Would like to buy my first press!

Hello friends,

I am a complete newbie and would like to buy my first press. My biggest obstacle so far has been knowing what to get. Ideally I would like a small platen C&P or something equivalent.

I see these adds on here and ebay for all these different presses, but I don’t know how to choose the right press for me, and I’m also afraid of getting something that is damaged and/or missing pieces without knowing it. I also don’t know a fair value for what I’m looking for and have seen prices as low as $100 and up to $3000. (I would hope to get something in the $500 range, as I cannot afford that much).

I live in Hoboken NJ and would be willing to travel to pick something up. Can anyone give me some advice?

Thanks so much in advance!

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Since you’re in NJ - suggest you drive up to Chicopee MA and visit John Barrett at Letterpress Things . He has a selection of tabletop and floor models, as well as anything else you might need.

Bill Whitley

Thanks so much Bill, I will definitely look into that!


Ditto on that, but even better would be to get up there on Friday/Saturday, June 6 & 7. Letterpress Things will be open all afternoon/evening on Friday, AND The Amalgamated Printers’ Association will be holding their annual Wayzgoose Swap Meet at the Clarion Hotel in nearby West Springfield, MA on Saturday morning. There should be LOTS of presses to see and choose from at both of these venues. Probably the best single opportunity to compare and choose your first press. See the notice under EVENTS on the Briar Press site for additional information. The letterpress comradery alone is worth the trip!!!!!!!! It won’t get much better than this.

Thanks for the advice - I will definitely look into that. Is Letterpress Things like a regular store or do you have to go there at certain times? Do you think they have fair prices?


Letterpress Things is NOT open on a regular daily basis. You will have to go to the website which is (I believe) www.letterpressthings.com to see what the schedule is for open dates. I believe that John makes sure that everything he sells is in good working order. I have never been there before myself (I live in Iowa), but I will be there on Friday, June 6. John has been operating for several years, so his pricing is probably all right. Like I said, I haven’t been there yet. You might find better pricing at the swap meet on Saturday morning or the auction that follows it in the early afternoon, but there is no guarantee what specific items will be at the swap meet and auction.

John’s pricing is fair - that is to say you can get good stuff and won’t get gouged. He has assembled a collection of presses, parts, and supplies which carry some overhead - so he makes a little money on each sale. But it’s obvious he doesn’t do this for the money. It is interesting to note that many smaller presses carry a premium because that’s what is popular these days - for example a medium sized floor model platen press might cost 1/3 of what a much smaller tabletop might cost. Weighs a lot more too.

John is usually open alternate Saturdays from 9 to 3 or so - info on his site. He’s open this Saturday for example - also check on the APA information on John’s site - the APA swap meet is at a hotel - NOT at LPT.

Thanks so much for your informative answers.

In the meantime, can anyone recommend the type of press I should look for and give me a ball park figure of how much money I would need for it?


Here is an example of a press I think might be good for me (it looks kind of like the C&P press I practiced on). The seller is also near me. http://www.briarpress.org/13083

But I don’t know if a Kelsey is a good press and it also says that the rollers need to be relined. (I wouldn’t have a clue how or where to get that done) I also don’t know what a fair price to offer for something like this would be!

Kelseys range from a (roughly estimated) ~$250-300 for a 3x5 to ~$800-900 for an 8x10. Prices will vary depending on region of the country, size and condition of press, etc. Remember you will also need furniture, type, spacing, etc. in addition to a press…

Rollers are available from NA Graphics, or roller manufacturers like Tarheel or NENSCO. Kelseys are good little presses, but somewhat limited in impression strength - but it’s a good place to start.


It is very difficult to determine the cost of almost any press. There is some information in the Help section on ‘Determining the value of a press’ at http://www.briarpress.org/2024, but it sounds to me as if you might want to answer a few questions for yourself before making the decision.

You have been getting some good advice, but you may be confused about “the C&P press I practiced on” and the press you mention at http://www.briarpress.org/13083. My guess is that if you practiced on a small C&P, it probably was the C&P Pilot press with a 6 x 10 chase, not the 3 x 5 Kelsey.

At any rate, in your first post you said “My biggest obstacle so far has been knowing what to get.” If you haven’t already done so, it might be best to take a step back and think a bit about what it is you want to print: what size will the printed area be, will you be doing long or short runs (a press with a treadle or motor might be better for longer runs ), how much floor space do you have etc. It is good that you are asking questions here. You have valid concerns about getting something that is damaged or missing parts, so I would make sure that you follow the advice you have received and buy from a reputable dealer, or at least have someone look at the press or photos of any press you might consider buying. Good luck with your hunt.

Hello friends,

Firstly I would like to thank you for all of your advice! I feel that I have learned more from your advice in these recent days than I have learned in months of trying to figure it out on my own!

I think Elizabeth made some good points as to what I want to do with my press. I would like to start out printing small things like coasters/notecards, etc. which is why I thought a 3x5 would be suitable. And these would be small runs, like around 100 or something. I would prefer to use minimal floor space which is another reason I was interested in this Kelsey press. Eventually I would like to move up and get a bigger press which I can print wedding invitations on. The press that I had practiced on was indeed a C&P pilot press (you have sparked my memory).

I guess when I say that I’m not sure what type of press I need to get it is because I see SO MANY different types of presses for sale (vandercooks, pilots, platens, windmills, C&Ps, Kelseys, etc) and I have no idea how to distinguish one from the other due to my lack of experience.

For the record I did sincerely enjoy working on the C&P Pilot Press. If I could find something like that I believe that would be ideal!

Thanks for all your help!
Kate :)

PS - Unfortunately won’t be able to make it up to Mass. the weekend of June 6th as I have previous plans. Maybe next time…

It is truly a shame that you won’t be able to make it to West Springfield on June 6 or 7. This would have hands-down been the single BEST opportunity for you to meet dozens of printers (John tells me that there are already 50 members of the APA signed up) from all around the country and be able to see lots of various presses in operation and FOR SALE. The annual APA Wayzgoose is hosted in a different location each year and it could well be a dozen or more years before it gets back to the upper east coast.

You probably couldn’t ask for a better collective gathering of people to talk to about letterpress printing and the advantages/disadvantages of different pieces of equipment.

“Next time” will probably not be in the near future.

There’s still the Printing Arts Fair at the Museum of Printing in Andover MA on June 15…

Unfortunately June 6 I have to work here in NY and June 7 I have to go to a memorial for a family friend. It’s just not possible. :(

I will look into the event on June 15, but that will be a little more difficult since it is about 5 hours away from me.

I guess if it doesn’t work out I’m going to have to think about buying a press without going to a fair first.

Closer to home, there is the ARM in NYC - and although they may try to hook you on Vandercooks, you’ll get a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into…

Of course you can still drop in on John Barrett in Chicopee on the alternate Saturdays he’s open - sign up for one of their courses while you’re at it.

Yes I will definitely look into those options! Thanks so much for yourself!

Hi Kate:

As a former newbie, PLEASE read Don Black’s First Press Suggestions. He describes and rates tabletops:

Also, I recently purchased a Golding Official through Ebay. Make sure you get it crated and secure, DO NOT have the shipper box it and send it via UPS.

Good Luck!