Following on from my recent post on my purchase of an Adana 5 x 3 small printing press, I thought you might be interested to know how I tracked it down. I’ll give you a list of resources, and an idea of what you can expect to pay. Though this is a guide to buying a letterpress, many of the same methods could be used to track down an etching press, or silkscreen equipment.
This article is a guide to tracking down a starter printing press, so if you already have one, or aren’t looking to purchase one this may not be the blog post for you.
I was lucky. My first press was given to me by a tutor and for that I am eternally grateful. I was pretty broke when I left college, and my wife and I were about to have our second baby. I had been working nights towards the end of my course but the area we were living in had little to offer in terms of amenities. We were all set to move out of Cornwall when we managed to find a place in Bodmin which suited our needs. I don’t claim to be much richer now, but I can still afford a printing press. If you are thinking that printing presses are enormous pieces of equipment, well, they can be, but I am not going to cover buying a Heidleburg, or a Columbian press.
There are a number of places to look for second hand printing presses. Unless you want to pay big bucks, all the presses will be second hand, although it is possible to buy refurbished machines with some parts recast and others repolished. I would try the following;
– Just search for ‘printing press’, then in the Categories on the left hand side select ‘Printing & Graphic Arts’ then select ‘Letterpresses’. You may also want to try ‘Book Press’ – these are big hunks of metal with a screw thread in the middle attached to a plate and they’re great for relief printing. This should give you an idea of what is available. It’s pretty shocking how low some of the prices are. For example, at the moment there is a 1960’s Heidleberg Platen Press on for only £200 and it has no bids. Why is this? Transport, mainly. A machine like that weighs well over 2 tonnes and needs dismantling and likely specialist transportation. Then, when you’ve got it, you have to house it and maintain it. If you just want to learn letterpress, it’s probably not the one for you. Sadly, a machine like that may well go for scrap because noone can use it. I can see a couple of Adanas for sale at the moment, a “Five Three” like mine is on for £150, and there is a larger “Eight Five” on for £550. The latter looks like it’s been nicely refurbished, hence the higher price.
To start out you might want to try waiting for one with a low starting price and try your luck – I have seen several presses go for around £50. Be careful, many of the listings are ‘collection only’, which means unless you’re prepared to fork out for petrol to collect, you may want to rethink. These machines aren’t too heavy, so if you can get someone to pack it up and courier it to you, that may be a better option. Equally, you could ask the seller if you could send a courier from your end to collect. At least that way you can assess what level of insurance you want etc.
2. Trade Listings
– Usually these are the websites of Press Manufacturers who sell reconditioned or advertise for their customers;
Harry F Rochat Ltd – mostly large presses costing thousands.
Graphic Arts Equipment Co. – again, larger presses.
I won’t list any more because to be honest you’ll be lucky to find any small presses in the Trade Listings. The only one worth mentioning is Caslon who refurbish and supply parts for Adana machines. Their ‘remanufactured’ 8 x 5 model is £745 + £15 carriage, and is a good deal if you don’t want to hunt around on Ebay and want a machine that is as new. Although I purchased a letterpress, many of the same methods can be used to track down an etching press.
3. Craigslist (Worldwide), or Preloved and VivaStreet (UK)
– These are great alternatives to Ebay. The last one, VivaStreet is where I got my Adana. It was local and came with loads of type for £90. Now it needs stripping down and oiling, and I had to order roller trucks (runners), so they were an extra £18 + £4 carriage (thanks Ellie Evans), but I think you’ll agree that’s a pretty good deal.
4. Charity/Thrift Shops
– OK, gone are the days of picking up a printing press for 50p at the local Charity Shop, many now hire advisors who help price items more realistically. That said, I have seen relief presses for sale before now, and they weren’t priced over the odds. Keep your eyes peeled.
5. Other listings
– Briar Press have a really useful list of Letterpress Suppliers it’s worth checking out.
Printmaker.com have a small ads section which sometimes has printing presses offered (I’ve even seen them for free).
6. Local Printshop Closures
– If a print shop is closing which has been around for longer than 20 years, it may have some machines for sale, or at least some type – it is worth enquiring. It may seem a little vulture like, picking over the bones of a dying industry, but think of it more like you will be making use of the same tools they used and keeping an artform alive.
Whether you’re a poor struggling artist, or a go getting printmaker, I hope this was helpful and guides you on your way to your first printing press. I’d be interested to hear about anyone elses printing press bargains, or of any other places people can hunt for their first press – please drop me a line (photos are most welcome) at email@example.com.