Rare No. 119 Proving Machine

Recently, I toured Thornwillow Press in Newburgh, New York where amongst the numerous letterpress equipment on premises is a 1927 Vandercook No. 119 Proving Machine. (The image at left is its entry in one of the early sales record books.) Currently,  this press is the only known example of the model in the census.*  In production from 1925-27, the 119 was superseded by the 219 Proving Machine (aka 219 old style), 1927-47. The two models share some similarities such as the cast iron base, bed size and swing out paper shelves. The main differences are the 119’s slanted feed board and its over-built inking assembly.

The 119 was Vandercook’s first press with a motor to power the inking assembly and established the basic design on which most subsequent models were built. It is undoubtedly the unnamed model mentioned in Louis Flader‘s 1954 article “The Vandercook Story” from Photoengravers Bulletin:

“… with the rapid and insistent increase in the demand for better proofs—especially process color plates, the Vandercook brothers realized that a great need existed for presses capable of coping with every critical proof task, especially the faithful reproduction of color plates.” … “And with this realization, came an entirely new conception of a proof press—one that distinguished between a machine capable of producing ordinary proofs of type and plates, and a machine that would serve as a testing instrument for accurately checking the printability of type and plates. In other words, this new conception established this difference—that a machine for ordinary proofs be designated a proof press, while a machine capable critically evaluating printing plates and type forms should be regarded as a test press.”

Most 219 OS have a level feed board, however, a full page ad in the Flader edited compendium Achievements in Photo-Engraving and Letter-Press Printing (1927) features the 219 Proving Machine, with a slanted feed board, but the more familiar inking assembly.

*It’s possible that one or more of the four 219 OS listed or the 17 unspecified 219s without serials numbers may actually be a 119. The number of 119s produced is unknown, but a tally could be arrive at by a further study of the sales books.

Image credits: 1 Benji Cossa;  2 NA Graphics;  3-6 Paul Moxon; 7. Achievements in Photo-Engraving and Letter-Press Printing.

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Fritz Klinke
12 years ago

I just counted 37 cards for 119 presses, including one for SN 2926. At some point, Vandercook went back through all the manually entered ledger books and created a file card for each press, so we have a duplicate record for all the presses up through the 1930s. Most of these appear to have been sold to photoengravers. I suspect Vandercook was feeling some pressure from Hacker who was already making proof presses targeted to the photoengraving trade.

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