Back in February I bought a beautiful cast iron press called a Charlton and Cropper Improved Peerless printing press. Measuring 8×5 inches (chase size), she was in considerable disrepair and the chase and rollers where missing.

Ethel in the Shed

The Cogs that drive the fly wheel

 

After getting her into storage, my Uncle and I started to dismantle the fly wheel, impression lever and the main drive shaft. The fly wheel had been ‘stitched’ at some point, which meant that considerable wear had caused the fly wheel to wobble when pressing the pedel to get the wheel and platen going.

John (my Uncle) got to work on repairing and restoring the flywheel, impression lever and the roller holders. I started to dismantle the platen, and any other bits that could be removed fairly easily. So pins, nuts, bolts, screws, lay gauges, paper  holders, inking discs…you name it, I removed it and then set to soaking them and then cleaning them down.

I used basic engine oil, poured into a plastic container and left all the loose parts to soak for a good week. The Part that pushes the inking disc around was completely caked in ink and rust. As I started to rub it down, this golden brass started to shine through. It was such an exciting surprise to see that we’d discovered ‘buried treasure!’ I also found that the ‘Peerless’ logo on the platen was also made of brass, so I used Brasso to restore these parts to their former glory!

With most of those parts removed, I got around to taking a closer look at the frame and body. It was in great condition and once I had given it a clean down, the rust was actually cosmetic and the actual frame didn’t need any repair work.

The Inking disk back (After being painted)

I used Emery Cloth, which is a very hard type of sand paper and is fantastic at lifting hard to shift rust. (Though use with caution because it can cause a lot of damage if you rub away too much.) I keyed the main frame and it helped get the biggest majority of rust removed from the inking disc and the outer rim of the flywheel. The finer sanding was completed with a finishing sand paper, that helped key the metal surfaces ready for painting.

The Flywheel rubbed down and painted

 

Once the sanding and preparation was finished, I flushed all of the oil holes, nooks and crannies. I cleaned these out by using mini bottle washers and cocktail sticks. It was so surprising to discover how much easier the press moved once these holes had been cleaned and flushed. I guess years of gunk and oil had built up and the poor press had never had a thorough strip down.

So once I’d done the ‘housework’ I then over oiled the press until it was dripping with oil. I also re–flushed holes with WD40 and with a cloth rubbed the metal work to moisten up the remaining hard to reach rusty parts of metal. I left the press at this point, to really let the oil and WD40 do it’s magic, after  a week of intense soaking, the press was wiped down with white spirit and left to dry so the spirit could evaporate.

Finding Brass! The Peerless logo after being polished.

After the initial rub and clean down

With the Platen closed and freshly rubbed down

Then I got to painting all the parts of the press with Hammerite metal paint which uses rust as a primer yet protects the metal from any further damage. Though the paint I bought is glossy rather than matt, it’s really just cosmetic but I’m glad I chose black as it looks fantastic!

Painting was a long process, as I left each coat for 24 hours to dry and I ended up applying three coats in total. Once completed and dried, we started to reassemble the press. This is when the fun began!

I’d taken photos of how it looked before we took it apart and made notes on which blots went where. So some of the guess work was taken out, it was making sure that the pins and strange little pieces of metal all went back in the right places. So after tinkering, the press was partial reassembled.

The new rollers, cores and trucks had been ordered from Ellie Evans, the next step was to get a prototype chase made. So John took precise measurements and got to having it made. Whilst that was happening, I took the printer’s boards apart to find that they were in inconsiderable disrepair.

I made a template of the original boards and had a go at making new boards from a piece of pine I had left over in the shed. But pine is too soft as I discovered and it split as soon as I tried to jigsaw it into the same shape as the originals. It was also at this point that I discovered that the bolts for the press were not imperial but Whitworth screws. And the original screws were not in great condition either. So I needed to find some new screws!

Now I am a metric girl and I know about imperial sizes but Whitworth sizes? I visited every hardware shop where I live and they all looked at me with that tooth sucking frown said you couldn’t buy them anymore! (Obviously they don’t use the internet!) Except one chap in a hardware shop, mentioned I visited the agricultural shop tucked away down a little street that I have walked past more times than I can remember.

I found the shop and a lovely chap had a look at my original bolt and declared it was a Whitworth Countersunk screw and he could get me 5 for the next day! I could have hugged him! So with those ordered and costing me the grand sum of £1, I had to think about how I could get the printer’s boards made with countersunk holes that were strong and not going to cost the earth.

It was talking to my neighbour who has just retired and is bored already, that saved the day really. He looked at my attempt and laughed and explained about soft and hard woods. Then he told me he would get new boards made to match the originals but I couldn’t get them for at least 3 weeks as he was away.

So trying not to feel frustrated, I realise actually that I’ve come a long way since February. Then last night John came by with the finished chase in steel. With a few tweaks by rubbing some paint away where the chase sits, it slotted in and locked into place.

Then I took it out and did a quick setting to the forme with a printing block and we had a go at blind printing. We managed to get a slight impression but we got the press to print in goodness knows how long! We celebrated with a pot of tea and slab of fruit cake!

So as I write this, I’m currently waiting for the Printer’s boards, rollers and four chases which will cost me £40. Then we have a completely restored printing press. I have never done anything like this before, and without the kind help and enthusiasm from my lovely Uncle John, Cliff the neighbour and the people who gave me advice along the way. I don’t think I would have achieved fixing my Ethel. (I named her Ethel!)

I know I’ve yet to get a proper impression, and it’s going to take time getting used to how she works and settle into a pattern of printing but I am so glad I saved this little piece of history from the scrappers.

I’ve posted a link to Youtube, so you can see how the press looked when stripped down. Then hopefully I’ll have an update for you soon when we get her printing for real!

Till next time!

 

Bec and Ethel 🙂

 

 

 

 

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12 Comments on Restoring a Charlton & Cropper Improved Peerless Letterpress Printing Machine

  1. Hello Bec … this looks like a great job. Could you tell me how you moved the press? Thanks.

  2. Hi,

    The press was delivered to my house by a guy in a pick up truck. Then four of us lifted it into my shed at first, then finally moved it into the house. When the press was stripped down of the fly wheel and heavier parts, it was easier to move. We then rebuilt her and she’s stayed in the same place ever since.
    If we were to move her again, I would try and get her lifted onto a palette or something to give better leverage!

    Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Hi,
    Im Sam Allen, curator of a small letterpress printing museum located at Crich Tramway Village near Matlock in Derbyshire.

    I’m delighted that you have rescued a Peerless Platen Press and restored it to working order. the collection at the Eagle Press at Crich has a similar press which I believe is circa 100 years old and used to give demonstrations on a regular basis.

    I would suggest that your press is an 7″ x 5″ on which I can print A5 , I have a proper chase but I find that an 8″ x 5″ Adana chase will fit with a little packing each side. Don’t know if you have knowledge of letterpress printing but if I can help in any way either email. If you should visit the Tramway Village let me know and I will arrange to meet

    Good Luck with restoration

    SAM ALLEN

  4. Hi Sam,

    Thanks for getting in touch. I would love to come down and visit as it would be nice to take a look at another press.

    I do have printing experience and this has been a really great experience. I love the press because she is so easy to use. We had 6 chases made for the Peerless as my Adana chases like you say, needed a bit of packing. I use both an Adana 8×5 and the peerless, so it made sense to have chases made up. It took a bit of work to get it right but we even have a groove to lock the chase in place! In all it cost £40 which was a bargain considering the cost of steel!
    I know you say the press is a 7×5 but our chases are bigger than that but I do get an A5 off fairly evenly.

    Thanks for your comment though and when I get a free weekend, I’ll let you know and hopefully we can swap stories 😀

    Many thanks

    Bec 🙂

  5. Hi Bec

    I’ve been hunting for a decent letterpress for ages and seeing the prices of some of the better preserved items I am tempted to purchase one which would need a bit of TLC to get up and working. I Just hope it’s not too big a bite swallow. Reading about your experience however gives me a bit more hope.

    I have spotted a press exactly like yours, although it might be in a bit of a better shape.
    If I do end up getting it would you mind me quizzing you about it some time.

    Also how if your press doing?

    Cheers
    Milo

  6. Hi Milo,

    Of course you can ask questions about restoring your press, I’m not an expert in all presses but the lovely thing with them are that they are basic machinery and usually fairly simple to restore.

    Providing the structure of the press is fairly sound and the press moves, you need to strip it down and taking photos is imperative! Especially when you put it back together!

    If you get stuck though, ask away and I shall try to help 🙂

    Bec

  7. Hi Bec

    Just wanted to bother you for a follow up question.
    Have you used anyone specific or do you know of anyone who sells rollers for the charlton
    or maybe makes custom rollers.

    Cheers

  8. No problems,

    I had to have my entire rollers remade. So the core, trucks and covering was made from scratch.

    Elli Evans made the rollers and were brilliant, however they didn’t fit properly but my uncle doctored them so they ran more smoothly. That was down to where the previous rollers on my press had worn away as they ran along their tracks. In all they were roughly about £300 and I opted for brass trucks as it’s a self lubricating metal. The roller is polyurethane (I think that’s how you spell it.) And works very well with Varn blanket wash for cleaning down afterwards.

    Hth

    Bec 🙂

    http://ellievans.myshopify.com/ – Drop them an email ans they’ll gladly help.

  9. I really enjoyed reading about your restoration Bec. I have a Peerless No.1 in fully working condition and which I believe to be complete, apart from 2 of the 3 drawers which fit into the lower frame. The drawers give the press more stability when in use. Let me know if you would like more details.
    Best wishes
    Maggie

  10. Hi Maggie,

    It’s lovely to hear from you!

    These presses are fabulous, though at the moment my rollers are off being repaired! So I’m catching up with all the non printing jobs right now!

    Where are you based? Since I wrote that blog post, we’ve made quite a few more changes, is your No.1 bigger than my Peerless?

  11. Hi Bec,

    As far as I can tell it looks the same. The only difference I can see from your photos is the name plate -perhaps it made more sense to the manufacturers to have a Peerless No 1 before making a Peerless No.2. Who knows ? It has an 5×8 chase and 2 rollers. On the top of the rhs of thebase is a triangular shaped groove, an ink pallet 10×5 slots into this. The screw holes on the feed boards have never matched up with the holes on the base, I have no idea why. To fit them in what appears to be the correct place would foul the machine.
    I live in Surrey, I bought my press several years ago from a printer in Kent who was upgrading his shop to Litho ! I have just finished giving it a good clean and an oiling and it it going like a dream. All I need now is to start my new project.
    Best wishes Maggie

  12. Hi

    I’ve just come across your fascinating blog post. I bought a Peerless earlier this year (might even be the one Milo above spotted!) and it’s a lovely little press. I’ve got it running smoothly fairly quickly and got an Adana 8×5 chase from eBay which fits perfectly. I’m not sure I’m going to strip it down as much as you have with yours as it doesn’t seem to need it just yet. There’s a few old rusty screws and nuts which are proving a bit stubborn to remove but I’ll persevere.

    I’m just starting on the letterpress road having been involving recently mainly in hand binding bespoke notebooks. I’m what they call time-poor as I work full-time so I’m still in magpie mode as I collect various bits of old Victorian cast iron ready to hopefully embark on the venture more seriously in time. With a mate whose also in the trade, we also acquired an Arab platen which was in a worse state than the Peerless and does need a full strip down so this is proving to be more of a long term process but can’t wait to see that going. I last used one of those when I was 11 years old in the mid 60s in the school art department where I was the least popular member of the class as I printed all the detention cards!

    Would love to swap ideas and tips and if you need any hand binding doing, do get in touch. You’ll find me on paperwallah.co.uk where I’ve posted a few pics of the presses in bits.

    Rob Kendrew

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