Table top letterpress

sean's picture

Does any one have any experience with an Adana 3 x 5? Good or bad? I know it will never compare to a C&P pilot but I just got a bunch of metal type. So I am eager to print something ( anything ) till I can get myself a C&P. Any suggestions?

Thanks for your help.


hrant's picture

I've only used cylinder presses. Aren't those better than C&Ps? Maybe not.

BTW, what type did you get?


sean's picture

"Aren't those better than C&Ps?"

Do you mean cylinder presses or Adana? The C&P Pilot is said to be the best hand operated table top ever made. That is what I am told anyway.

"BTW, what type did you get? "

Not really sure yet. I just unloaded it and now my back is recovering. It has from about 7pt. up to 72pt. The serif is something I have never heard of. It starts with a P. I'll find out this weekend for sure and let you know. The sans is a Futura or something. It's 50's stuff. There are quite a few borders and ding bats too.

Should be fun anyway. Not too picky right now.

bieler's picture


Table top platen presses were not engineered with significant strength or the mechanics required to provide adequate impression and consistent inking control. They do provide a lot of hobbyists with an enjoyable experience but they are in no way capable of exacting quality production work. They are what they are. Have fun, but don't expect too much from them.

Ramiro Espinoza's picture

What kind of machine do you recommend to someone who want to start his own private press?

bieler's picture


Private press is an older term so I am not exactly sure what might be meant by this. It depends upon what you want to do and how extensively you want to do it. I assume you mean a non-commercial venture, so I won't discuss commercial machines here.

The most popular entry level letterpress activity today seems to be card printing. When I started out it was book-related printing. There are low-end and high-end presses for both. The problem is any of them take up room and make noise (don't know if these are considerations but if so..).

I'd say a floor model Chandler & Price would do you fine if you were interested in card and related kinds of production, and a flatbed cylinder, such as a Vandercook, if you are interested in producing books, broadsides, posters. I've generally seen and experienced much finer quality to the presswork with a Vandercook. The ideal Vandercook is the Universal, followed by the SP series. Both of these were quite popular in the 15 and 20 inch bed size models.

The best press, but it takes considerable skill to operate, would be a smaller floor model iron handpress, such as an Albion. Small foot pattern, no noise, more tool than machine. But relatively expensive, around 5 to 6 grand and hard to find.

I've used C&Ps (never liked them), but Vandercooks mostly. I had five of them at one time but I've pulled back quite a bit from my previous printing activity and am down to a small Vandercook SP15 that I picked up many years ago "as new" for $200. With the relatively recent increased interest in letterpress, Vandercooks now run about $1500 to $3500 and it is quite hard to find one in excellent condition. My SP15 has its drawbacks but I am quite familiar with it and for the kind of work I do, it does me well.

Had a little beauty of an Albion for quite some time but I actually only used it once for a collotype project. Regretted having to let it go, kind of wish I still had it. The kind of machine that garnered the phrase, "proof of the existence of God."

Nick Shinn's picture

I inherited one from my grandfather in 1969.
He had 4 fonts: Times Roman, Gill Sans, Palace Script, Bodoni Ultra -- mostly around 10pt size. Plus a lot of nice ornaments and rules.

I used it for a few years, to do invitations and stationery for friends and family.

The quality was a bit iffy, because it was so hard to get even inking and pressure, all of which depends on the operator's "touch" to a large degree -- as Gerald explained. But in my self-taught isolation, I always thought my problems were due to being a clumsy oaf (which was true), so I soldiered on.

Anyway, I discovered what combinations of type, ink, paper and layout were most forgiving. Annoyingly, the most interesting effects, like Bodoni Ultra in silver ink on dark green card stock (hey, it was 1970 - BIBA ruled), were the ones that were hardest to pull off cleanly.

Using an Adana is certainly the most intimate experience I've ever had with type, and I will always treasure our relationship, stormy though it was.

Giampa's picture

Hello Nick,

Got things to do, but thought I would say hello.

I was unaware you had letterpress experience, although it doesn't surprise me. Silver Ink

raph's picture

I have an Adana and a few fonts, but am missing quoin keys and possibly another couple of pieces needed to print with it. I'm trying to divest myself of stuff I don't need, so if anyone in the Bay Area wants it and is willing to let me play with it a bit after they get it set up, it's yours.

I plan on posting this offer on craigslist if I don't get any response here, but I figured this would be a good target audience.

sean's picture

Gerald Lange,
Thanks for your help. Luckily I am not expecting to much. Really I just want to get my hands dirty. Even locking up a small chase, I think, may have its merits. Then, I can move onto bigger things as space and ( even just a little) experience comes along. It will also get me started on gathering up some very basic tools. I'll be using you book as a guide when I get there.

Your attachment to your press and the experience you describe have kept me encouraged. To hear that someone self-taught and isolated can get a few years of use out of such a simple press will keep me soldering on. ; )
For now, I managed to a hold of a Chicago No. 10. I don't know how it compares to the Adana, but is sure is good looking! It is in pretty good shape, but, my plan is to restore it to all of its original glory. It will be quite pretty- gold details and all. It is a first press anyway. Now I need rollers! Eh.

As for the type I got I am still identifying some of it but I know I do have quite a bit of Piranesi. Not something I would have picked out but it could work for greetings and the like. I need a nice Roman. I plan to see a man about a horse ( so to speak ) before to long. He has tons of type that he will never use again. I buttered him up awhile back to see how he would feel parting with it. Let's hope it worked because now I have a press.

Gerald Giampa ,
I have orded a copy of Printing for Pleasure per your advise. Thanks for the help.


Giampa's picture


Consider some rare type, Jim Rimmer in Vancouver. M & H in San Francisco has many worthy faces and they cast reasonably hard types. Beware

steve_p's picture

Anyone interested in this?

I might think about buying it myself, but my house has too often been refuge for large, nearly-working machines of one sort or another...

hrant's picture

This guy is selling the following:
Collectible Antique for Hobbyist or Professional
5"x8" Kelsey Hand Letter Press & Type (Model P, table top)
With ALL manuals, custom made work/storage table, drying racks, etc.
All in excellent condition, 85% never used.
Will consider selling separately.
Asking only $900.00 for all!
Kent Hagedorn: 973.729.7970


sean's picture

Well, I got my press and I have to say I am in love with it. I've even printed a small picture of it and put it in my wallet.

And I must say that "Printing for Pleasure" is an excellent companion to my most wonderful machine - however small they both may be.

I am now looking for some advise / opinions regarding.

Really, my press is in good working order. It has what I would call the usual mild to moderate rust that you might expect. Basically the parts that had no paint on them have a thin sheet of rust on the that can easily be removed with steel wool. My question is this; how far should I take this process? Should I keep it "nicked" and aged? Or should I pimp it out a bit? Repaint it black - make it shiny?

While I have some type, I really doubt I can live with it. So, I am looking for a nice serif roman in about 10pt. to start. I know the type of Jim Rimmer was suggested already. But cost is an issue for me. Because, even if I love my press, I have never really letterpress printed, and I am not sure how much I will love it ( though I suspect I will ). Good type seems essential for the beginner. Does any one have any suggestions on some good type at a decent price for me?

And, what is up with brass type?


hrant's picture

> should I pimp it out a bit? Repaint it black - make it shiny?

sean's picture

How is ACME type?

bieler's picture


Brass type (as well as zinc type) is usually used for stamping, such as by bookbinders or for foil stamping where the type needs to be heated. Lead type doesn't often fair well in this regard.

Acme (Chicago) was a Monotype outfit. They were pretty good casters actually. But, as opposed to foundry type, Monotype will barely stand up to three printings before it has to be thrown in the hell box.

bieler's picture


Just a further note on this. My first new type was purchased from Acme and I bought from them many times over the years. Along with Detroit Type Foundry, they were my most trusted sources for Monotype casting. I believe that both are long gone now.

Best current source, is Michael Bixler. Great selection of English Monotype faces. Excellent work. As I recall, all the Edward Tufte books were comped by the Bixler foundry.

hrant's picture

Gerald, question:
Do you think the "depth of drive" of the Monotype faces at ArcheType are 0.03" or 0.05"?
And: Since the depth affects sort strength, might the difference in depth determine how kerned the "j" for example is made? I ask because in the Monotype Basekerville 24R print I made on Tuesday the "j" has a huge left sidebearing, but in the sample in Sutton's Atlas the spacing is not nearly as bad. So maybe it's due to neck depth?

BTW, I do realize that "j" is almost always an initial letter in English, I just think that Slovenians are people too.


bieler's picture


Don't know. If you had one of those old Pittman depth gauges though, we could sure find out. I missed one on eBay just last week. An ex-apprentice broke mine when she was cleaning the place and knocked it off the cabinet.

Deeper depth would generally "indicate" strength. Foundry metal is harder and stronger than Monotype and would thus likely have a deeper depth. It has better metallurgy (includes copper in the mix), and could be cast slower (longer), at higher temperatures and under higher pressure, on foundry casters (proprietary machines, sort of).

A j on a foundry caster would be fitted to the body in a continous manner (and would likely not vary much from casting to casting). A j on a Monotype could be fitted to the body in a relative way, and even cast on a wider or narrower body. So the Sutton specimen would not necessarily represent the fitting across the board. Monotype machines weren't proprietary in the sense that they were sold to printers, typesetting firms, et al, and the owner-operator could adjust the character on the body however he chose, within obvious restriction.

Slovenians may be people, as you say, but they sure weren't much of a market for Monotype I'd bet.

hrant's picture

I think I can measure the neck by putting some thin spacing flush against the base to see about how far from the face it is. Or maybe by figuring out if it was from the UK or the States, since Bixler says the latter used lesser depth.

> the owner-operator could adjust the character on the
> body however he chose, within obvious restriction.

Wow. Scary. I assume there was a "default" though, so the qusetion becomes: How often do you think this was actually carried out? And did it generally happen for kern reduction (to reduce breakage)?

BTW, it's interesting that the Bixler sample of Monotype Baskerville doesn't even show the "j"...


bieler's picture


Was hoping you would mention the Czech Printing Office's close alliance with Monotype. Alas.

There could easily have been two different J's. One on a regular body (to, as you surmise, reduce breakage) and another on a smaller body (with the J overhanging the body). No uncommon with characters such as the cap W.

When we ordered Monotype sorts it was generally required to send a cap M from the existing font so that the operator could align the characters to the correct position on the body. Baseline, side bearings, etc. That would "sort of" ensure that the new sorts matched what you already had. Not all suppliers were competent at this!!!!

There was a lot of possible variance. You could have characters kerned to each other. For instance, a "y" and a period kerned close on one body. So Monotype was quite flexible in this regard and therein lay the problem.

jim_rimmer's picture

Monotype depth of drive:
American composition cellular mats are .030" depth.
American large composition cellular mats 14 to 24 pt inclusive are .050" depth.
American Giant Caster Caster mats 42 to 72 point are .065" depth.

British Monotype composition mats, all sizes from 5 to 24 point are .050" depth.
British Monotype Super Caster mats are .065" depth.

All of these mats are interchangeable between all models of American and British Monotype caster with the appropriate matrix holders and molds.

The strength of kerns is anhanced with a deeper drive, so type cast from British Monotype cellular mats is stronger than that cast on .030" depth American mats.

The deeper or shaller the drive has no bearing on how closely the type can be fitted, since the punches are milled to a vertical wall at both left and right sidebearing, and at the head and foot to avoid hanging of the body pointwise.

This verticality does not create a difficulty in allowing the matrix to be lifted off the newly cast letter.

The problem of variance in alignment from one series of casting from another is completely operator oversight. Each series of typeface has a strict and rigid standard of alignment for the baseline in the form of a numbered steel alignment slip (sort of like the Greenwich Time) which is used on a viewing stand when aligning the cast.

Setwise fitting is also accurate if certain procedures are observed: an operator can use either the em dash centered setwise on the body or in the case of British Monotype cell mats, an alignment "star" is placed in the matrix case. If this is centred point and setwise, alignment and fit are accomplished accurately all in one.

The matter of Monotype type being inferior to foundry is of course true to a degree.

1. When a person is buying Monotype compsoition castings, whether it is in the form of comped pages or packaged "fonts", that person is not really buying a type font that is meant to last forever. It is a shame that the foundries that have done and are still casting composition castings as foundry fonts do not make a note of the fact that it is not foundry type. By its nature comp cast type is made in a soft grade of metal, and the Monotype Composition Caster does not have the physics or the strength to deliver the molten metal into the mold cavity in a dense enough manner to make foundry type. A foundry automatic caster works on an entirely different principle verging on brute force. When I cast a font of 10 point for somebody on the Composition Caster, I use hard resmelted foundry metal (ATF, S&B) and the like in the melting pot. This makes the type last a lot longer, but it still is not Foundry type.

2. Monotype Composition mats used on the Thompson Caster with hard foundry metal is very nearly as good as any ATF or Stepehnson Blake type, but ATF is still superior. The same stands for Monotype Display mats used on the Thompson to cast display type. I won't argue that the results are 100% as good as ATF, but ATF ain't there anymore, and the only type a person can find from that company is now either worn, missing characters or to be found in broken sizes. If I were buying type to begin a life in letterpress I wouldn't turn up my nose at well made Monotype type.

3. Anyone insisting that they must have typoe that is made on a foundry automatic (Barth, Kusterman etc) can have it. Theo Rehak of The Dale Guild is an ex-ATF foundryman, and operates more than a dozen of their old Barths, making limited selections of types. I may be wrong, but I think if anyone wants a full run of ATF Garamond from 8 point to 72 they might be out of luck. On the other hand if they will settle for well made Monotype, it's possible.

Making type, aside from knowing how to release the pump handle, is a matter of how much care the typefounder is willing to put into making the type. I have just completed cutting and casting one of my new designs: 24 and 36 point Duensing Titling. The fonts were cast on my Thompson. I discovered shrtly after I shipped off the last font, that the extremely long tail on the Q was far to fragile to last. I got bust an re-cut both the Q and the U to an .075" depth of drive (since for most applications Q and U are a pair) and cast up more than enough replacement letters to go with the fonts. Since they came out .025" over type-height, I milled the feet down to make the type the correct height. I have mailed these off to the people who bought the fonts so that they won't have any breakage problems on the press. This last comment is only to stress that things can be done to make type better. I certainly don't want anyone to buy a font from me and be sorry they did.

Some of when casting for ourselves, will cast special kerns (as Hrant noted; y.) and things like ATA, AYA etc.

Many fine pieces of work have been and are still being done using Monotype. If I could offer this: Monotype composition type was never intended to fill your cases for use from here to the end. On the other hand if you don't punch the crap out of it on the press it will serve you pretty well.

Regarding table top presses, I agree that the Kelsey is the one most likely to break your heart. The Adana models are generally better. Chandler & Price platens are great if you don't expect to fill the chase with type and have it print solidly. It is wiser to get a bigger format than you think you need because a 14x22 or a 12x18 will print small stuff as well as big work, but an 8x12 or a 10x15 has its limits.

I am in the last few stages of refurbishing a much abused 14x22 Colts Armory. I expect a lot from it because I put a heap of money into getting it and moving it here. The Colts Armory's reputation is one of great strength, so I am reasonably sure it will print whatever I throw at it. I will be using Monotype incidentally.

Jim Rimmer

hrant's picture

Thanks for the superb insight - this is definitely a keeper.


So the Monotype Baskerville I'm looking at, being 24 point, must be 0.05" deep no matter what.

> The strength of kerns is anhanced with a deeper drive

> The deeper or shaller the drive has no bearing
> on how closely the type can be fitted

I'm seeing some room between those two statements.
If a deeper drive makes for stronger kerns, then something like the "j" is liable to have its left sidbearing exagerated to improve strength depending on depth (as well as alloy quality). So maybe the guy who cast the font I'm dealing with was a tightwad (he used a cheap alloy, and hated having to deal with broken sorts), so he gave the "j" a huge left sidebearing. Or am I missing something?

It seems to me that when a "user" casts a Monotype font, a balance is struck between:
- sort (and clean-up effort) preservation,
- alloy quality,
- spacing integrity.

Also, at the type design end, letterform fidelity and spacing integrity can be reduced to accomodate the eventual physical issue of broken sorts.

Does that makes sense?

> as Hrant noted; y.

For the record: that was Gerald.


jim_rimmer's picture


I am not certain why the j would have a wide left sidebearing. Somebody maye indeed have shifted the matrix to the right as a special casting to make the tail of the letter a lesser kern, although I think that would make the fit look terrible.

In a type size as small as 24 point I wouldn't have any fear of the kerned tail breaking off, since it is almost certainly a drive of .050", and is quite strong in relation to its thickness to its kern, if that makes any sense. On the other hand if you take as an example the generous kern on the tail of the cap Q in 24 point Garamont 248, there is a chance of breaking the kern off in the planing down of the forme or in the printing. This is still at .050" depth of drive. The same instance in 36 point can be very fragile, and must be handled with care in the lockup and planing. And giving it exaggerated impression is certain to both break kerns and wear the type. I like an evident amount of impression, but I have never been a "tactility junkie" . . . is that the expression?

When I set up a font on the caster, I make certain that the base alignment and setwise position is correct, and then I carefully follow the 1/4 incremental markings on the matrices. My attitude is that Monotype took a lot of care in the fitting of the suite of matrices, and that is wise to follow it. It's only very rarely that I will feel that they have done something strange with the fit, and I may change the ocasional letter's stance on the body, but that's not very often. Lanston did a great job of making their fonts look right.

A couple of days ago I attended the Alcuin Wayzgoose at the Vancouver Public Library. It was a great success, full of joy, fine work and conviviality. An ex-student of mine, along with Rollin Milroy of Heavenly Monkey Press (that's real name) came up to my table and showed me a book that they had worked on together; she writing and designing it, and Rollin printing it.

The text was in 12 point Garamont 248 with Italic and Small Caps that I had cast for the project. I have to say that they made they type look good, or the type made the book look good. Summation: the Monotype printed beautifull, and Rollin has dissed it back into the case for future use. Rollin prints with a blend of impression, restraint, and good taste.

Many Monotype foundries, both internal and commercial, have in the past used a soft grade of metal. In the shop I apprenticed in the composing room was predominently Linotype, so the Monotype Orphan Annie was compelled to use the same soft metal. It was JW Boyd's habit to treat it as a non-distribution system, so we used the type for the most part just once and then it went into the hell-box.

So as not to suggest that this type was good for only the one-time use, I have to tell you a strange story: After 80 years in business the company eventually abandoned all letterpress, and the composing room effects and equipment went to a smaller printer, who carried on using it for some years. About 15 years ago that company sold the same stuff off cheap to a friend of mine who was operating a fine press. About six years ago she called me and told me she had a bunch of type, and that I could have it. Once I got the cases home I was flabbergasted so discover that two of the cases containing 14 and 18 point Nicholas Cochin were types that I had cast when I was about 19 or so. It was certainly the fonts I had cast at JW Boyd becuase of the unusual system we had of laying extra caps in the boxes abopve the cap side of the case. The type (linotype metal, Monotype cast) is still useable today after more than fifty years. A young student from a local art college worked at my workshop for five days and set a broadsheet of about 50 lines in the 18 point. It was necessary to pick out about a half a dozen worn letters and replace them with better ones.

Even though I have the same matrices that came from Boyd's, and can now cast new type on the Thompson, I will always keep the old fonts.

In any case, there is Monotype and there is Monotype, depending on how it was cast. I know that is small comfort to any person buying type. on the other hand there is a lot of ATF type out there that is worn all to hell. It is just as easy to wear out good hard foundry type in a hundred impressions if the person at the press overdoing the impression. It is also very possible to break kerns on ATF type if it's not handled properly. Sorry for the length of this post.

Jim Rimmer

hrant's picture

> is quite strong in relation to its thickness
> to its kern, if that makes any sense.

I think I understand: the strength of a kern depends on the ratio of drive depth over point size (all else -like alloy quality- being equal), meaning that smaller sizes need less drive to maintain adequately strong kerns. So looking at the numbers in your Halloween post, I guess the 30s range is the most liable to break?

> "tactility junkie"

Tell me about it. The stuff some people do competes favorably with Braille...

> Heavenly Monkey Press

My own press is [tentatively] called the Idle Pig Press.

> .... 14 and 18 point Nicholas Cochin were types
> that I had cast when I was about 19 or so.

That's too much!


sean's picture

It may seem off topic at this point. But I thought I would give you an update on my press. I have managed to "pimp" it out. No... not chrome. But it looks sweet and sounds even sweeter. Smooth as a whistle so far.

It turns out I have a Number 11.

And, I have a new set of rollers on order from Tarheel.

One thing I have found out in my letterpress adventures is that the people I have spoke with so far are a great help and eager to do so. Everyone has been so nice even if my press is dinky. But as John from letterpressthing said; "you have to crawl before you can run."

So, to those that have been so helpful - thanks a bunch!

Anyone know where I can get a 10pt or 12pt Baskerville for a good price? : )


hrant's picture

I don't know, but there's some original Baskerville books on sale on eBay!! That's my second "dayng" of the day. Ten minutes left!


jim_rimmer's picture

You can get Baskerville in a range of sizes from M&H Type in San Franciso. Keep in mind that it's not hard metal in the 6 to 12 point sizes, so it's best to keep the impression light.

Jim Rimmer

sean's picture

Ok, this may sound like a stupid question at this point. But...

I am ready to order Baskerville. ( Thanks Jim. )

For now, I am just getting a complete set of upper and lower case. How much spacing and leading do I order? It is sold by the pound.

I will be getting Baskerville 10pt.

hrant's picture

It would be a shame not to have (or leave the possibility open for) the swash italic caps, which are available in the ATF* cut but not the Monotype. But as Jim said, an ATF would be hard to locate - and I suspect more expensive as a result. But the italic is so much better (except for the "g"). Dunno. But in any case it's great you'll be buying some Baskerville! My advice: get the 12; it seems to me that Baskerville is a design that's most happy slightly large. Or maybe an 11, if they have it.

* BTW, one thing about the ATF cut is that it's a Fry's Baskerville, not a "classic", which means it's a bit different (most notably in the "a", "C" and "Q"). But -as Raph actually pointed out to me- the 12 point ATF Baskerville is particularly authentic for some reason - it even has the right "Q".


sean's picture

Ok, when it comes to ordering type I'll need spacing.

What do I need? 3-to-the-ems, or 4-to-the-ems, or quads, or what?

What is 3-to-the-em? I don't even know what that is.


Should I just get "a 5 pound assortment of spacing material that contains everything in amounts proportional to common usage"?

My press is pretty small. I think this is overkill.

And how do I order leading?


bieler's picture


You would need a range of quads and spacing for every point size. 3-to-the-em are three spacers that are the equivalent to the em in that size, eg, in 24-pt, 3-to-the-em would measure 8-pt by 24-pt, 4-to-the-em would measue 6-pt by 24-pt.

Contact me off list as I have a couple thousand pounds of spacing and thins (all sorted) that I am selling, and new leading as well.

Gerald Lange

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