Kelsey copy press - help!

Okay, so here’s the deal. I just went on a whim and bought (what seems to be a Kelsey) copy press from ebay. i’ve included a picture of it. I’ve never used this kind of press before. I have, on the other hand, used an old standing press before. I don’t recall the type or brand, but it had a huge wheel that needed to be turned manually.

Anyway… I bought the copy press assuming that I could use it to reproduce small quantities of letterpress prints. I assumed this partially because the press comes with two chases and some furniture pieces. After I bought it I began to freak out and wonder if I had made the wrong move.

Does any one know how to use a copy press for letterpress printing? and how to deal with registering issues? anyone know of a manual or reference guide I might be able to access or buy?

I would appreciate the help!!!
Thank you in advance!

image: kelsey?press.jpg


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by the way, the press measures: 16 X 11X 12 1/2” in case anyone was curious.

This is a “copy press”, but it was never intended for use as a letterpress. In simpler days, people made copies of correspondence by sandwiching a document (written in water-soluble ink), a piece of tissue paper and a dampened blotter, and pressing - usually between boards. The dampened blotter drew ink from the document through the tissue, making a “copy” of the document for your records. Think of it as a Victorian Xerox.

There is insufficient pressure to make good letterpress impressions on most forms - though you might be able to print a business card, but awkwardly.

However, these are still very useful in hand bookbinding.

Nina, you are going to have a challenge doing any more than rough proofs with this press. If you really want to try, though, I suggest getting a fairly large steel galley tray that will fit between the posts and attach a tympan frame to it. Get some magnets that are used to hold type in a galley, for lockup. Add a couple of stops on one side of the base of the press so you can place the galley to the same position each time. Then set up what you want to print, “lock” it in the galley with the magnets, ink it, put a piece of paper in, slide it into the press to the stops, and screw the platen down. Grease the screw threads well so you have less friction. Should work OK but not great.

Nina -

This is NOT a Kelsey press. Manufacturer may never be known because there were probably dozens (maybe hundreds?) of manufacturers producing these copy presses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and which were found in almost every bank, law office, court house, accounting firm, stationery store, etc. I have ten of them at home and every one of them is different. There is also a variety shown on the Briar Press Museum pages.

I’ve never tried to print letterpress on them, but I assume that it could be done, although probably not easily and some sort of registration/tympan system would be needed for any kind of accuracy.

Actually Nina, you did not make a mistake by purchasing such a press. While it will not be as fast as a platen press, it can turn out some nice work if you take the time to do it right. Also, unlike other presses it is a great multi-tasker. You can use it for printing, printmaking, bookbinding, padding, pressing flowers, and host of other tasks.

I’ll be frank though, and say that it will take more effort to produce first-rate work with a copy press than with other machines. I learned to print linoleum cuts on such a machine waaaaayyyyyy back in the 1960’s, and still have the press today. Just yesterday I used it for proofing a wood-cut.

The above commenters are right about there not being an over-abundance of pressure with your machine…. but this can be overcome by keeping the print area relatively small, dampening your paper, and/or choosing the right stock. Mine will not print dry 67lb Vellum Bristol very well, but will easily print a 4x6 image of large solid areas on dry Canson Edition paper, and a much larger area on dampened stock.

There are several old books that show how to set up an old copy press for letterpress work. In one of Polk’s books, he shows a sketch of how to use it. I’ll look and see if I can find it on my bookshelf….. I know I have it somewhere.

The real key to producing fine work is not what type of press you use, but rather how much time you spend learning to use it to it’s fullest potential.

I saw that auction on Ebay.

They were calling it a Kelsey press because they had the book press, two chases (presumably Kelsey), and some Kelsey quoins.

As you can tell by the responses above it is a book press (or copy press, or nipping press depending on whom you ask).

I think if you wanted you could easily sell the chases here, or on ebay and get quite a bit of your money back. A lot of people buy Kelsey presses not knowing it does not have the chase, and they do not work without one. Or if you really want a Kelsey press, get one that doesn’t have the chase for a good price and then you’re set.

Then you would still have a nice press to do linocuts or other things. They are worth a bit in their own right, and if you wanted to sell it you could get a good price on that too. But I think you could find some great uses for it.

Thanks for all the great responses. I have to admit my heart is a bit broken. I need to learn not to respond so quickly to my whim. What I’ve really been wanting is to find something that I can do letterpress work with. I already have a baby etching/relief press (largest printing size 9.5” x 14”) so I don’t really need the copy press for lino prints. I think I might end up reselling the copy press… but keep the chases and quoins.

Question now is, does anyone know if it’s possible to use an etching press for letterpress printing?

Actually… maybe I shouldn’t give up so easily. I will have the press in my possession within a few days, and might as well give it a try.

some thoughts and questions:

What about using a photopolymer plate with this type of (copy) press?

Does it make sense that any of these handmade presses would work better?
idea 1:

idea 2:

just curious of anyone’s thoughts.

Both of those are essentially the same as what your getting, save them may allow for more pressure. having a cast iron press will be more trustworthy than anything made of plywood however.

Nina, as you research the possiblility of home-made or wooden presses you should search this site. We had a considerable amount of discussion along those lines and several of us posted pictures and descriptions of home-made presses that perform quite well.

I posted two presses myself… a 7 x 11 flatbed handpress, and a 12 x 18 Cylinder press…. that have proven to be excellent machines. The 7 x 11 is especially nice to operate, and will produce work every bit as good as my cast iron presses.

As far as the wood vs iron point that Lammy makes, he is correct to a point. IF you use common plywood, or improperly seasoned hardwood for your press, it will not be a reliable machine. It will warp and then be hard to work with.

On the other hand, if you build your press out of high quality Finnish Birch plywood, and do it right, then it will prove to be a good printing machine. One wooden press that I built and sold ten years ago is still in dailly use. It probably will not last as long as an iron press….. but then again it didn’t cost nearly as much and it doesn’t weight 600 lbs, either.

Winking Cat Press,

You are right… I did search a couple of days ago and found some awesome info on homemade presses… I’ll do more specific searches on the presses you built, out of curiosity.
Unfortunately I already bought the copy press, so will try to sell it a.s.a.p. If I can achieve perfect results with my baby etching press… why keep the copy press. I don’t do book binding, so see little use for it. I rather have my money back and purchase photopolymer plates, chases, and types.

I just regret not having come here for all these guidance before my purchase.

Lesson learned!