Columbian press

Description (Brief)
This super-royal Columbian press was made by Ritchie and Son of Edinburgh, Scotland in about 1860. The maker's label reads: "RITCHIE & SON / MAKERS / EDINBURGH." The press has a height of 89 inches a width overall of 53 inches and a length overall of 66 inches; its platen measures 21 inches by 29 inches.
The Columbian press was invented in 1813 by George Clymer
(1754-1834), a Philadelphia mechanic. Clymer had begun building wooden presses in 1800, then later, versions of the new iron presses from Europe. His Columbian was original, not only for its extravagant design but also for its levers and counterweights. It was well received, although its cost, at $400, was more than twice the price of a wooden press. 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, so in 1818 he took his business to England and found much greater success. His first English presses carried his own name, and 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 there. 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 existing in the United States in recent year were made in Europe, and brought here some time later.
Donated by Taylor & Taylor, San Francisco, 1961.
Citation: Elizabeth Harris, "Printing Presses in the Graphic Arts Collection," 1996.
Description
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.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
press, printing
Date made
ca 1860
maker
Ritchie & Son
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
wood (overall material)
Measurements
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
GA*21028
accession number
1961.237265
catalog number
GA*21028
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Graphic Arts
Industry & Manufacturing
Work
Communications
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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