by Harold E. Sterne
Former co-owner of NA Graphics
Vandercook without a doubt is the most recognized name in the world for proof presses.
The company was started by Robert Vandercook in Chicago in September 1909. The first press was a “rocker” proof press, made with a geared cylinder. Up to the development of this press all proofs were either made on a roller press that depended on gravity for impression or on a Washington Hand Press.
During the next 54 years they brought out 60 different press models of which nine models were made in two or more styles. In the 75 years that presses were manufactured, more than 38,000 with the name of Vandercook were produced. The name of Vandercook & Sons was used until 1968 when E.O. Vandercook sold the company to one of their suppliers, Illinois Tool Works. They only kept the company for four years and then sold it to one of their managers, Hugh Fletcher, who renamed the company Vandersons Corporation. Vandersons stopped manufacturing presses in 1976 at which time they only made models HS27, SP20, SP25 and Universal I (see Serial Number Tables). After ceasing to manufacture presses Vandersons continued selling parts and supplies for the thousands of presses that were still being used. In 1989 the company was sold to Stuart Evans. In January 1994 Tom Bell and Hal Sterne of NA Graphics bought the company and moved it to Cincinnati, Ohio. Then in October of 1996 they sold NA Graphics to Fritz Klinke who moved the operation to Silverton, Colorado. NA Graphics is still selling parts and supplies for many of the models of Vandercook presses.
Vandercook was very prolific in producing new models. They developed 29 models before World War II and 17 of these models were still being manufactured many years after the war. The most popular of these models was #4, which was first made in 1935 and not discontinued until 1960. Many are still in use today. In 1948 they brought out the model 4T, which was used to pull transparency proofs of type on acetate. The acetate proofs could then be contacted to film for offset negatives. During World War II not many presses were made because Vandercook was heavily involved in manufacturing for the war effort, for which they received the E award. One press they made for the government during the war was a model 055, 51″ x 75″ in size.
With the exception of models 0, 01, 03 and 099, which were gravity type presses, all of the Vandercooks had geared cylinders. The last models designed were the SP series (which stands for Simple Precision) and the Universal series. They are similar in design but the Universal presses were originally designed as Test presses for ink companies and paper mills. Most of them were made with automatic controls and adjustable beds (AB). The SP series were mostly hand presses. The SP15 was the most popular of them all.
Besides letterpress proof presses Vandercook also made offset proof presses. The flat bed presses were the model 20-26 (wet) and 15-20 (dry). In 1968 they came out with model RO4-29, which was a unique 4 color, offset proofing press that featured a common impression cylinder surrounded by the 4 printing units. This press was capable of running 1500 sheets per hour and automatically producing progressive proofs. They also made 4 color letterpress wet proof presses; model 604 which was brought out in 1947 and 10 years later replaced by model 30-26 which was made until 1972.
Prices for the early model rocker presses were from $140 to $175 depending on the size. Forty years later the model 0 proof press was still only $175. Other prices in 1955 were $1965 for a model 4 and $23,650 for a model 604. The Universal I cost $2150 in 1958.
Unfortunately we lost a lot of the historical information after we bought Vandersons. So if any of the readers have any information on the history of Vandercook please share it via the Contact Form. Thank you.
Originally published in The Printer, September 1998.