Greetings all.

Approximately 6 years ago I took delivery of a proof press that remained in storage (in bits) until November 2010, when it was dragged kicking and screaming out of hibernation and pieced back together using the only picture I had. The picture showed the press assembled and in situ where it had come from it’s previous owners (who I believe were printmakers).

It was fairly easy to work out where most parts went, but the press is missing a few parts and it doesn’t ‘work’.

I contacted Paul Moxon and asked if it would be possible to post this up on the Vandercook site (he agreed, thanks Paul!) to see if anyone could help identify the press as there are no markings/serial numbers on it, having already searched the site to see if anything looked vaguely similar. Given the size of the press I assumed it was British made. I couldn’t find anything. But one night whilst looking at the Vandercook site again I literally stumbled across my press…

…A Soldan Lightning Proof Press.

The first picture here, looks very similar and is incredibly useful as all the parts are labelled. But further digging here, tells me that my  press is a ‘Type A’. I am unsure if this dates it to 1904?

According to the literature, the type A can operate at three speeds. I’m not sure how as there are only two ways to ‘crank’ the press, one on the cylinder itself and the other on the smaller wheel to the rear of the press. This smaller wheel is attached to a cogged shaft that runs the width of the press. Where there should be four ‘shells’ that the shaft rotates on/in there is now only one. I can’t remember if the press came with the other three or they have gone awol.

The main issue with the press is travel. The cylinder and inking assembly will not budge when cranked. I’ve never used a Vandercook or Korrex but the videos I’ve seen show that the cranking action is smooth and easy. I’ve cleaned the press up and oiled the parts that look like they needed oiling, but this has made no difference. Before we attached the cylinder, the whole assembly would move if given a good shove. Do other cylinders rotate on an internal bearing? I ask because it looks like there could be a bearing on the main shaft. Which may be the cause of the problem.

The rollers appear to be made of wood and have long since passed their prime, both have an almighty crack running along their length. I’m sure recovering will cost a small fortune, so using inking up using a brayer would appear to be the sensible option.

On the operator side of the cylinder is a little mechanism that is attached to the cylinder grippers. This appears to link up with the impression handle. Not entirely sure how it would work but I assume you would feed, grip and then crank to print. There is a large pin that joins the handle to the feed board that is missing (labeled).

So…does anyone have any experience with this press? Is there anyone that has a video of it working (??!). I should add that I am in the UK (West Yorkshire).

The last picture shows the press fully assembled at the previous owners before I got my grubby hands on it. Under the press are the rollers.

Thanks in advance.

Soldan video


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22 thoughts on “Soldan Lightning Proof Press”

  1. Well, we really are in business now!

    New bearings, timing sorted + pressure adjusted = one working press.

    Obviously there’s no compo/forme rollers at this stage but the press now works as we think it should.

    Eric – thanks for the documentation you sent (arrived yesterday), very useful.

    Will post up new pictures soon.

  2. Cheers Eric, another valuable lesson learned. It’s hard to say if the bars are original or not, but they certainly locate into the right holes.

    I suspect the chase isn’t an original as there is at least an inch clearance on the width.

    Once the timing and new bearings are sorted, it’s time to move onto figuring out the rollers. John thinks the other metal bars I have are roller cores rather than safety guards which I thought they may be. Probably two form rollers and maybe two/three composition rollers. We shall see.

  3. Very good, those are timing marks.
    Deadlines indicate the printing area of a press. Putting part of a form outside the printing area may result in grippers hitting the form, or running the form off the tail of the cylinder. One can’t always trust head and tail bars to indicate the printing area if they are not original.

  4. Thanks Paul.

    Had a look at the press today, found two punched marks on the rack of the press, covered in red paint. Then with some help from John (who is going to machine new bearings for the driving wheel) managed to locate the corresponding mark/tooth on the cylinder.

    Honestly, this is better than sliced bread!

    I now know that we can match these ‘deadlines’ up.

    So two milestones are within reach.

  5. I’m wondering if the markings shown in the above picture are the deadline markings?

    https://vandercookpress.info/soldan-lightning-proof-press/dsc_0023/

    There is a removable bar for the ‘head’ and ‘tail’ of the bed. This can be seen clearly in the above pictures running across the head of the press, with circular holes in it.

    The second ‘tail’ bar can’t be used as the chase obscures its fixing. Probably not the original chase. The internal chase measurements are 22″ x 30″ or 760mm x 560mm.

  6. Eric – good point and it’s very likely so, as when the press was put back together ‘timing’ didn’t even figure.

    I can’t see any ‘deadlines’. I’m not sure on the terminology but I’d say that when heading into feed mode, the cylinder is in virtually the correct position, as the grippers open up ready to take the paper. But, having said that I am unsure if the whole assembly should start from the back of the press, which it isn’t at the moment. I’m guessing it has to be, but it’s hard to know without any other examples.

    The previous owner gave up on using the gripper/feed mechanism.

    Daft question – how do we swop addresses?

  7. There is always the possibility that the press has been reassembled with cylinder out of time with the bed. Most Ameerican cylinder presses have deadlines scribed in the bed, don’t know if that is true here.
    And since the bed is adjustable for type or galley height (see that lever with indicator on the side of the press?), the linkages and stops on that mechanism should be examined.
    As for the published references, I could mail them, but no scans.

  8. Scratch that about the bed not being type high. It is. Tested with and without a galley last night and the attached image shows that the press works in a basic fashion.

    This was achieved inking up the type with a brayer, laying paper over this and running the cylinder over the top.

    Earlier attempts used the feed/gripper approach. Though figuring out where the form needs to be on the bed to gain correct positioning on the paper is eluding me at present.

    ‘Nut’ sums it all up.

  9. Eric – the rollers are definately made of wood. Once in position they make no contact with anything, leaving me to think that they had another covering on top (possible?) or they have shrank.

    Played around with the driving wheel on tuesday evening and managed to get the cylinder/inking assembly to move. The problem with this has been that I am missing 3 of the four bearings for this. This is why I was keen to crank the press off the cylinder. It’s been suggested that I make some bearings out of a hard wood, or find someone who may be willing to machine the bearings for me. What do people think about this?

    Anyway – I can’t really explain how or why, but it would appear that the little movement I was able to achieve has ‘un-seized’ the cylinder. I’m now able to crank (with difficulty) the whole cylinder through an almost complete revolution. Whilst this is progress in practice this will mean that it’s an absolute beast to print on. The gripper/impression mechanism also appears to work.

    But, even at it’s highest setting, the bed is not type high. What would be a way around this? Use a galley? I would’ve thought packing the bed out with paper wouldn’t be a good idea.

    The tympan is already packed with several sheets of paper covered in a final ‘cover’ of plastic.

    I’ve been put in touch with the previous owner as well, who used the press for printing lino-cuts. I’ve been asking lots of questions (probably too many!!). Also St Brides are kindly pulling together what information they have on the press to enable a visit in the near future.

    I’ve added a small video in the main post above (situated right at the bottom of the post). I hope this is of interest.

    Video link: Soldan video

  10. I like the fact you said “…this describes how the press is used”. I’m all ears. Any chance of a scan of that?

    [edit] Yes indeed, having now looked at the diagram you are right, there seems to be a full width ink table option as well. I don’t have this.

  11. The ink table should be full-width. Perhaps what you have is the ink table support. Like the bed, the table can be raised or lowered.
    The longest reference to the Lightning Press I have is in Vol. II of Pitman’s “The Art and Practice of Printing in Six Volumes” 1932 edition; this describes how the press is used and has a diagram naming the parts. Pitman also had a small volume on “Proof and Platen Presses” but not any of the Lightning material is in it. Another showing is in “Practical Printing and Binding” (Odhams, London 1946). In addition to the Soldans Lightning, this also shows the similar Harrild’s Speedy.

  12. I’ve updated the post now with better pictures. I’ll add notes tomorrow.

    @Eric, do you mean the ink table? If that’s what you mean, it’s there, look at the first and last pictures. In the first it’s up and in the last it’s down.

  13. It isn’t that the Lighning is simpler than most Vandercooks, it is that it is more like the earlier cylinder presses of its day than proofing presses, except for the moving cylinder and the adjustable bed.
    One thing you seem to be missing is the ink plate at the open end of the bed, and that is typical of earlier cylinder press inking.

  14. Thanks Eric. Yes, I remember seeing this. It was on ebay and had come from a local museum, the seller didn’t know anything about the machine and the auction didn’t run to it’s end.

    Indeed, the Lightning is a simpler beast than a Vandercook. I’d dread to think how I’d cope with one of those if it was missing parts.

    Would it be bad form if I posted this up at Briar Press as well?

  15. http://www.briarpress.org/24664
    shows what I thought might be another Lightning. Up to that I had only seen them in older printed sources. When there was some talk a few years back about the cost of manufacturing a new proof press today, the Lighning seemed to me a better pattern to follow rather than any Vandercook, but it will be interesting to hear how well this press works.

  16. I am currently living near the Amberly museum, outside of Chichester, West Sussex. I’ve worked on many vandercooks in the US and UK, and might be able to help. Send some info about your location etc. and some better pics.

    Best, Alex Brooks

  17. Hi Eric,

    I wondered if you might be the man to answer this as Paul mentioned you knew something of this press!

    Could you let me know what the Briar Press link was/is? Prior to the post here a search brought no results. According to the Happy Dragon’s Press here in the UK the Amberley Museum had a “Large Power Soldan Proofing Press (30″ x 34″)” but after enquiring I’ve been told that it is in fact a Stephenson Blake power press. :(

    I’ll look at the rollers again – the cores are still alive and well. I’ve only worked with rubber rollers in the past so am not familiar with any other type. There is also another (narrower) roller that appears to be made of metal.

    I know of St. Brides of course, though I’ve never made the trip down. A distinct possibility is now on the cards…

    Worst case scenario is that I take the whole inking/roller assembly off the machine and leave the cylinder on. This could of course be an absolutely ridiculous thing to do (imagine the cylinder rolling off the machine and onto my toes…). But it might mean I can actually get it running and understand it a little more. (Maybe).

    Thanks for the response.

  18. Get thee to St. Bride’s! The printing library in London that is. That is the only place you will find any information about the Lightning, and the source of the material you saw here. There are other references in British printing manuals (I think it was Pitman’s six-volume Art of Printing where I saw the first reference).
    Until recently when another Lightning showed up on BriarPress, I didn’t know if any still existed. None in operation have turned up.
    Wooden rollers would not be used as form rollers; they might be used as distributors, but they don’t have the resiliance to contact the form. I can’t imagine wood used as a core for composition except during wartime restrictions. In any inking system, soft rollers contact hard rollers (never hard against hard or soft against soft), and when this press was built composition was the regular soft roller; today it would be rubber. If the wooden rollers are distributors, then plastic or metal tube would be the modern replacement. Or could you be mistaking hardened composition rollers for wood? Glue and treacle, later glue and glycerine, is basis of the composition roller, and after decades can be hard as wood. And there would be a metal core.

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