Since the creation of metal type, there has never been such a successful machine as the Heidelberg platen.
Schnellpresse, as Heidelberg was called in the early days, built their business around this press. Platens were sold all over the world and when it was time to stop, in 1985, more than 165,000 “T” platens were delivered.
There was of course, competition. The British Thompson was a close facsimile of the Heidelberg – especially before WW II when Thompson used the same rotary gripper system. That ended abruptly after WW II.
Later, the Czechoslovak Grafopress appeared as an almost identical clone. Some suggest this is when Heidelberg started to use the term “Original Heidelberg” to disassociate themselves from an Iron Curtain country impervious to litigation.
I rather doubt that. The word “Original” was often used by German builders and Schnellpresse probably did too even before the Czech copy. We called the Grafopress the “Scrap-o-Press” as it was nowhere near as good a machine.
Grafopress did have one feature that was incorporated into the Heidelberg though. The ability to lock out the forme rollers was eventually, years later, designed into the Drupa 1967 Heidelberg.
Both the Soviet Union and China also made knock-offs of the Heidelberg, both very poor copies.
Over the years, we hauled Heidelberg platens out of and into basements, through windows, into garages, or stripped down to get through narrow doorways.
There seemed to be no place that existed where a Heidelberg could not go. Our company overhauled and sold so many – I lost track. When crash numbering was at its apex, it was not uncommon to see one operator in control of four presses.
He could hear exactly what the machine was doing while busy loading and unloading feeders and deliveries. As safety concerns increased the Heidelberg platen faced many challenges.
Some “T’s” found themselves encapsulated under plexiglas and wire mesh, just to keep the authorities at bay. Eventually, it became impossible to operate these presses in such situations. Greeting card companies that may have had 10+ machines soon started to discard the platen.
This amazing and still relevant machine was born around 1912 when Schnellpressenfabrik-Heidelberg purchased the patents from a Köln print shop owner and tinkerer – Karl Gilke.
Not much is known about Gilke, but the platen with the “propeller-gripper” changed the world.
Prior there existed essentially hand-fed platens. These machines, while labor intensive, were slow. Every sheet had to be fed and delivered by hand.
Gilke changed all that by using the favored “Boston Principle” (a platen that has a stationary bed) and incorporated both feeder and delivery into it.
The tiny town of Dorrigo on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales is home to Australia’s last letterpress newspaper.
The paper, which has been running since 1906, is now owned and operated by husband and wife team Michael and Jade English. Together, they print 1,000 copies of the paper for the town of just over 1,000 people each week.
Mr English has been working on the paper for nine years, but his father ran it for 50 years before him, so he grew up watching the process.”During my primary school years I used to come here before school and watch,” he said. “It’s been a part of my life ever since I was born, and I don’t know anything different.
“Michael started working on the paper alongside his father after the mill he worked at was closed and he was made redundant. “Six weeks after I was here dad got ill and had to retire, so I was chucked in the deep end.
A previous employee named Alan Smith came back to help Mr English learn the process, which Mr English said was more complicated than many people realise.”Once we get a story in, we’ll work out whether it’s relevant for Dorrigo, then we’ll typeset it on the Intertype,” he said.
“Once it’s set, Jade will proof read it, we make any changes then. Once that’s done we get to print it.”
“Sometimes things do get missed, we’re only human,” Mr English said. “Things have improved in the last two months since I got reading glasses.”We set the type in hot metal on the Intertype machine, which will then be laid into the bed of the press and run off”.
He said the staff write very few of their own stories, because their time is taken up with the mechanical part of the process. The intertype machine is almost 60 years old, and the printing press was made over 70 years ago. “That’s the biggest thing, making sure everything’s tip-top,” Mr English said.
The process is not only arduous, it can also be dangerous, with risk of lead poisoning and burns. “You need to know how to operate the machine, you’ve got to concentrate on what you’re setting, and you have to keep in mind what the machine’s doing,” he said.
“When the elevator jams up it could pump lead everywhere. Dad had some pretty bad burns.”
Photo: The type for the newspaper is laid into the bed of the press before printing. (ABC Coffs Coast: Liz Keen)
Images by Ellis & Co, Sutton (Photograph) & Walker and Boutall (Engraving). Source: Catalogue of the William Blades Library (1899)
William Blades (5 December 1824 – 27 April 1890), English printer and bibliographer, was born at Clapham, London.
In 1840 he was apprenticed to his father’s printing business in London, being subsequently taken into partnership.
The firm was afterwards known as Blades, East & Blades. His interest in printing led him to make a study of the volumes produced by Caxton’s press, and of the early history of printing in England.
His Life and Typography of William Caxton, England’s First Printer, was published in 1861-1863, and the conclusions which he set forth were arrived at by a careful examination of types in the early books, each class of type being traced from its first use to the time when, spoilt by wear, it passed out of Caxton’s hands.
Some 450 volumes from the Caxton Press were thus carefully compared and classified in chronological order.
Pentateuch of Printing with a Chapter on Judges (1891)
In 1877 Blades took an active part in organizing the Caxton celebration, and strongly supported the foundation of the Library Association.
He was a keen collector of old books, prints and medals. His publications relate chiefly to the early history of printing, the Enemies of Books, his most popular work, being produced in 1880.
On his death, his library was acquired by the St Bride Foundation as the initial collection of the library.
Bremen: Ernsting, 1791 Engraved broadside. Graphic Arts Collection.
A panoramic view of the city of Bremen tops this journeyman’s certificate.
It is inscribed for twenty-five year old Johann Hingstmann (born 1773), who has completed his twelve year apprenticeship to reach the level of journeyman.
Hingstmann now has the right to charge a fee for his own work.
To reach the highest level of master craftsman, he will have to submit an example of his work to a particular guild for evaluation and hopefully, be admitted to the guild as a master.
The certificate is engraved by Daniel Albert (Albrecht) Ernsting (1749-1820), who was himself an apprentice to a Bremen printer. Ernsting then studied in Göttingen and Copenhagen before returning to Bremen and opening a shop.
His name is found engraved on portraits, business cards, playing cards, and of course certificates.