Wells press

Wells press

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Description (Brief)
This press was made by John I. Wells of Hartford, Connecticut, in about 1819. It includes an iron ball counterweight. It is stamped on its bar (perhaps by previous owner) “247.” Its platen is extended by a 1-inch iron strip bolted to the rear edge. A bracket for a shelf or ink table is attached to the near side column. Its tympan and frisket are missing. Its wooden forestay is probably not original to the press. The original brass label reads: “John I. Wells / PATENT LEVER PRESS NO. 54 / HARTFORD CONN.” The press has a height of 76 inches, a width, at cheeks, of 38.5 inches, and a length of 72 inches. The press with platen, including extension, measures 30.5 inches by 21 inches.
John I. Wells of Hartford, Connecticut, patented this press in 1819. It included a cast-iron frame and simple toggle levers in elbow form. It was the first all-American, iron-lever press after George Clymer left the country with his Columbian. Originally Wells hung a heavy iron ball at the side of the press as a counterweight to the platen; later he used springs (which also replaced the spidery three-legged platen hanger). Wells also simplified the connection between bar and toggle levers, and patented this change in 1829. Later presses carry both modifications.
Wells’s press sold nicely, but was not able to withstand the competition from Washington and Smith presses in the 1820s. Manufacture of the Wells press came to an end when Wells died in 1833.
Donated by the American Type Founders Company, 1915.
Citation: Elizabeth Harris, "Printing Presses in the Graphic Arts Collection," 1996.
Object Name
Press, printing
printing press, Wells hand
Date made
date made
ca 1819
American Type Founders Company
Wells, John I.
place made
United States: New York, New York
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
wood (overall material)
overall: 6 1/2 ft x 3 1/2 ft x 7 1/2 ft; 1.9812 m x 1.0668 m x 2.286 m
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Graphic Arts
Printing Presses in the Graphic Arts Collection
Director's Hallway
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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