I’m wondering if anyone has a detailed history of the Kelsey Press company, or if there are any letterpress historians who have anecdotes or knowledge of the company. I’ve enjoyed restoring a few Kelsey presses, and live not far from Meriden, CT (site of the original company). It seems as if the company (and its founder) likely have a rich history, but I haven’t been able to find more than a few paragraphs here or there - mostly in descriptions of Excelsior presses.
For example, does anyone know the address/site of the original factory? Did the location move? What happened when it closed, and what were the circumstances that led to this? Was it always a family business? Did the company ever produce things other than presses? How many presses did they sell? Where did they advertise? Are there collections of interesting items produced by Kelsey presses, or is most of this lost to history?
I just find it an interesting topic, and this seems like a place where perhaps we could collect a bit more information about it for others interested in letterpresses. If anyone knows of any published work on Kelsey, that might also be a good place to start. Since I’m so close to Meriden, I’d be willing to do a little leg work in visiting their historical society collections / library, but it would also be nice to have a bit more information before starting that process.
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Buy the Book “Personal Impressions” The small Printing Press in nineteenth-century America by Elizabeth Harris. I believe it is still in print and used copies are available - Amazon, Alibris, etc.
Has an extensive chapter on Kelsey.
Thanks. Here’s a link to the Amazon.com listing for the book - my university library has it so I’ll check it out today if they’re open. Seems that she was a curator at the Smithsonian.
Elizabeth Harris has two other books that might also be helpful…
The Common press : being a record, description & delineation of the early eighteenth-century handpress in the Smithsonian Institution ; with a history & documentation of the press by Elizabeth Harris ; and drawings & advice on construction by Clinton Sisson.
Published: Boston : David R. Godine, 1978.
Harris, Elizabeth. The boy and his press / by Elizabeth Harris. Published: [Washington? D.C.] Smithsonian Institution, 1992.
Updated. jrgpress - At the moment you posted your inquiry I happened to be researching some information in the book Personal Impressions by Elizabeth Harris that others have mentioned. Harris is a retired Curator of Graphic Arts at the Smithsonian Institution and Briar Press consultant. In her book she mentions Glover Snow who took over the Kelsey Company in 1923. She writes that Snow’s grandfather had worked for Kelsey 50 years earlier. Referring to the younger Snow, Harris comments as follows: “On his death Snow left a thick file of his notes, which was his Kelsey Press History. The KP History, as he called it, takes the company from its foundation in 1872 up through Snow’s own time.”
One section of this book is titled Kelsey’s Own Story. Harris notes “The following pages from Snow’s Kelsey Press History notebook were written for him by Kelsey, and some of the dates and figures corrected later by Snow.”
There is still a lot of data to be gathered about these presses, and it would be interesting to have more information on Kelsey and his operation, as well as on his press model names and numbers as they relate to date of manufacture as discussed in http://www.briarpress.org/5829. The answers to some of the other questions you raise in your original post are still waiting to be uncovered; some are available, but remain scattered in personal memories and various pockets of the Internet. I am hoping you will receive some additional comments on your questions and on the years following Snow’s account of the Kelsey history.
As to your inquiry on other possible products made by Kelsey, see the reprint of Dr. Baker's Grape Cure in an article by Elizabeth Harris, reprinted with permission, in an earlier version of this site.
Updated. Elizabeth - I’m looking at the Harris’ book right now - what a wonderful outline and description of 19th century presses! I’ll give this a read through over the next few days-weeks, and see what remaining questions that I have! Jon
According to this bio, NA Graphics owns Kelsey:
So, they should be able to provide you with all the information you need.
I visited the Kelsey Company in Meridan Conn during the winter of 1972 and had a very pleasant meeting with the company manager, Gene Mosher. He took me upstairs to large room and showed me an amazing collection which I believe represented one each of every press Kelsey had ever made. I wonder where they are now… I don’t recall the exact address, but it seemed to be near to the freeway.
When I admitted that I had named my shop - The Excelsior Press - after my first little 3x5, he laughed and told me that I wasn’t the only one!
I also recently discovered from a neighbor who is a stamp collector that the Kelsey sales and correspondence records - which included order forms mailed in from quite literally all over the world - sold at high prices to stamp collectors all around the world, based purely on the value of the stamps used to mail the order forms to Kelsey. So those records do exist - in stamp collections. It might be worth reaching out to stamp collectors for more info through www.stamps.org
He had no further information on the disposition of the other records, equipment or supplies, but left me with the impression that the grandchildren simply sold everything off to get rid of it. Sad end to a century legacy….
Having re-read the bio mentioned above by Bielerpr, I do recall a missing piece of information. For a short time before NA Gaphics was formed, I was buying Kelsey supplies from a company called Davick Company. I was told that Davick had the remaining Kelsey inventory. I believe the company was in Connecticut.
Check the May issue of Galley Gab…page 11.
I was probably one of the last persons in the plant when Gene Mosher was liquidating it. They simply ran out of customers and couldn’t keep ‘er going. Plenty of other references but I do know their original plant was demolished for urban renewal and I believe the plant they were in when they were closed also was torn down. Got some equipment (typefounding) from Kelsey but the references already noted are probably better for a history of the company. NA graphics may have some supplies for the press, but all manufacturing capability now is lost, I am certain. Dave Peat got the patterns for castings on several of the presses (he and I went to Meriden together on that last voyage to Kelsey).
The Kelsey Company produced hand presses from the 1870’s through the 1980’s. Their own type foundry (New England Type) combined with their complete line of printers supplys launched many aspiring printers in their careers (me included). Their type was actually monotype, which wasn’t as strong as type cast on a Thompson, but it was cheaper than another foundry which they also carried, but I forget the name of this one.
The company tried to get into Offset supplies in the early 80’s but failed because of their prices. Any printer could buy cheaper and with no shipping simply by buying locally. They also tried to greatly expand their paper stock sales, but again their prices were no where close to the printer buying at wholesale from a local mill. I understand the grandkids were running the show at this time. The third generation usually ruins a company. They just have no idea what their father and grandfather went through building the business. Even though press sales were down at this time, they always stated as long as some printer somewhere wanted one, they would produce it. Unfortunately, this promise was never kept.
I had a trade shop which contained a 10x15 C&P, 2 5x8’s Kelsey’s and one 6x10 Kelsey (which I still have and would like to restore).
Does anybody remember when Wendy’s restaurants had the tables with old newspaper ads on them? There was always a few tables that had a Kelsey ad on them.
62 Colony Street, Meriden CT
It’s listed as a First Congregational Church now.
There goes my idea of turning it into a letterpress museum… .
Updated. Hi All,
I bought my 3x5 press from Kelsey in Meriden CT in the late 70s. I have an updated price list from them dated March 1st 1985 w/the order address:
The Kelsey Company
30 Cross St
Meriden, CT 06450
Hope this helps.
When did Kelsey Co close it’s doors?
Anyone know what my 3x5 press is worth today? I think when I bought it in the late 70s it was around $225.
Interesting. I’ll take a swing by as I go through Meriden every morning. Cross street seems to be right off the highway so it’ll be an easy thing to check out.
I got the chance to swing by today. Not sure which building it would have been though. Nothing was numbered. Couple of bigger brick buildings around there. Cross street seems almost like an alley. Checked on google maps to see if it’d pin point which building, and it shows what might be the entrance to one of them. I’ll try and make it a point to look around more when I have time to do more than just drive through.
Googles satellite view as close as it’ll go
The shot is fairly old. The lot on the top of the street is now a large new brick building.
I went to the Meriden Conn plant a few years before they shut it down to look at the tooling and to negotiate with Gene to take over the operation. At the time he wanted far more for the equipment and inventory than I figured it to be worth, so we never struck up a deal. Several years later, I heard that he had sold the bulk of it for a fraction of it’s worth. Oh well…. in business timing is everything, and I was just a few years too early.
Do you remember what address you went to and what the building looked like?
I’m hoping, and i know it’s a stretch, that it’s unused still and could be used for a preservation society.
Everything I’ve seen so far looks like it’s in use.
That was quite a few years ago…. and I really don’t recall the outside of the building, other than it was brick and rather old.
I do think that a preservation society for Kelsey Presses is a GREAT idea.
preservation of all letterpresses and printing is what I’d focus on. Not having a lot of luck finding anyone doing it already in CT. Housing it in the old Kelsey building would just be a hoot though huh?!
I just posted and i’m not sure where it went. I am in possesion of a print press machine.
Kelsey & Company
Size 6 x 10
Apr. 6 1893
I am curious as to what the value may be. It is in need of some restoration—is pretty rusty.
Just curios. Any ideas?
I wish I had gotten in on the above threads when they were active a year or two ago. I worked at Kelsey between 1971 and 1979. Started out part time, but ended up running the manufacturing for a few years before I left.
Glover Snow who ran the show from the 20’s until close to his death in 1969 was my great uncle. Gene Mosher, his son-in-law ran it with his sons until the market just went away. Offset and later computer graphics really did the company in. Also the Connecticut Foundry where the parts were produced also went under right towards the end.
The reference to the previous location being at 62 Colony Street, now being occupied by the First Congo Church is not quite right. The church is located at 62 North Colony Street. Kelsey was located at 62 South Colony St. before moving to Cross Street. The locations are about 1/4 mile apart. Trust me, the location on Cross St would not be a place to house a press museum. While the building still stands at 30 Cross St., it is in very poor shape. The larger part of the building where the warehouse and machine shop were located was ancient when I worked there. An addition was built when they moved here, which housed the offices, type foundry (where I worked for 1 year, lovely job), and Stanley K., at the paper cutting equipment.
Another anecdote, if one looks closely in the Printer’s guide you will see a name and address in the composing stick. Robert Wilson is my father, and the town listed is Granville, MA. West Granville is actually where Glover Snow spent most of his summers and is now buried there with his wife.