Future of press prices?


Since I have been looking for a press I have noticed a lot of talk about how press prices have risen so much in the past few years.

How does everyone see the future of press prices? Do you expect prices to keep rising or drop?

The reason I ask is because I am currently a student but would love to set up a small personal shop once out of school. I don’t know where the location will be yet as I plan to move based on job opportunities. Do you think the prices would rise significantly in the next 2-5 years that it would be worth buying a press now, storing it at my current home (away from school), and then moving it once I settle down?


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There was a study a while back on the validity of forecasting trends in various fields. Economic forecasting rated zero percent for its truth value. This was before the Great Recession when folks were preaching real estate as the god send and predicting gold would be at $2000-$4000 an ounce by now. At this moment it is $1377.02, near the lowest in three years (it never did make it to $2000).

Presses are money makers. Don’t even worry about what it costs you or what it will be worth in the future. I bought a Vandercook SP-15 as new for $200 way back in the early 1980s. I wasn’t concerned about its future value. And that little baby has generated a great deal of cash flow through use, which has nothing to do with its current valuation.

If you have the fever and the passion, buy it now.


“Up, Up, and away!”

I don’t see them dropping anytime soon, as interest in the tangible grows with massive uptake of the digital/quick/easy. The advent of polymer and it’s current vogue has done nothing but translate the two, it seems, and so again, I don’t see the prices dropping anytime soon.

What was once an obscure thing is not as obscure or difficult to use anymore. You needn’t buy entire fonts of type and tools and extras; there’s a simple “consumer friendly” way and has been for decades now..

The question is, can you afford to house the press in the interim.
Where will you put it.
How will you pay for it’s storage. How will you justify the expense of purchasing the press. Assuming it is an investment?
There are lots of unknowns to address and they come up, believe me.

An added note- I do not understand the person who views this as a luxury item now; who will pay so very very much for a little toy press so they can store it in the corner of their house and look at it and occaisionally use it.
Where does the reverence come from? Why does it add so much to the value?

It is very interesting to me that people conceptualize such a utilitarian thing as a luxury. Maybe the smaller ‘toy’ presses- pilots and kelseys and the like, which while pulling a perfectly good impression…. They do appear very toy-like when set down next to a powered C&P or M-Vert or Heidelberg Cylinder. Or even a Vandercook of decent scale, your SP-20’s or the like.

The point being, I feel like people’s interest in these things is in the idea that they are antiquarian in nature, a thing of the past, an origin of us. Like a classic, inefficient car. So, with age and scarcity, their value sort of inflates.

To me it’s a tool you use, a thing to do a job; I love them, but I have an affinity for their use and have no problem selling one if it doesn’t do a job for me; nor do I have a problem buying one if I can afford it and it will do a job for me.

If you have a job for the press, buy a press; otherwise, buy a toy and keep it in a house in the corner and look at it with reverence.

It is a simple equation - only so many presses were made, overall the detail in maintenance and mechanical upkeep this presses require to perform at their best is mainly neglected in the rush to make riches, so the prices for aceptable to excellent copies of presses will only rise as the more we stepp into the future, the less of them will be around.

The advancement in the technology (printing from Polymerplate) has made it easier to print today than eg some 30 years ago. But a Press is what it is, it is to produce a letterpress printed item. Before purchasing a press, think about what will be the largest format commonly printed by you, that defines the size of the needed Pres and than go and find the heaviest version of it, the heavier and larger the press the more pressure you have with it. Smaller presses up to and including 12 x 18 eg, can usually print half their size in solids, so if you have a 5 x 7 and try to print a large block of type or a full solid is one of thee reasons, we have so many broken presses and so little in spare parts for them.

Proper research, asking questions and having patience can lead to be able to print without having to resort of needing a second on the house.

The expense of purchasing a press, if you know how to print and you can develop a market is a separate question which needs examination. The smaller the press, the higher the price, but also the more limited area of printing. Because Vandercooks et al. were highly promoted in the academic realm as the Tool to use, they will most likely maintain their value and go up and up, as many of us know who have been around for a while, 20 years ago,eg, they could be had for little. But they are very often mistaken for production presses for printed product which are better served on a Press like a Windmill.

The Press is a Tool, without it, no printing. It will always be the most important purchase you make, next to a guillotine or boardcutter, a base and sundries like ink knives and ink, etc.

So how much should you spend? Think how much you want to print and what you want to print, which press is best suited for that, you may have to seek out somebody who can show you how to use and run a press to avail that one for your purchase before you compromise on the wrong one because you fear you might not find one. There is still enough out there, it’s more a question of patience than large amounts of coin.

Gerald, I once worked at a struggling manufacturing company that was trying to navigate through the recession du jour. The president of the company was addressing the assembly trying to reassure jobholders who were naturally worried about their positions. Talking about economic forecasting, he quoted some sage who said: “If you laid all the economists in the word end-to-end, they wouldn’t be able to agree on the length”. So, yes, there is some science at play there I suppose, but there’s also at least as much voodoo.

HavenPress, your evaluation is perfect: if a thing (in this case, the press) is of value to you and your work, it’s ultimate investment value will be secondary.

And of course, none of this addresses the emotional “value” of the toys/tools we love. How do we go about valuing that?!

When you keep putting work elsewhere because you cant process a large sheet is the time to buy a bigger press ,
they are tools as referred to above but the usefulness of the large proofers is limited .
If a register was made of all the large proofers and flatbeds along with a product list from each owner i would say 80% of them were held more as a hobby machine than a tool ,
probably half of them are underused in relation to the cost they incurred and probably the majority of all of those still running arent really used to a small percentage of their potential .
I think the fact that the art colleges taught on them is the reason they are so popular ,they are used for their simplicity in colleges so it is kind of natural that people jump on them as soon as they appear for sale .

By the looks of recent auctions, the prices for small tabletop platens has gone down quite a bit, a year or so ago several barn-fresh, rusty Kelsey 5x8s were going for $1700+.

These days it seems only fully restored and shiny ones fetch $1000+ while 3-400 seems to be the norm. A perfectly nice looking, original-paint 5x8 (which the owner refused to ship) sold for $25 recently.

I suspect that the high prices drove a lot of people to go searching around for presses, as they could be found cheaply and quickly flipped on eBay for substantial profit. As a result, the market for those specific presses became more saturated and prices went down.

Following the crash of letterpress in the 70’s, university and college print departments closed and art courses reduced the course content to relief printing. We now see the education sector regenerating interest through courses titled ‘The Study of the Book’ . I know of two college art departments that have bought back old presses and we see more enquiries about buying presses and type from students and people wanting to start their own studio.
It looks like the demand is there so I can’t see the price of presses going down.

If you have a means to move the press you want and one comes up for a great deal. Take it.

Like everyone says they will probably keep going up, doubt they will get cheaper. Do your research figure out what you need, sit back and wait for the inevitable good deal that will come along. If you wait until you need one you are at the mercy of what is available.

If you get a great deal on something and it turns out you do not need it, you can probably profit off of it providing it is not costing you to store it.

out of interest, second hand Albions can vary in price £2500-3500, but new ones by Rochat, which are fantastic start about £9000+, but no-one would consider making new treadles/platens/cylinders I can imagine, when there are so many Heidelbergs around: also in the Uk presses continually trickle through at some reasonable prices, eg Colt Armory couple of years ago sold about £260.
Hand litho presses, litho stones, very very difficult to sell for a good price.

For me patience is the key to a good find and great deal, they are out there. I agree that prices peaked a while ago and they are adjusting down albeit slowly. There are still hold outs that get their pricing from EBay buy it now auctions that never actually sell and want top dollar regardless of condition. That said there are still nice presses to be had for far less. A nice Kelsey 5x8 recently joined my studio for a mere $150. The seller was happy to see it go to a good home knowing that it might get some use again. I wasn’t looking for one but I couldn’t say no. Then there are sellers, like one reached out reached out to me today, with the same press and wanted 10x that much. Thanks but no thanks.

Personally I’m on the lookout for a C&P 10x15 that is mostly stock. The one we have now had a feeder on it long ago that was removed. It works great but it would be nice to have a standard factory model.