Letterpress Chase Bench Identification

I recently acquired a large Letterpress Chase Storage Bench, and when we cleaned it up, we found a ‘Joyce Printing Materials’ logo on the sides.

I am trying to find out a little bit more about the bench, which is proving tricky. I am used to typecases which have horizontal slots, so I am wondering about the vertical slats on this one. I’d also really like to be able to find out a rough date for the piece. The only clue I have so far (from Joyce themselves) is that the steel composing plate atop the bench suggests its from the early 20th Century, as before this would have been granite.

At the moment I don’t know if it is rare or valuable, and I would love to know how best I can look after and use this beautiful piece. I am a amateur letterpress fanatic, and I
usually use an Adana 8x5 or 5x3.

I collected the unit from Corby, Northamptonshire, but the Joyce logo on the sides suggests it is made in London EC1. The metal top has a delivery address to somewhere in Thrapston, but again this is partially obscured.

Any info or clues anyone could offer about this would be gratefully received.
Many thanks in advance,

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Joyce were one of many print suppliers in the Farringdon area down to Fleet Street. Every print trade was represented, both manufacturers and agents.
I checked the St Brides Libary catalogue and they have only 3 items
If you pop into the Library which is just off Fleet Street they may have catalogues from other print suppliers.

The slots at the bottom of your cabinet are for holding formes (chases with a job locked in) in a vertical position, there will also be slots at the back which the side of the chase slides in.
You always made sure the forme was pushed tight against the back and if the rack was full that the forme was slid in and out in a vertical position and all chases faced the same way.

Joyce &co are, i believe ,still in business or at least were only a couple of years ago .
They supplied most print and allied trades with various bits of kit from round corner machinery to boxes of matrix and cutting rule etc .

Peter is right on the money about Joyce. Their earliest catalogues I have (or have had) are mid 1930s. He is also correct about the forme storage. The imposing surfaces (or stone) as they are known certainly had steel tops right back to the 1880s. Marble and slate top ones are more common over the pond in the States.
We had one in our printing museum with a slate top dating from the 1830s. Its a fine bit of furniture that will serve you well.

To my experience the imposing surfaces on stands such as these are usually not steel but webbed cast iron, not unlike an iron hand press platen turned upside down (I have seen old platens re-used as imposing surfaces too). They are very similar to engineers’ surface plates in material (cast iron), and in form (webbed on underside, carefully machined absolutely plane on the upper surface) - our wooden common press has a surface plate for a platen and it works fine.

Cast iron platens began to be manufactured in the early nineteenth century and were standard on all the early iron hand presses, from the Stanhope press onwards. Clearly there was scope for the same technology to be imposed to ‘correcting stones’ (the old name for imposing surfaces). The earliest mention of the introduction of cast iron imposing surfaces I can find in my modest printing library is 1838: “Of late years, cast iron has been substituted for stone, the upper surface of which has been turned flat and smooth in a lathe; and when a large size is wanted, two are attached together” (William Savage, “Dictionary of the art of printing”, London, 1838, p.410, entry for ‘Imposing Stone’. The lathe would have had to have had a large face plate.

Savage also described the frame: “The frame on which the stone rests, is fitted up with drawers for furniture - one of these is for quoins , always the uppermost, one for side sticks and foot sticks, one for braod and narrow, and one for wider pieces; - these drawers are sometimes made whole width of the frame, so as to draw out on either side, and sometimes there are two within this width, one on each side.” This frame sounds quite similar to Vicky’s - the broad form of frames for imposing stones changed little over a long period. The quoins and side / foot sticks mentioned were wood in this period (Savage specifies oak), although cast iron side and foot sticks were introduced around mid century.

By the post WW2 period, imposing surfaces tended often to be mounted above pressed steel racks for galleys.

Error in my last post: foot and side sticks were wrought iron, not cast iron.

pre war 1900 the stone was most likely cast iron with the webs for reduced weight and strength . after 1945 the excess of machinery for fabricating pressed steel made the transition to steel base cabinets , wooden frames tend to not be later than 1945 in the uk ,basically for the reason of cost and the lack of carpenters in manufacturing (the carpenters having mostly been better placed in the restoration of the building trade) .
the late forties in the uk saw more items that were previously wood being made of war junk ,even kitchen units made of aluminium ! Later this changed to materials like ply woods and later still chipboards and now fibre boards .
the same can be said of the stones themselves cast iron for early ones and later steel because it was cheaper and the existence of better milling facilities .
the type cabinets are harder to date without catalogues , some clues however are to be found in the case handles some were cast with foundry names in them or dealers name on plattes ,the progression through time can be seen when the handles become less ornate and of pressed construction , the cabinets were fist all wood then slowly there are odd additions like the runners for the cases to sit in develop on to pressed steel right angles first then mioving on to a solid perforated plate that formed the inner sides of the cabinet to give you runners and eventually the whole cabinets are consructed from the late fifties totally made of steel formed box section style .
the very latye sixties i think or even a bit later saw the introduction of the nylon wheels in the case runners . I am sure mono can put better dates than i but as brief as i can put it that is as near a timeline as i understand it.

to all

At the mornng daily and the afternoon daily where I worked, the “stones” were big enough to take two tabloid pages, though at the morning paper we used special chases made up with only one tabloid page; These were locked up only slightly firm, then bolted together, this “pairing” made enough stiffness for normal lock-up.

At both places, the “stones” looked like cast iron.

When we left hot metal to go to cold type at the morning paper, some compositors thought of using the cast iron stones as barbecue plates, till we realised they had been in contact with lead type for many years.

At both newspapers, the whole assembly on frame and wheels, was called a turtle. At the morning daily, a few of the turtles had an elevating screw, so that formes could be shifted to a range of varying levels.


PS: In a small town about 100 miles north of here a woodturners’ club makes wooden bowls 6 or 7 feet diameter on a lathe, so there are well-known ways of turning on a large lathe; only the face plate is needed, the thingy at the other end is not needed.


6 or 7 foot bowls, thats a big cereal bowl. The newspaper i worked at had lots of turtles, most pages were made up on them. i don’t believe many of them have survived.

Thanks for mentioning foot sticks The Free Presse.
Does your book have any notes on locking up with foot sticks?
I have a Kelsey screw chase with screw holes at the bottom and side. Going through the chases I found a couple of other screw chases with the screw holes at the bottom. Looking at some old adverts I see that several platen manufacturers offered screw chases as well as plain chases.

to dickg and all

We do some things in a big way. We have the largest heap of raw sugar in the world. It’s a matter of how one counts it, but we divided a coal port into two parts for administrative purposes, but if put back together (they are less than a mile apart) they would form the biggest coal port in the world and we have put another nearby one in abeyance.

The cereal bowl is not often put to practical use. I think our coral reef is the longest.


to all

I should have gone on to mention that the chases which were made for only one tabloid page at a time, then bolted to another (“mirror” pattern) were used only for the last rush of an edition. Most pages were made up in pairs.

From when the last sheets of copy arrived in the comp room by air tube, until when the completed forme was slid onto the moulding press (stereo) was scheduled as 10 minutes, I think the overseer was paid according to keeping to this schedule.

To cover the last horse-race results on Saturday, a comp was stationed with slugs carrying the names of the horses and the thingy which was the stop press “box”; he had a wireless (radio) and put the linotype slugs into the box as the winners were announced trackside. Then he sent the thingy to the press room as soon as a journalist/reporter had taken the names by means of a telephone and OKed the slugs in the box for stop press. The telephone call made the reporting legal, but taking the results from the wireless made it quick. Do you think the management banned a form of gambling among the comp room staff which was intertwined in this “Last Race” edition? So the system of gambling was switched to jockeys instead of horses; the comp room no longer bet on the horses.


to all

Bad boo-boo. Those half-tabloid chases were used at the afternoon newspaper, not the mornng paper.

Because of some confusion, one day I made up the morning paper with the front page on the left and the back page on the right. There was a frantic rush to rebuild two pages. Later we returned to the former practice of having international news on the front, and sport on the back page, which solved a lot of problems.


Yet another apology/correction:

The elevating turtle with a screw thread elevator was at the afternoon newspaper, not the morning daily.

(Sleepy) Alan.

I’m not Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful or Dopey.


You must be Snow White then????


I can count to seven; there was a dwarf name I used to forget, but after training I now remember him easily, and he is in the six I have named. The earlier comment I made has the significant name, a name yoiu have not included.


re dwarfs (not, as in New Zealand, dwarves).

you, not youi.


It is interesting to note that six out of seven dwarfs are not Happy…

emthree -



Alan, my grandchildren call me Grumpy, i get all grumpy stuff, shirts and what not, i have more grumpy things than Disney.

emthree, you made Grumpy laugh.

Thanks for all the help and clues everyone - really helpful and most interesting.

In terms of an update - I have been in touch with Joyce, who are indeed still in business, and now based in St Neots. They were extremely kind and helpful, confirming that the bench most likely came from their premises in Chancery Lane, and providing some really interesting information about the company.

As for the top material - my hunch is that it is webbed cast iron. It has the ‘grid type’ pattern on the underside that would seem to denote this. I might see if I can crawl underneath and get a couple of photos of this.

My hunch date wise, is mid 19thC, but I don’t know why (maybe just the state of the wood etc). It does have a metal plate of some sort at the base (under the wooden chase slots, if that makes sense). We didn’t know this at first, but we gave it a good clean and uncovered this. I’m really interested in the ideas and responses helping to try and pin this down, so thanks everyone.

The description from Savage does sound a lot like it, even down to the two drawers that come out either side. It’s fascinating to gain an idea of what these were originally used for.

The handles are very ornate, here is a picture:
I will have a closer look tonight to see if there are any foundry names or identifiers on these.

Thanks everyone so far (and I’m loving the dwarfs!)


Thanks for mentioning foot sticks The Free Presse.
Platenprinter - when using wooden foot or side sticks, short oposing wedge-shaped wooden quoins wee hammered into place using a mallet and shooting stick. When using wrought iron foot or side sticks, opposing wrought iron sticks of similar length were hammered into place using a hammer and shooting stick. No screws were involved.

The next development seems to have been Hempel quoins, made of cast iron (possibly cast steel?) which were wedge-shaped and used in pairs in a similar manner to side and foot sticks but were tightened by using a special cogged key that engaged teeth on the opposing wedged surfaces. These remain commonplace.

The last development was steel or alloy quoins with an internal cam that pushes the two sides of the quoin apart when turned with a special key. Various manufacturers’ or patentees’ (I’m unsure which) names are attached to these quoins - Wickersham, Notting, Cornerstone, etc. As well as standard sizes, narrow-margin and bookwork versions were usually made. These are very commonplace.

The only screw chases I am familar with are small ones for amateur platen presses such Adana here in the UK. Of the various chases I’ve handled over the years, only some very small ones have had integral screws. However, as I have mostly handled fairly old, rather than mid twentieth century chases, my experience is very skewed and is certainly not representative of the industry as a whole.

Vicki - from the photographs you posted, I believe that your imposing frame and imposing stone are probably of early twentieth century date.

The plot thickens… I’ve just had a closer look at the underside of the imposing stone top plate, and have found the following sticker:

(Sorry about the links, I tried to attach it, but it would be very small).

The date is definitely 14/7/8*. This is strange. The sticker looks very old but the pen markings looks newer. My first thoughts were 1980 something, but I quickly realised this was ridiculous.

At a glimpse it looks like biro… but its def not.

The typeface and the typographic layout, combined with a four digit phone number are all spot on for a mid twentieth century date - typical of the 1950s and 1960s. The handwriting really looks as if it is in ball point pen.

If you really want to narrow the potential date range down, then a trawl of old adverts by this company in printing trade journals, entries in general trade directories, and entries in telephone directories and yellow pages, to see when its telephone number assumed this format (probably from an earlier three digit number), and when it lengthened to five or six digits, would probably give you a tolerably exact date range.

The top was probably replaced at a later date than the original period that the cabinet was manufactured. I haven’t seen a photo of the whole cabinet, but judging from the old-style pulls it might well date from the 1870s to about 1900. Did you ask the folks at Joyce when the company was founded?


The Joyce cabinet is probably 1930s, judging from my catalogues. They were not trading much before this date. The transfer logo on the the wooden base is a very 1930s thing. I have seen it on other printers furniture, the finish is completely wrong for mid 19thC. Most printers furniture I have experienced from Victorian times in the UK is pine based. Certainly the surface we had in our museum had a pine base and it was 1850s.
That said it is a great functional piece of industrial furniture that will last forever. Certainly when we’re all pushing up daisies (morbid thought for a Friday morning!)

Thanks all. I was lying awake in the night and suddenly I was like - doh - of course the top is probably a replacement. It explains its brilliant condition, and also the sticker, which does look ballpointed. My clever friend pointed out that dates weren’t abbreviated in the way we do now, so 14/7/anything except 1980something is highly unlikely. Perhaps the top was replaced in ‘83, which would be great as that’s the year I was born.

Thanks also, the free press and Abion_press for these good ideas about pinning it down more specifically.

On the whole, I think I’m just going to rest with the knowledge that it is a beautiful, functional and really useful bit of furniture, and I feel so happy to have rescued it, and to be able to use it with my burgeoning collection of letterpress stuff.

I think all of my friends think I am strange for being so much in love with these old pieces, and these more traditional ways of printing, but I think they are so important.

Theres nothing strange in the liking of old character wracked pieces , many people cherish ugly old butchers blocks so why not a printers stone !