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