SP-15 sells for $13,500 on Ebay!!???

In April, a nice SP-15 Vandercook letterpress sold for $6000. Tonight another nice SP-15 sold for $13,500 (plus tack on another $1000 for shipping at least)! I guess in January the next one will go for $30,000! Does anyone know of any company that will start manufacturing new letterpresses for contemporary relief artists??? There’s obviously a demand for them. My guess is that $13,500 would cover much of the costs for a brand new letterpress. Maybe you’d need more, but the prices for these used machines are too much. How can anyone afford that?

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I was watching that auction with interest as well. Wow! That is a ton of money! Who can afford to spend that much? Yikes.

littlefat5, Yep $13,500 would cover the manufacturing cost for that but only by a little bit, but not the time to re-design the press. I saw a post quite a while ago about someone who wanted to build there own platen press. I wonder what happened. I was going to build one as well and then I saw that someone wanted to trash a 10 x 15 Kluge. Needless to say, $150 later it found it’s way into my garage and started to print.

It’s costing $4k to remanufacture Pilots, and even that money has the person coming up short for production. I doubt $13k would cover an SP-15.

From vandercookpress.info:
Harold E. Sterne comments:
“The Universal series were quite popular with the paper mills for testing paper. There was a company in New England that made special attachments for those presses. At one time when they couldn’t find anymore Universals they asked us if we could have them built from our blueprints. We contacted a machine company in Cincinnati that had experience building presses and they wanted $50,000 each to build them in lots of 10. Could find no takers.”

This would have been between 1994 and 1996. I’d imagine the price would have gone up considerably since then and the company they spoke to could be long gone.

Daniel Morris
The Arm Letterpress
Brooklyn, NY

I’ll bet you could get a pretty nice reproduction of a Pilot, or even an 8x12 Golding Official (a MUCH better press in my opinion) made in India and shipped to the USA for $10K — but you’d need to send them a press to reproduce.


I had a printer from Mumbai in one of my classes at The Arm that said he had the resources to reproduce tabletop presses like the C&P Pilot back at home if I could send one over.

Personally I would prefer to see this done here in the US. It’d cost more, but I am sure there are some iron foundries and machinists that could use the work and it would be easier to make sure that it was done correctly.



Yes, having the machines manufactured in the US, would definitely be ideal, but, why not outsource at least some parts to try and offset costs? Maybe the less critical parts.
I don’t know. Just an idea.

I still believe a Kickstarter project would be the way to go, since it lets you test what kind of acceptance a project like this would have.

Maybe have rewards as little as a sticker or a print, for people that just want to help out.

Then, onto the big leagues, where people willing to wait, maybe 2 years or something and pocket out 15-20 grand, get a brand new press.

Sort of like a pre-purchase deal. It’s been done before with other products successfully.

This is not a can of worms I would personally like to open, but it may be that there is some enterprising individual out there that will take to this idea.

It’d be none of my business, but I still hope that the whole could be done domestically.


It’s true, this is not an easy task, definitely not for the faint of heart, and requires a little bit of insanity.
Maybe this thing is best left alone.

Wow. I was pretty much venting last night out of frustration at the ridiculous surge in prices for the Vandercooks, and it received quite a response. I very much appreciate all the responses and the input there within! It seems like there are many opinions on the costs to build a new letterpress today, and I have to believe that someone like myself should be able to purchase one for less than the price of a new Mercedes! $50,000 or more for a new letterpress seems insane considering they are not that complex. Sure, I understand the initial costs of starting manufacturing would be considerable for an individual, but why can’t current press manufacturers start looking into letterpresses? These presses are simply far superior for relief printmaking and for, of course, areas like the book arts than any other type of presses that I’ve used.

Well, since I was unable to get that press last night, is there anyone out there that would be willing to print a couple woodcuts I’m working on? I would supply all the necessary supplies and pay for your time (we could talk about rates if you’re interested in doing this). I’m looking for professional quality editions of around 100 to 150 impressions for each woodcut.

Again, thank you for all your input! This seems like a really nice forum where an individual can go to get some real answers.

To edition woodblocks I am sure you could find yourself a nice secondhand etching press for much less money!


You’ll want to be careful with your woodcuts in such large editions — the pressure can crush the finer detail so that it’s hard to hold a uniform impression through a longer run. This of course depends on the wood you use, but even hardwoods can have the problem. An etching press would be capable of crushing a woodcut in a few impressions.


considering they are not that complex

I don’t think it’s complexity that’s the issue. Precision, consistency and strength would be my concerns. If we worry about roller heights in thousandths of inches, then to have any variance in a bearer rack or press bed would undermine the point of having new presses.

I’m pretty much of the mind that there would be a market for at most 10-20 a year, and I don’t see that able to accomodate the startup costs.

I was involved with Hal Sterne with the project to rebuild Universal III presses for the paper industry and had meetings with International Paper Co. at their main research facility in Cincinnati. Part of the reason we did not continue was the cost, the other reason was that Vandercooks were readily available for under $1000 and the paper mills had enough presses with backups to last for many years. The cost to reestablish production involves pattern making, machine work, assembly, and testing. Most of the casting patterns have to be recreated, tool jigs and dies have to be made, and the like. I have the blue prints but that’s the only positive thing about recreating Vandercooks. A simple die to stamp out the LB-7 paper guide cost wise was $650 back in 1996. That’s one very small part. A SP-15 at $13,500 is a bargain compared to the same press new, believe me.


Kluge still makes platen presses (although I don’t know that they still offer an inking option), so they don’t have new-production-line setup costs, but I believe a new Kluge press is considerably more than $13,500! Historically, haven’t average smallish job presses often cost around the same as an average car? So something like $25,000 today, perhaps?

Told my wife about the sale on ebay. I have a SP-15 that I bought as new a long while back, has worked like a charm as these years, and that I have maintain well. No repairs ever required. Told her of its possible current value.

Her comment, “Good, that will pay for your funeral.”


I called Kluge about 10 years ago to buy a part, they said they couldn’t sell me any parts because my press was too old, they told me it was made around 1930. So i asked them what a press 12x18 with a foiling attachment that still had the inking on it would cost, they said $99,500. Dick G.

It is probably best to keep these things to yourself- you don’t want to give her any ideas!


Gerald, you’d better be careful or your gorgeous broadside, Murder in the Printshop, may become prophetic. :-)


Bob, yep, you’re absolutely right. People always say why don’t you just get an etching press? The potential to destroy the block over time is greater on an etching press than a letterpress. I’ve witnessed this myself having been working with woodcuts for around 15 years. The woodcuts I carve today are extremely fine, almost to the point of wood engraving. And the impressions pulled off the Universals and SP-15’s have been far more consistent and extremely easier for inking than any other methods I’ve used. I’ve tried hand printing an edition, and that is pure satan. My hands would be gnarled clubs in three years. I’ve tried everything with etching presses even trying to mimmick the packing of a letterpress, but the blocks break down quicker and the editions are terrible because I don’t have the patience for printing. I’m at a loss when it comes to printing these blocks. I have the patience to draw and carve, but not to print. And I really believe in quality, and I feel it is an injustice if the printing quality doesn’t match the quality of the Art behind it. With the letterpresses I felt I achieved that quality of print.

It’s no mystery or secret- proofing presses work far better than etching presses. It’s fairly easy, however, to set an etching press up to print woodcuts, without felts, and have it give precise, even, correct pressure- so long as you have a test block, micrometer screw/pressure gauges on the press, and a little time.
You just have to use a hand tympan that is made out of polycarbonate, set up a jig to hold the block on the press bed’s center, and be really careful with your setup- excellent, precise editions can be pulled by someone with experience. The one hangup is that an etching press absolutely will not suffer a fool- but then again, neither will a proofing press.

More on the topic of having a printing press re-manufactured- with todays C&C machining technology, a lot of those jigs could be foregone. A Tormach computer controlled mill can reproduce parts from CAD files and be as accurate as any machinist can with jigs, and the engineering in todays C&C milling and drilling actually surpasses the antique way of doing things in a certain way- the one thing is you need a very competant and reliable programmer to map out the points in a 3-d CAD program.

A Tormach can drill a hole in a block, and then remove the bit- you can then change the bit from a drilling tip to a tapping bit and it will then TAP the hole just drilled- then you can take a milling bit and mill the piece out around the hole, all without ever removing the part- you can repeat these kinds of tasks without doing anything but clamping in and un-clamping a new work piece.

I’m certain that dies need to be made for production cutting of pieces for parts like the one described, but the thing is- CAD based watercutting and lasercutting technologies have independently surpassed the production and tooling of a die to prototype the part for a press. For dollars you could have what used to cost thousands, if you really want.

Add to that the full spectrum of rapid prototyping machines available to us and you have a very high tech solution to at lease reproducing prototypes.
Something like a proof press should be really, really simple to reproduce- if one had the knowledge, wherewithal, funding, and experience with these various technologies- and as Daniel wishes, all of these techs are available right here in the US of A, and even within a single tri-state area; you can find a guy with a Tormach in white plains, a really great watercutter in NJ, different C&C parts manufacturers who work for the aerospace industry right in NYC, and folks who do rapid prototyping are everywhere.

The hard part would be seeing it through and acquiring the funding, and keeping the costs low after the initial investment LONG ENOUGH to regenerate some interest in these presses, find buyers, and get people to make stuff. Without a bank of competent printers out there to produce things, though, why make a new press at all? I wager that a lot of the presses that go back on the market today are “I bought it and I didn’t know how to use it so someone else should use it”. It’s a partial ghost market.

Well these ghosts are paying a shit load for presses that I would kill to get my hands on. I would use the living heck out of a nice Vandercook! But I’m apparently about $13,000 short on affording one.

The ghost market is a valid concept. It should be noted though that presses like Vandercooks ARE money makers. If one uses the “living heck” out of them for commercial purposes they, like most equipment, will pay for themselves rather quickly.


Gerald touched a note.

For years I have sought to mollify (and justify) purchases with claims of re-sell value which I have had to attach, helplessly, to the market value of brass and cast iron. But in my heart, as I possibly raised the hopes and acceptance of the spousal Exchequer of the family, I secretly recoiled at the thought that any of it, even one ounce, would ever actually be junked into a fiery furnace.

But now, with these new market conditions, at least on paper (I don’t believe, as a protection against wishful thinking that they will last), I have a fresh and powerful argument. I resolve to try and use it when I apply for a nominal distribution of the Royal Treasury (managed and conrolled strictly by the Family Exchequer) with which to buy an item or a font here and there I fervently believe I have to have.

I am urgently trying to maintain some life insurance to defray my burial expenses, but honestly, I see it as life insurance to prolong the existence of my press and bindery.

I do bristle at the notion of anyone that I may be playing at a hobby. I know that many of us have a lifelong dedication and a zealous desire to grow in learning and experience with letters and printing. I see as heroic those who have passed over, long ago or latterly, into a full time economic involvement with these matters.
Wm. J. Murray

Dan and Barbara

Thanks for your concern. Unwarranted, I think!


We are all playing at a hobby. Life long dedication and zealous desire, yeah, heroic. One hopes that will all be remembered, life insurance or no.


Couple things. Helimited, I appreciate the information regarding the modifications to the etching presses, and I don’t want to sound too critical or whiney, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that type of conversion. It’s not something that is taught at school, and it almost sounds like you’d need an engineering degree to complete that project. In addition, you’re missing the inking issue. This is primary the issue I am having. Motorized letterpresses offer such ease of consistency when it came to inking the blocks. I talked with a Tamarind master once, and he told me that completing a perfect edition for a woodcut could be considered the hardest of all printmaking techniques. I was shocked to hear this from a printmaker of his caliber. But, I’m starting to understand.

The other comment I wanted to make is that there seems to be this attitude that we’re stuck with paying ridiculous prices, and they are ridiculous, for outdated equipment with specific parts that are almost impossible to replace. I’m just having a hard time accepting this. Someone mentioned 25,000 for a new letterpress. I would be willing to pay up to 30,000 for a new one if I knew I could replace broken parts readily. It just seems so ludicrous that these antiques with such potential not even to work are fetching 13,500 and up for them.

Hmmm, in the midst of all this anguish and greedy calculation, I note that greenboathouse sold a nice pair of SP15’s for considerably less than 13.5K, advertising in our own personal classified section.

Ebay’s a great place for selling stuff (you reach a wide audience) but a terrible place to buy things (you compete with a wide audience).

Keep searching.


Also, consider an iron handpress (versus a Vandercook) for editioning woodcuts. Get Rummonds’ book and learn how to ink consistently by hand, and you’ll get great results. Plus they’re cheaper and have way fewer parts.



As for me and my house, I’m not counting on being remembered by anybody.
Bill Murray


I will remember you. I am also reprinting the article on the history of edition printing on the Vandercook for which you sent me a note on Bruce Rogers, for the e-book edition of PDT. You are not going to slip away that easy.