A printing press is a machine for applying pressure to an inked surface that rests upon a surface to be printed on (such as paper or cloth), transferring the ink. Typically used for texts, the invention and spread of the printing press was one of the most influential events in the second millennium revolutionizing the way people understand and explain the world they live in, and ushering in the modern era.
The printing press was invented in the Holy Roman Empire Johannes Gutenberg of Germany around 1440. Gutenberg, a goldsmith by profession, developed a complete printing system, which perfected the printing process through all of its stages by adapting existing technologies to the printing purposes, as well as making groundbreaking inventions of his own. His newly devised hand mould made for the first time possible the precise and rapid creation of metal movable type in large quantities, a key element in the lucrativeness of the whole printing enterprise. Upon further investigation, I found that a “hand mould” or “matrix” was used in hot metal typesetting, a matrix is a mold for casting a letter, known as a sort, used in letterpress printing. However, in printmaking the matrix is whatever is used, with ink, to hold the image that makes up the print, whether a plate in etching and engraving or a woodblock in woodcut.
In the Fall of 1909, Robert Vandercook founded Vandercook & Sons in Chicago, Illinois. His first press was made with a geared cylinder. Before the development of his press, all proofs were made on a roller press, a hand-operated crank press that relied on gravity to make an impression, or on a Washington Hand Press, which was pre-ink-rolling—you had to hand ink each print, and could only do 4 prints at a time, on the large press bed. The press in the Petko studio that we visited looks to be a Washington Hand Press. Here’s a video demo: https://vimeo.com/67678996
Over the next half-century, Vandercook introduced 60 different press models—29 before World War II, 17 of which were still being manufactured for years after the war. Manufacturing was halted during the war, as Vandercook was greatly involved in making things for the war effort, for which they received the E Award. The President's “E” Award was created by Executive Order of the President to afford suitable recognition to persons, firms, or organizations which contribute significantly in the effort to increase United States exports.
With a couple exceptions that were gravity presses, all of Vandercook’s presses were geared cylinders. The SP’s or Simple Precision presses and the Universal series were the last designed. The SP15 was the most popular of all of the Vandercook presses. Take a look at this demo: https://youtu.be/jxwRlQib1EQ
Although the company has changed hands a couple of times, it still operates under the name NA Graphics out of Silber City Colorado—making parts and supplies for many Vandercook models. Without the efforts of Mr. Vandercook and his sons, we may still be using gravity to create prints.