Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Boston Tiegel A5--a new tool enters the workshop.

Boston Tiegel (although unmarked); a hand-lever operated tabletop platen press.
I wasn't looking for another hobby or money sink but this followed me home a little over a week ago.  I took a letterpress workshop last year (with the charming and talented women of Betterpress Lab in Rome and where I later gave my moku hanga workshop). I had seen something similar to this in their printshop, so I had an idea of what it was when I saw it peeking out from behind an old armoir in the back of a local shop.
There is a business just down the street from my studio that empties out basements and attics in the neighborhood.  The bulk of the items end up for sale in a kind of used-goods shop where old clothes, books, framed posters, and all sorts of bric-a-brac come and go on a daily basis.  Florence is an old city and people might inhabit the same apartment for 50 years so sometimes there are some old and interesting things.  The other day I was walking by and I saw this WAY in the back.....you'll have to look hard to see it--look at the blue rungs of the ladder, then down....(sorry about the blurry foto).

I went back the next day and it was still buried but I could get a closer look.  The owner said he'd let me have it for a great price and he threw out a figure that was low enough to be worth investigating. (He knows I'm American, and that usually means higher prices than if I looked or spoke like a local). 
It was clearly a platen press with a curved lever for manual printing of moveable type.  The shopkeeper couldn't say much about it other than it came from a bookbinder's house, that it was working, and "had a german name..".
I made plans to come back the following day with a tape measure and I went online to try to figure out exactly what it was. This listing on Briarpress helped a lot: http://www.briarpress.org/23429 as it had a very similar press (but with a nameplate) and an asking price 10x greater than this was likely to cost. Further research confirmed that in the US prices for these hard-to-find, and portable machines were similar, and climbing.
So, the NEXT day, I went back (clues already that I was likely to be interested).
We pulled it out to the street and I looked it over. It was intact. The lever works and the rollers were in decent shape. No cracks in the cast iron, and linotype and spacers still locked in the chase from the last printing session.  It did indeed have the words "Boston" on it, but they were written on a piece of masking tape, with a magic marker--no other serial nos. or manufacturers identifications that I could see.  The deal was sealed when I measured the chase. It was a good 7"x10"...still pretty small, this will just print an A4 sheet folded in half, but as big as many of the prints I do and if I use it to add text to my woodblock prints I can print on a larger sheet than the chase would otherwise allow.
He wouldn't haggle, but I had already decided that the price was fair for a used machine, and he agreed to help me get it to my studio, and said he'd look through the other stuff that came out of the house for a quoin key or any type (but "no promises")--so we loaded it into the back of his APE and he drove around the block while I went to open the doors and move things out of the way.
For a tabletop press it was still VERY heavy.It took 3 of us to carry it down the narrow hall and it now sits on my carpenter's bench.
I cleaned off the worst of the dust and oiled the rollers and a few of the moving parts.
I inked the linotype locked in the chase and pulled a couple of rough impressions.
This says,  "Abruzzo--Hiking path from Block house leading to the fountain just before the Cavone cave/grotto. 2100m above sea level.  9 July 1977."

I'm not sure if the date indicates the date of the photo this was a caption to, or represents the date of the last time this was used. 

It has no label anywhere, but from my search of the web and letterpress sites, it's a German-made, Boston Tiegel (Boston refers to the clamshell-type mechanism).  It's a sturdy, well-made, machine and has an A5 chase with an opening about 19cm x 25cm (7"x10").  It's meant to be hand-fed, but has a system for self-inking and was designed for small print runs of items like business cards, postcards and small displays.

Now I need to find a Quoin key (for releasing what's locked in the chase), take it apart for a good cleaning and oiling, find some used letterpress, moveable type and additional spacers and then I have to figure out what I'm going to do with it.

As a friend in Rome said, "can you produce something that will have a value to justify the purchase of the machine and the supplies you'll need to set it up and use it?" Good Question.
I will probably use it to add type to my woodblock prints (which up to now I have been hand carving) and the small artist book I've been thinking about making will now have a greater likelihood of being made.
At the worst, it's a beautiful thing, like many machines of the early industrial age, and I know that once it's been cleaned and oiled, I could resell it and recover my financial investment easily.
But first, I need to find the WD-40 and a rag.
And then, I need to go find some type.
Oh, and while the shopkeeper wouldn't budge on the selling price, he did throw in this charming pair of toast caddies, that are now in my studio and being repurposed as small print displays.


  1. Andrew, you might like to think about using photopolymer plates with a base, rather than buying type which is pretty expensive. See the Boxcar website.

    1. Thanks Jan. Cheapest, is me just carving the type I need on an additional block....I'll look for very local abandoned type first and maybe if I can thing of 1-2 fonts and sizes I might use repeatedly I'll look for those either new (German foundry) or used (England)....yes shipping will be problematic but at this point I'm just dipping my toe in the water.

  2. Very nice reading! It seems like we are having the same problem, identitying our machines. I have tried too, but I haven't come any further than: "probably German".
    I bought mine in the 1970:s, had new rollers made and used it for visit cards (as an hobby/extra income). It has followed me since then, even in parts sometimes. Now it's assembled again and I plan to do my small prints as you. Lino cuts (works perfectly) and maybe I will try woodcut/engraving too. There's no jet- or laserprinter that compete with the feeling of real, black printer's ink!
    At first I thought your machine was identical, except for the color, but then I discover small differences. But maybe those machines was like automobiles: Each year a modified model? And there was a lot of manufacturers too.
    Sorry to say, I write my blog in Swedish, but you can see a photo of my little darling at: http://www.inkspots.se/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/digel.jpg.

    Good luck with your "Boston Tiegel"!