Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Printing History & Book Arts > 9. Washington Hand Press

9.  Washington Hand Press. New York: R. Hoe & Co., 1843. Foolscap size (platen 35.3 x 49.4 cm., bed 45.6 x 60.9 cm.) RBML

This press was used for over a hundred years by the American Bible Society, founded in 1816 to encourage a wide circulation of the Holy Scriptures. The Society started doing its own printing of Bibles in about 1844; thus this press, built in 1843, would have been one of the first it acquired for the purpose.

The Washington-style press employs two major innovations that distinguish it from the presses used since the 15th century: it is built of metal, and it uses a toggle action. A number of improvements in press design took place rapidly in the early 1800s, which simplified and reduced the cost of manufacture while developing maximum power with minimum effort. Samuel Rust of New York designed the main features of the Washington press: a "figure 4" toggle, which provided greater power than previous levers; and a lighter, stronger, frame, which could also be disassembled for moving.

R. Hoe & Co. bought Rust's patent and manufactured over 6,000 of these presses between 1835 and 1902. Simpler and cheaper though slower than the increasingly sophisticated presses becoming available through the 19th century, these presses found a niche in small shops doing short runs, and for extra fine printing. A number of contemporary fine printers use Washington presses today. This is one of the four presses owned by the Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Gift of the American Bible Society, 1953

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