Columbian press

Description (Brief)
Super-royal Columbian press made by Ritchie and Son,
Edinburgh, about 1860. Maker's label: "RITCHIE & SON /
MAKERS / EDINBURGH." Press height 89, width overall 53,
length 66 overall; platen 21x29.
The Columbian press was invented in 1813 by George Clymer
(1754-1834), a Philadelphia mechanic. From 1800 Clymer had
been building wooden presses, and then versions of the new iron
presses from Europe. His Columbian was quite original, not only
for its extravagant design but for its levers and counterweights.
It was well received, though at $400 it cost more than twice as
much as a wooden press. But Clymer was not satisfied with the
market he found in the United States, perhaps because printers
were not yet ready to give up their old wooden presses. In 1818
he took his business to England and found much greater success.
His first English presses carried his own name; in 1825 William
Dixon joined the company, and the presses showed both names.
From the 1840s, they were manufactured by several dozen
companies all over Europe.
Although Clymer had made and sold presses in Philadelphia, no
American Columbians are known to survive. The Washington
press came to occupy the place in nineteenth-century American
printing offices that the Columbian and Albion were to hold in
Britain. The only Columbians in the United States today were
made in Europe, and brought over here some time later.
Given by Taylor & Taylor, San Francisco, 1961
The Columbian iron hand press was invented in 1813 by George Clymer (1754–1834), a Philadelphia mechanic. From about 1800 Clymer built wooden presses and versions of new iron presses from Europe. The extravagant design, incorporating levers and counterweights, was quite original, but Clymer did not find a market in the United States. Perhaps printers were not ready to give up their old wooden presses. He moved to England in 1818 and acquired a partner. By the 1840s their presses were being manufactured by several dozen firms across Europe, including Ritchie & Son of Edinburgh, which made this press about 1860. It is a super-royal Columbian and its platen size is 21 by 29 inches.
Clymer's Columbian presses were widely used in European printing offices during the 19th century, and today they are found in a number of European museums. Although Clymer made several dozen presses before leaving Philadelphia, no American Columbians are known to survive. The only Columbians in the U.S. today were made in Europe and brought over here some time later. American printers preferred the Washington iron hand press, which occupied the place in 19th-century American printing offices that the Columbian and Albion presses held in Britain.
The Columbian press is covered with symbols, including its name as a reference to the United States. An American eagle in full relief serves as a counterweight at the top of the frame. He holds in his talons Jove's thunderbolts combined with the olive branch of peace and the cornucopia of plenty. The press was adopted in 1819 as the emblem of Washington, D.C.'s Columbia Typographical Society, a local union of journeyman printers, and it represented their republican sentiments both in the larger political sense and as their expression of pride and independence in their craft. The Society met at the "Press and Eagle" Tavern, and members carried banners emblazoned with images of the Columbian press in their parades.
Currently not on view
Object Name
press, printing
Date made
ca 1860
Ritchie & Son
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
overall: 89 in x 53 in x 66 in; 226.06 cm x 134.62 cm x 167.64 cm
Place Made
United Kingdom: Scotland, Edinburgh
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Graphic Arts
Industry & Manufacturing
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Taylor & Taylor, 1961
Related Publication
Harris, Elizabeth M.. Printing Presses in the Graphic Arts Collection

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.