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The Chandler & Price Pilot press

Posted by on August 16, 2013

In the letterpress printing world, you have presses in many size ranges. The larger floor models have a big flywheel and a foot treadle. They are a “platen” design because two flat surfaces, the platen and the bed, are designed to slam head-on to make the printing impression. Another design is the small cylinder press, or proofing press. These can be very simple, hand-cranked, table top models, like the Nolan or the Poco. They can be fitted with paper grips and guides, rollers for inking, or not. This provides varying degrees of automation.  Larger cylinder presses were preferred for even impression, were motorized, and were very common in print shops and newspaper offices.

The small table top hand-pull platen presses were marketed from the mid-1800s onward. Some were extremely simple, not much more than pushing the paper against the inked type. And many of these were not well built, were flimsy. The Chandler & Price Pilot press is near the top of the heap, as it was solidly built, had a decently sized 6.5” x 10.5” printing surface area, two rollers, and an easy hand-pull action. There was an old style model, with more ornate castings, and a new style model — same basic design but more solidly built. There were no serial numbers so it is hard to date a particular press. The old style model is probably pre-1920. These days, the Pilot presses are very coveted and easily sell for more than $2000 if they have good rollers and a few accessories.


My press is an old style Pilot press. Rollers are okay. I purchased it in late 2007; it was found on Craigslist near Seattle and my brother Don picked it up for me. Later, in July of 2008 I got it and brought it home to Colorado. It came with a Kelsey 3 x 5 table top press, a cabinet, drawers of type, tympan, furniture and miscellaneous items. It seems to have been used to make cards for Brier Books in Seattle. As my printing studio in Fort Collins grew, the Pilot was stashed in a corner and I didn’t actually get it set up for printing until this year. I did a few prints recently, including a book-page sized poetry broadside in Caslon bold and a few ornaments.

With a 6.5” x 10.5” chase (printing area) it can easily print a standard book page print area, which usually is no more than 5” x 9.5” — if you load an 8.5” x 11” sheet in sideways and let it dry before printing the other side. With the hand pull presses you can vary the strength of the impression depending on how hard you pull, which is actually an advantage compared to the automated treadle platen presses. But not being fully automated, it takes longer to print a stack of prints.  Nevertheless, with the basic associated paraphernalia you can do a lot with this press, including full book production, cards, broadsides, and (depending on the design) small posters.

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