Proof Presses in the Wild

The Vandercook census has reached a milestone. There are now 2,000 Vandercook flatbed cylinder proof press still existing worldwide. That’s just 6.6% of the 30,000 presses the company manufactured between 1909 and 1976. To my chagrin, 12% of entries have incomplete data. A few more press that have not been included at their owners request. There are also 73 showcard style office presses counted separately.

I’ve also compiled censuses for the main other brands of proof presses. Here’s the present count: Asbern 57, Challenge 99, Hacker 12, Korrex 94, Potter 32, Reprex 24, Saroglia (Canuck) 3 and Western 4.

Dafi Kühne in Switzerland has announced that the number of known FAG presses now stands at 100. Congratulations to him on his tremendous work. See

How many more proof presses will be found? Hard to say. About once a month I learn of another. Possibly, there’s still more in Central and South America where tons of used letterpress equipment was shipped in the 1980s.


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Fritz Klinke
9 years ago

When Paul and I first discussed doing a Vandercook blog, my estimate on the number of still extant Vandercooks was in the 800 range. I share with Paul my findings on newly located presses. There are still more out there sitting in the back of shops, long closed shops, and with those who may not know there is another leterpress printer in the world, and I run up against that quite often. Jack Boggs, the legendary Ohio based scrapper and liquidator of printing plants all across the United States has stated that his company probably scrapped around 800 Vandercooks, primarily in the dark days of letterpress conversion to offset in the 1970s through early 1990s. The 3 presses I have were purchased in the Cincinnati area around 1993-94 for $100 each. I was offered a free Reprex if I would remove it from a shop in Redwood City, California in 1989, and then I purchased 2 Universal IIIs in 1997 for $600 each, from a photoengraving plant and subsequently sold them. The new press discoveries have slowed down but there are more.

As an aside, the 30,000 figure includes Vandercook equipment other than proof presses, but it is still a fairly good number to use. It took Vandercook a while to figure out that they needed to number the presses as the first ones listed in the 1909 ledger have no numbers assigned, and that ledger is somewhat of a mess. About half way through the ledger, they started to assign numbers and then, with a few lapses, started to pay attention. Depending on who was doing the entries, there are pages of just serial numbers and no other information, then long stretches of complete information, all entered long hand, with customer names and addresses. These early ledgers all still exist in my collection and I keep several of them handy at my desk for reference. By World War II, Vandercook had changed to a file card system and went back and did an excellent job of transferring the ledger entries onto a file card for each press. I use both sources when looking up serial numbers.

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