Vandercook mania

I’m interested in why people love Vandercook presses so much. I mean, I’ve owned one, so I know why I love(d) mine, until I had to sell it to someone else who loved it just as much, but I’m wondering about other people’s reasons. The question seems obvious to me for so many reasons, but I’m thinking I might learn something new. I guess I’m interested in this Vandercook phenomenon sweeping the country. Just curious!

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Basically, most people are taught using Vandercooks, it is what they are comfortable with. And Vandercooks were still in production after most letterpress machines were discontinued, so some are late model and good condition. Plus as hot metal composition and photengraving faded in the 70s, Vandercooks became available cheaply and even free, so a whole generation of people, who taught those who now practice “book arts”, used Vandercooks extensively. But the presses aren’t inherantly better than other proof presses. I’d say a Hacker was generally a much better proof press, but they were discontinued 70 years ago.
It is also true that compared to platens, proof presses like Vandercooks print with less makeready. and there is less training needed to get results, and the ability to fit them into smaller non-commercial spaces—no imposing stone needed for lockup as with other presses.

Probably the biggest factor in the use of the Vandercook in teaching facilities is that it is a very simple machine in concept and adjustment, and can produce creditable printing with little makeready or fuss. It also is a reasonably safe machine to operate, although it does have pinch points and as any machine, requires that safe procedures be used.

The horizontal bed is more forgiving of less-than-perfect lockups, and the cylinder press in general, is more forgiving of less than perfect makeready techniques, so all-in-all, the Vandercook is a good press for all, from beginners to experienced pros.

The fairly large diameter ink rollers provide lots of area for inking, although limited to 2 rollers vs. other cylinder presses or platens which may use 4 form rollers in the inking train.

Recent auction prices demonstrate a healthy demand for these presses, and once these prices are better known, I’m certain many presses which currently sit gathering dust will surface to fulfill the need. Would that I had foreseen a resurgence in interest in the ’70s when Vandercooks were selling at industrial auctions for $50-$100. I should have filled a barn with them, and could retire early.


Speaking as a person who was trained on a Vandercook, it is remarkably simple to produce good work on it. Even bad forms aren’t a big deal (for beginners), since you don’t have to worry about anything falling out as you transfer the chase to the press. Additionally, my fetish for large wood type makes a platen impractical. The downside is that the thing is completely manual and my arm feels like it’s going to fall off after a few hours of cranking away.

I’m about to learn how to use a Windmill, which is a completely different sort of beast. But for production, you can’t really beat it.

This situation is quite a reversal from earlier fine press thinking. Then the most desired press was the Colt’s Armory or other presses of the Galley Universal type of platen. Many fine press printers of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s started with platen jobbers or perhaps the odd handpress, and when they found their Colt’s, never wanted another press. Some, like the Grabhorns, rejected the very idea of cylinder presses, because of the form punching at the leading and trailing edges; Ed Grabhorn even believed that ascenders and descenders would punch with cylinder impression.