What, O What can a Kelsey Do?

Read a recent thread that used the familiar chant of the supposed “cheapness” of the Kelsey and “inferior quality” printing pulled from them, and how they could never be utilized as part of a serious income stream. I always find this an odd take, usually taken by those who never tried to make a living with the Kelseys. I have. I did. It was back in the very early 1990s, before I heard anything about their “cheapness”, but then I also heard that if a bumble bee heard it wasn’t aerodynamically sound, it would never fly.

Rather than go into a lengthy bit, I thought I might post the link to my blog page where I deal with the subject at large.


Included are several close-ups of some of what I produced back then to keep my family afloat during that year and a half when I ran an operation from my garage in Palm Harbor, Florida, using a 9x13, 5x8 and a 3x5 Kelsey, doing business with American Craft Endeavors, and with the boutiques and gift shops along Main Street, Dunedin. Yeah, back before deep deboss Letterpress became hip, so I didn’t have to worry about stressing my presses with ungodly pressures. Folks liked that “Letterpress Look” once they discovered it, even back then, using kiss impression. At that time I was the only commercial Letterpress operation south of Cedar Key on the Florida West Coast. Those three Kelseys did me very nicely. (Oh, I had help from a local AAPA member, Bill Honey, of the Honey Collection, Dunedin FL, and dies from Southern Engravers, Clearwater FL.)

Now I have a larger operation using larger, powered job presses - but that fine articulation I got from those Kelseys were never bested by the Heidi WM or the 12x18 Kluge, the Vandercook or any other machine. (to be sure, I do all my deboss jobs on the Kluge!) Probably the best comparison might be between my 9x13 Kelsey and University of Tampa’s Washington, once owned by J.J. Lankes. Ahh, but there you go. Another hand press.

If I were to draw a design parallel, I might compare the 6x10 Kelsey front lever to the 7x11 OS Pearl Model 3, which I also have, having restored it a couple years ago. Castings are very nearly the same. And yes, you can do great work on the old Pearl, too. A bit faster, though, owing to the treadle… .

Rest assured, Kelsy owners. You have a great press made do produce great work … once you learn the press. But that’s true with ANY letterpress!

G. Johanson, Printer

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Gary, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve got a shop full of equipment, but I still use my old Kelseys to produce a lot of work. They work great.

I stand corrected (on my previous comment about Kelseys not suitable for good print work). I guess its just a matter of time and effort being put into a Kelsey.

However, for anyone who asks my personal opinion, I will say that I personally would not spend my time, money and effort on a Kelsey.

If I wanted to make money printing stationery for greeting cards, wedding invitations and retail distributions (e.g. Paper Source, Papyrus), I would not be selecting a Kelsey. But that’s just me.

I agree wholeheartedly. I have used Kelsey’s for years. As well as C & P’s. I gave away my 5 x 8, and a number of times wish I had it back when doing smaller jobs and smaller runs. Recently I came into possession of a 6 x 10 Kelsey. After new rollers and about an hour or so of readjusting the platen, and roller tensions, it was up and running. Printed some notebooks for my wife’s church. Have run several things since then. With a little patience and skill you can run quite a bit on them. Hate to see them bashed when my experiences with them has been good.