Heavy Metal Ephemera: The Resurrection of Two Social Engraving Presses


February 11, 2013 Ephemera Society

By Nancy Sharon Collins

This is the story of a 5-year journey in search of an engraving proofing press. Once ubiquitous in small print shops throughout the country, these presses were used to impress small engraved monograms, logotypes and other elements into stationery, envelopes, calling cards, folders and the like. They were also used to proof small engraving dies. Because they exerted considerable pressure, strong and deep impressions could be made.

watermarkThe great bite of these presses was generated by a large screw with a crossbar weighted on each end by a heavy heavy metal ball to supply considerable inertial force.

They have have not been manufactured since the 1940s or so.

After considerable searching far and wide, we finally located two of these presses in New Haven, CT. We were able to secured grant funding but between the time the grant was awarded gas prices had sky-rocketed, and trucking charges would exceed our grant. And by then the original trucker had ceased deliveries to Louisiana, where we live. Arrangements were made to have the presses trucked to Conway, AR, some 400 miles from our home in southern Louisiana. We drove to Conway in our pickup truck.

metal pressesWe found the two presses, together weighing over 500 pounds, strapped to a broken palette. Through the sadly mangled shrink-wrap, we could barely make out the manufacturer's name.

Once home, we were able to move the presses into our garage with a two-ton shop crane. We unwrapped them, tossed the shrink-wrap and finally got to examine our find.

presses in truckThey had been re-painted several times over their careers. The taller of the two is 28 inches in height with a crossbar screw handle 34 inches wide. Each ball is about 5 inches in diameter. The manufacturer of both was M. M. Kelton of New York. There are design similarities to  Kelsey and Kelton small letterpress presses.

We undertook a beauty makeover. We took them to a place in Alexandria, LA, some 250 miles from us. Both presses were completely dismantled, steam-cleaned and the individual parts and fittings sand blasted. All parts were immediately "oiled" with silicone to prevent rusting in Louisiana's high humidity. The frame and the screw handle were coated with primer, then painted.

Kelton pressOnce brought home, we moved them into a cool, humidity controlled studio where my husband had already polished the brass fittings.  By working so intimately with the presses he has come to the conclusion that the fittings were forged by hand, with the main body a sand casting; and he suspects that they are at least a century old. According to the "Engraved Stationery Handbook", Robert N. Steffens published by the Cronite Company of New York City in 1950: "This type of press was developed years ago" and "is rarely used any longer. It was designed to stamp the 1/2" thick engraving dies we use creating social stationery." The Cronite book is the only reference I have yet found for this type of press. If anyone knows more about them, please do let us know.


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