Currently I print at a local studio and since I live in an apartment I don't have space for a large press so I am looking for a table top press. It would be great to hear if anyone has advice on which are good brands/models and where good places to look for them are.


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I have a little Kelsey 5x8 and I love it. Here are some photos from the day I brought it home - I bought it at the Great Northern Printers Fair that happens every fall in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. I like seeing and handling things before buying them, so fairs like these are perfect for me - you should check to see if there are any near you. Also, has a 'classified' section where people post presses they have for sale.
Hi Christie,

I'm no expert, but all of the folks I talked with when I began my search said the C&P Pilot was an excellent starter press. The unfortunate drawback is that they’re in very high demand, so if you can find one, they’re ridiculously expensive! I recall seeing one on eBay recently…completely restored and beautiful, for a couple thousand dollars! Ouch!

To add to Jessica’s suggestion to check’s classifieds, I’d also post a ‘Wanted’ ad on that site once you determine one, or a few models you’d be interested in…I did that and said I was interested in either a C&P Pilot or a Golding Pearl and I received responses within a matter of hours, and had the deposit check in the mail for my press (I opted for the Golding Pearl) in a matter of days!

Also, I’d suggest keeping an eye out for auctions and a great site is, you can search for keywords to weed through all the different options. This was my first attempt at getting a press, at an auction near my grandparents house in New York, unfortunately I wasn’t the only one at the auction eyeing up the presses they had and I didn’t win either of the ones they had there (I had to tie myself down to a limit of what I wanted to spend, the Pearl the had went for pretty cheap, but the Pilot went for a lot more) but it allowed me to get a look at the press, to see what kind of shape it was in (although, I’d have to say that was one of the drawbacks as well…I could see that there were no welds, breaks, rust, etc. on the press, I just didn’t know if all the parts were there! I would have gone higher on them had I known they were complete and in working order)

These were just some personal experiences I’ve had in my search…I’m a newbie myself :o)

Best of luck!
This won't help Christie, but says you're in/near Des Moines. If you are up for a trip out to Chicago, please do talk to Paul Aken as Jen mentioned below. He has a "platen press museum" which is just an amazing HUGE building full of presses and all kinds of other antique equipment he restores, plays with, or sells. Someone recommended him to me for looking for a less-expensive tabletop; not because he sells them cheaply, but because he often has a decent rotating selection of pieces in various states of disrepair, usually before he gets to restoring them himself.

I got a rather large Craftsman tabletop (very similar to a Pilot) that needed a good cleaning, was missing a couple parts, etc. but not MAJOR work...for much cheaper than it would sell for on ebay or than he would have sold it once he finished cleaning/fixing/restoring it. So I just had to put in some elbow grease getting it "pretty" and replacing the few parts, and also got to learn a lot more about the machine, vs. just buying one that was totally ready to go. It's still not a cheap investment, even for the little Kelsey's as you'll still need to buy rollers, furniture, type or a boxcar base, quoins, ink, and so on...but I still saved hundreds of dollars overall compared to buying the same press off of someone who had already fixed it up (and even right after I bought mine in February, there was an ebay auction for an identical press, in almost identical condition, not restored, needed work...that went for almost $300 more than what I paid).

So if you're trying to find something cheaper than the going rate on briarpress, ebay, etc. and you are willing to put in some time into fixing up a press, you might want to contact him to see what he has. Or, even if you are willing to pay for a full working one, he has fair prices I think, and will definitely be able to help you find something. His contact info is listed under The Platen Press in the yellow pages section of Briarpress. Good luck!
I'd agree with what everyone said. I think there's a certain amount of serendipity when it comes to getting a press and in my experience, what I have needed has fallen into my lap. Finding a press on the other side of the country might not be the best idea as you have to factor in physically getting it, even if it sounds like a great press. The Fall flea markets are super helpful, as you can also pick up all the little things that you need to make the press and your printing experience 'work'.
It's also a good idea to keep in mind what kind of printing you want to do. Some of the table tops can be very limiting in terms of the overall size of the pieces you're trying to print, as well as getting an even impression over a larger surface area (i.e., I have a 6x9 Sigwalt, but I can't really print (well) a surface area greater than 4x6, and no heavy ink coverage areas). Pearl's are great because in my non-technical terminology, I think the flywheel helps you create a situation that's more like working on a larger floor model job press. They tend to take up a bit more room, though.
I always recommend talking to Paul Aken here in Illinois, as he's very fair and helpful with finding a press, though this doesn't help you if you're out on the coast! Keep in mind there's a good chance you'll need to replace rollers on any press you get, and that cost should be factored into your budget.
I am also looking for a small c&p press to upgrade.
My solution to get a press I can actually afford was to look all over briarpress and ebay. Everything is super expensive right now. I ended up getting a 5x8 kelsey from ebay for about $300, but it was super crusty and nasty, and missing rollers and chase. At least it was affordable. I was willing to go through the trouble of cleaning it up and finding spare parts rather than spending 4 times the amount and getting a ready-to-print one. Here are some pictures of work in progress:
If you are willing to go this route, then just keep your eyes on ebay and wait for the yucky press to come along, because they will, ive seen several. I would get a kelsey or a c&p because spare parts are easier to come by.

Speaking of Kelseys . . . a teacher in CT contacted me to ask if any of you had a Kelsey that you'd be willing to swap for some other equipment and a below-market payment--he'd like to do small-scale, hands-on, die-cutting with his graphic arts students. If so, contact me and I'll give you his contact info!
My Kelsey is not even functional right now, I am still looking at hours of scrubbing to do and then reassembling it. Unless he is planning on giving me another press as part of the other equipment I am not planning on selling this one any day soon.
He is going to have a hard time finding one. But they pop up from peoples farms and garages occasionally where they just want to get rid of them for free on cost of moving. He should keep his eyes open for that, and I would also put the word out to the local letterpress community about looking for one.



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