Line Ruling Press?

Hello members.
I am new to the briarpress and this is my first post.
I am in the UK and often come across letterpress equipment etc as part of my job of clearing bankrupt and ceased trading companies.

I have recently come across a machine which i needed to dismantle to move. I was told it is a line ruling machine.

I have several photos of it before dismantling and would be happy to send them to anyone if I have an email address to send to.

My questions are……can anyone confirm that this is actually a line ruling machine? and secondly will it have any value or will it attract any interested parties?

Many thanks in advance for any help or advice given.

image: burton 6 005.JPG

burton 6 005.JPG

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Part cast iron part Deal usually Manufactured late19th century by Hickock of USA
This one is probably early and would be known as a pen ruling machine , need more pics to confirm but it should have a makers brass plate on the frame usually in view at operator end . These werent operated by printers really it was a bindery tool run by finishers or bookbinders . I ran more modern versions that incorpotated discs as opposed to pens but its a long and arduous job setting them up (days) rather than hours, so discs rather made these seem antiquated and painfully slow .
Where in the UK are you ????
You just click on our name to respond off line but really the point of this site is to share our knowledge .
There should be a huge box with dozens of those cogs in it as they dont appear to be all there ,also the ancillary tools for constructing the pen nibs .

Hi Peter,

Thank you so much for the reply.
Every little piece of info is teaching me as I know nothing at all about these machines.
There were indeed a few extra cogs but I fear that the small number may mean that the whole item is short by some way of the total required.
I’ll dig out the plate found with the machine and see if the name on it tallies with the known makers of these.
I do like a nice piece of old and well made machinery which is what drew my attention to this.
If it turns out not to be practical for anyone to attempt a rebuild or refurbishment project on it then the frame will certainly recycle into something special.
I’m in Staffordshire by the way.

Here is the restored Hickok machine in Iowa:

There are other photos in the set.
I personally know nothing about them, but there may be at least one regular here who is likely more intimately involved with this particular machine.

The gears are for either A changing the overall speed and B for dropwork , not sure yet if you can do drops on this one . the speed is variable as you set one speed for the horizontal lines on the sheet and then slow it down to do the lines down the sheet ,these usually meet a horizontal line and stop at the top of the column , to stop the line at the top of the sheet require a a cam that lifts the pens off the sheet at a line break or drop the pens onto the sheet at the head of a column .
This is a pure love thing as you will find very little literature and i doubt if there is anyone alive who knows these from the production angle ! i ran Disc models built by John shaw and sons of huddersfield the most modern one i ran built in 1960 the biggest one was built in 1948 , that will give you an idea of age !!
The one factor to consider if you intend to rebuild is the cstate of the felt belt that runs through the whole machine and the cottons that hold the sheet all through the machine . We used fishing line instead of cottons as it didnt absorb the ink and mark the job.
these are hand fed and you have to keep the sheets feedind with little or no gap between or you got ink on the felt and then had to wait for it to dry out , the ink is water based and you had to either add ox gall to it or wee in it so the ink would penetrate the size in the paper .
When you are making ready you must remember to rotate the machine the right way or all the pens bent when they dig into the felt and that meant starting all over again .
I would love to have one but as you can see they require lots more room than i have !!

Davids post appeared whilst i was typing but it gives you a clue what you are up against !

The feeder is not integral to the machine but an add on you can have either hand or no ,

If what you are showing is all there is, then you are missing a lot of components (study the photo of the restored machine). The only non-original part of the restored machine are the four brass handles mounted on the upper horizontal piece. They were put on to aid the dissabled operator that used to run that machine.

Aside from the ruling machine and the feeder, there is usually a fairly large cabinet that contains miscellaneous inking pens, etc.

A fairly complex machine and a mechanical marvel to watch in action. It is a real crowd-pleaser when it is running at Printers’ Hall.


Thanks again everyone, it’s really useful to get the information and especially to see a complete example.

It looks like I probably have all the rollers but if there are more gears and pen attachments etc required then I’m guessing they are long gone.
Also, the actual belt running through the machine was about rotten so would need a complete replacement.

A big project but when you near in mind some of the enthusiasts who restore traction engines from piles of nuts and bolts then it’s perhaps not such a major job for someone with time, expertise and knowledge but it’s not something I’ll be tackling myself.

The main frame is solid and easily restored so I think I’ll probably think about some possible projects to use it for with some simple sypathetic restoration.
One way or another it will retain it’s basic identity and will make a nice talking point and an impressive feature for the right surroundings.

When you look at the pic of the restored machine you will see the cogs i meant you should have but missing some of the range is by no means a disaster as they are for the most part not always necessary because they are for either A speed reduction that makes small sheet feeding easier or for the camdrives that you change for drop rule work , it was many years since i saw one of these work and i know engineers oldr than myself that have never heard of pen ruling at all ! yes it will make a great project esp if you have the uprights lurking in a dark corner , rollers for these are sometimes wood with shafts of steel running through them and others just have steels set in the ends to bear on .
The worst problem is the felt belting that runs through the machine ,you could buy them twenty years ago but they were very very expensive and you cant substitute anything else that i know of . that said it is a treasure to find and hopefully someone will take it on , i would urge you did not remodel it into a table or something ,they really are very rare today .

Since the pictures of the restored Kickock Ruling Machine were taken at Printers’ Hall in Mt. Pleasant, IA I probably should mention that there will be a huge gathering of letterpress printers at this location on June 20-23 this year. This will be the site of the annual Amalgamated Printer’s Association Wayzgoose (usually at a different location each year).

For more information and links to even more pictures, go to Enjoy!


I ran one very similar to that showing in the 1980’s and went on to train another in this antiquated art. The Machine I ran was the original 1840’s design. I learnt from a legend, Mr Lapidge, who would have learnt on the machine in the late 1940’s.
I cant tell from the picture if this is the same as there are some parts missing. I would love to see some more pictures if you could send them to me at [email protected].
There is currently a picture up under the heading “Henry’s attic Paper Ruling Machine”
I suspect I am one of a very small elite group who are proficient at setting up and running a pen ruling machine! Are there any more out there? email me!

In my life as a bookbinder over the years so many of these machines being outmoded had all the top works and gearing removed to become benches in the bindery. Certainly, it seemed such a waste as in many cases they were still in full working order but offset lithography had made it possible to do faint and down lines in only one run. Attached is a photograph of the machine by Shaws of Honley that I served my apprenticeship on starting in 1963, within 10 years I ended up as the last pen ruler in Norwich England. As luck would have it the machine found a home in a local museum which alas is also now under threat of closure.

image: Ruling Mac at JJPM.jpg

Ruling Mac at JJPM.jpg

Mr Richardson at the old London College of Printing taught me to do pen ruling. I recall that the actual pens were made by the operator, for both single and the occasional double line. Made that is from flat blanks obtained from a firm in Birmingham. These were partly folded or dinted on a tiny home made sort of tiny guillotine tool which was the ops property, not the managements ( like a compositors stick )
The wool lines that fed the pens was just ordinary ply knitting wool, and the felt blanket was in fact second hand from a paper mill, and likewise the running feed belt. If set up right with gear and cam driven ” lifts” and with the occasional dab of the aniline ink on the felt strip on the lifting beam, then hand fed (in London by ladies) stream (not stopped work) feeding could produce amazing outputs, even to compete with the Rotaprints. Ops sometimes had badly stained hands and wore gloves whilst commuting. Last in the London area probably Plunketts in Camberwell. (Pen AND disc)

I have a ruling machine that I stripped and converted to a bed. Waite & Sheard, Honley, makers. Beautiful construction, ash and beech I think, draw-bolt tenon joints. It came from a bindery in Redfern, Sydney, and I wish now I had a complete machine. They had about 4-5 on a mezzanine floor. Somewhere I have a photo of them if interested.