Press Restoration

Episode 11 – Old Style vs New Style Gordon Presses

Old Style vs New Style Gordon Platen Presses

There appears to be some confusion as to what defines a “New Style” Gordon press, and it’s time to clarify it.

George P Gordon patented a style of press that has become ubiquitous due to the popularity of one of his fiercest competitors – the Chandler & Price Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Gordon developed and patented the “Franklin” platen job press in the late 1850s (which we now call an “Old Style” press). In the 1870s, as his patents were about to expire, he introduced a “New Style” press with significant improvements. The NS design was often licensed to other manufacturers (Damon & Peets and Josiah Wade’s Arabs (UK) come to mind). However, at the same time, other manufacturers capitalized on this opportunity and introduced a slew of OS platen presses, usually with “improvements” to imply design superiority. Chandler & Price, founded in the early 1880s, was the most successful of these companies, making OS platens well into the 1950s.

OS C&P (with an aftermarket double flywheel), OS Gordon, and a NS Gordon (note the cute little throw-off lever on the NS!)

Visually, C&P’s most obvious difference is a left-mounted fulcrum lever throw-off. Both Gordon’s OS and NS presses use throw-offs employing a front-mounted eccentric with a short handle, and C&P employed a rear-mounted eccentric, which required a linkage actuated by a rather long lever – having far more moving parts than Gordon’s design. Another visual difference is the placement of the side drive arms – two parallel arms to drive the press and one to actuate the roller assembly. As shown in the photos, OS has two arms on the operator’s left, NS has two on the right. The images below show the OS roller assembly counterweight and the lack of one on the NS press.

OS with Counterweight vs. NS with none, giving the NS a smaller footprint for the same size press.
The lack of a counterweight does not seem to make the NS press any harder to treadle.

There are also more subtle differences. One is the impression timing – OS presses have a momentary contact impression, and NS presses have a short “dwell” intended to enable better ink transfer. Another difference is the number of flywheel revolutions in an impression cycle. NS presses require five revolutions of the flywheel to complete a cycle, and C&Ps require 4, the net of which implies roughly 20% less effort to treadle a NS press.*

*(I’m not certain these differences hold true for all NS presses, but they are true for all I have investigated personally).

OS platen pivot vs NS platen actuation

The final difference is the platen actuating mechanism. OS platens pivot on a large axle, remaining stationary on the main frame while the rear bed is drawn forward. There is a heavy frame brace which cycles into place underneath the platen just before impression, to keep the contact solid. The NS platen operates more like a hinge, and as the rear frame and bed is drawn into contact, the platen moves forward driven by a set of sliding “knees” providing a slightly more parallel impression than the OS pivot action.

Extra credit: one of the famous “Brass Arm” NS Gordons
In the Collection of the Letterpress Depot Museum in Denver CO

Episode 10: wherein much progress was made in an unusually short period of time.

April 21, 2023 – wherein much progress was made in an unusually short period of time.

The pivot frame shown in Episode 9 is held in a position relative to the main frame on the pivot shaft by two metal spacers. If this is not done, the frame (and therefore the bed) can shift, which negatively affects registration. We had only found one spacer in the “big pile o’ parts” (TM), so we needed another one. At some point last week, Don cut a chunk off of a broken cast-iron C&P crank shaft, put it on his lathe, and made one.

Today we test-mounted the pivot frame and Steve determined that the spacers would need to be slightly smaller. Luckily, Don has a surface grinder…

Shown above is the sacrificial C&P crankshaft in pieces, the original spacer, and Don’s new spacer. Steve is shown using a surface grinder to machine both to the same thickness.

Once the machining was complete, Don, Steve, and I mounted the pivot frame (they did most of the heavy lifting), and once in place, we attached the bed and roller arm assembly. Then after Steve and I attached the drive arms, it started to look like a press again.

Next steps: attaching some fiddly bits and getting ready to move the press.

Episode 9: Assembling the rear pivot frame

April 7, 2023 – Assembling the rear pivot frame

Having finished painting the rear pivot frame on an odd warm day last week, Steve and John helped me begin assembling the rear pivot frame. Having already cleaned and painted the roller arm assembly, they  just bolt together – but now it’s too heavy for one person to lift. The next step will be to wrestle it over to a chain hoist, move the press under it, and install it on the main frame so it pivots on a low axle. This is the assembly that also holds the ink disk assembly and bed.

Extra credit: Steve and I wrestled the flywheel horizontally onto a sawhorse platform and I was able to clean it. Then Don and I set it upright with a temporary axle so I could mask and paint it. The next step for the flywheel will be to deliver it to Dan Seese, a recently retired sign painter who specializes in Victorian ornamental sign painting.

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