Hooksmith Press & Vandercook 14

Here's a great story that Russell Frost sent me
about how he returned to NZ and established Hooksmith Press,
and his restoration of Vandercook No.14...

"Early this year we decided to re-locate to NZ after 5 years in London, UK.  
I had become heavily interested in letterpress printing the year before 
and had purchased an Adana 8 x 5 as well as numerous metal and several wood founts.  
A short course in letterpress printing at Central St. Martins 
built on my self taught beginnings
 as well as giving me the opportunity to use a Vandercook SP15.  

Deciding that this press would suit me well, I set about seeing if I could locate one in NZ, rather than trying to ship one from the UK.  
During this period I must have terrorised most NZ printers in my quest, 
but alas did not locate one.  
I did however chance upon the NZ Printmakers website.  
Delwyn kindly made an advert to put on the website.   
Currently I am still looking; in the mean time a good thing has happened.  

After a month or so back in NZ, an email came 
from a very generous Alison Murray in Wellington – 
Would I be interested in an early model 14 Vandercook?” She also sent pictures.  
The press looked somewhat basic (without grippers), though in good shape.

I was a little hesitant, as it could be difficult to get parts for such a press, however, 
I sent a resounding “yes” and arranged for a mate to go and check it out.  
My friend Gavin is particularly strong, and capable of moving large objects.  
(I once watched him take a bulldozer across the Buller River 
 in pieces on a wire rope, re-assembling it on the other side!)  

 Alison informed me it had been dismantled since the photos were taken 
and that it was now in a couple of pieces going rusty in her garden.  
By now I had my heart set on the press and thought I would take a punt.  
Gavin borrowed one of his mates old wharf barrows 
and promptly went to pick it up from a steep hill section somewhere in Wellington.  
Once in his van he delivered it to me in Hamilton.  

The cylinder was very rusty and seized.  
A weekend fully submerged in diesel freed up the mechanism 
and Gavin lifted the cylinder back on.  
Cleaning the teeth on cylinder bearers/tracks mounted on the press bed 
allowed the cylinder to move very freely up and down the tracks 
and allayed any fears of parts being warn or broken.  

A couple of things were needed to complete the press and make it operational:  
A cylinder blanket, a couple of screws 
and the flat bar to hold the end of the blanket around the cylinder.  
A guy Bob from the Waikato Times kindly gave me a discarded off-set blanket (1.95mm) 
attaching this to the cylinder took a bit of trial and error, 
but I eventually figured it out; a very effective mechanism once you work it out.  
I had a galley height piece of metal made, 
though with the thick blanket, it was not required, 
as the cylinder could not even begin to travel down the bed.  

Biding my time waiting for my type and other supplies to arrive from the UK, 
I registered the press with the Vandercook website 
and found some interesting information out from a very helpful Paul Moxon.  
This press was built in Chicago.
Vandercooks built under license in Great Britain began after WWII.
Before then Vandercook & Sons had a network of foreign dealers
including Alex Cowan & Sons in Melbourne, Australia.
Net weight without the optional cabinet is 525 lbs

'The Old Trout'

My printing equipment arrives 
and after several days of organising all of the various equipment, 
I feel the time is right to launch ‘The Old Trout
(apparently every press needs a name, 
and what could be more fitting for a member of the Hooksmith Press).   

I had purchased a couple of large shaded grot sorts 
 before leaving London and these had been begging to go first.
I set the form straight into the press bed and then proceeded to hand ink the type 
(this was a whole lot less exacting than setting a form in a chase for a platen). 
Then I carefully placed my brown wrapping paper 
(cut with a knife off a roll – very crude I must add)!   
With no suitable packing material either 
(corrugated cardboard does not cut it!) 
I then ran the first proof.  
The result was a very poorly impressioned print 
but none the less a big sense of achievement.  

I have since had some paper cut to size professionally, 
as well as getting a better packing material 
though still think a felt would be better than a card, 
as any blocks which are greater than type-high can leave 
a permanent impression in the packing which affects subsequent prints.  

I have recently had works accepted into the Soul Gallery in Hamilton 
and still relish every opportunity to compose and print on this wonderful press.  
Thanks Delwyn, Allison and Gavin.

The above press was never really intended for ‘finished’ print run type work, 
hence the term proof press.  
However it is suitable for artistic edition work 
if one is realistic about the minor flaws, slurs etc.  
With a desire to do some finer 2 colour work, 
close registration is necessary (grippers and lay adjusters) 
and the hunt still continues for an model SP15.  

Russell is also on the look out for more poster font/wood type and embellishments, 
as well as old advertising cuts. Email: ticklishtrout@gmail.com


ticklishtrout said…
Great news - I am happy to say I now have a Vandercook SP15 and am in the process of getting it up and running.
ticklishtrout said…
Managed to get a blog set up: http://hooksmith.wordpress.com/