England where iron presses were already being produced, and arranged for the manufacture of his press. The Columbian was a resounding success with English printers, in spite of the American eagle which was mounted as a counterweight along with the rattlesnake looped around the nameplate—and of course the name of the press itself. Until the Albion press was introduced, it outsold all of its competitors.

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