By Fritz Klinke
A portion of Vandercook & Sons lives on in the records and parts maintained by my business, NA Graphics, located in Silverton, Colorado. Started in Cincinnati Ohio, by Hal Sterne. and Tom Bell in the early 1990s to sell letterpress parts and supplies, NA Graphics moved to Colorado in 1996 with my purchase of the business. Included was the remaining inventory of parts and original blueprints from Vandersons—and Vandersons was the result of the remains of Vandercook & Sons that had sold to the Illinois Tool Works in 1968. Vandercook failed to keep pace with changing technology, and as the bottom dropped out of letterpress in the late 1960s, the company began to flounder and posted its first substantial loss by 1972. Production ceased in 1975, and the remaining parts and service business became Vandersons. By the time Sterne and Bell purchased Vandersons, the company was on the verge of going out of business—literally within days—so to Hal and Tom goes the credit for arriving on the scene in the nick of time. Otherwise, we would have nothing in the way of support for these presses today.
Within the records held by NA graphics are original blueprints going back to the teens, serial number books and cards that date from the first year of production in 1909, engineering change orders that list numerous changes made in these presses, company photographs of equipment and people, and parts lists. In addition, there are several thousand original Vandercook parts, all arranged by Vandercook’s parts numbers, augmented by new parts that are made as the need arises from the original prints. What was lost were business records and correspondence files, as well as the tooling, jigs, and patterens for any of the cast parts. We have some key patterns that survived—one is the pattern for the all important crescent used in the ink drums.
Two valuable resources are Paul Moxon’s Vandercook site originated by Mark Wilden, and Paul’s Vanderblog. Paul has done much original research and we share information with him. Paul has spent time here in Silverton going through the files, and has found things her has added to the Vandercook site. His blog aims to assist those with perplexing problems with their equipment and shares solutions from those whose may have already solved the same situation. We assist with the sharing of information that can be found on assembly drawings and individual parts plans. Though we don’t share any actual manufacturing information, our goal is to help people use and injoy their proof presses. There is an unprecedented demand for Vandercooks at the present time. It is an easy but accurate press to use and serves a great introduction to letterpress.
© Fritz Klinke, 2009. This essay was first printed—letterpress—in The Vandercook Book published in New York by Roni Gross and Barbara Henry.