08 Aug 2016by PW Client



Listen. Shicketty, clacketty, clunk, shicketty, clacketty clunk. That’s the sound of Greg Rose’s Chandler and Price New Series Platen Press leaking out of his Yarraville shed. He’s printing something beautiful with this exquisite piece of engineering that first saw the light of day in 1919.

Greg’s day job is graphic design; but you don’t get your hands dirty designing graphics. There is no noise, and slick computers make things that are seamless.

‘My press is the antithesis of this. It’s more craft than commercial printing. Everything is done by hand, every impression is slightly different. There are weird sounds and strange smells. How good is that?’ Greg told Media Super.

Greg picks up an oilcan reminiscent of a genie’s magic lamp and attends to the more than 40 thirsty ports that need filling before he can get started. He’s got a massive grin on his face.

From farmyard to backyard

Greg hunted down this iron beastie in a Yackandandah farm sale.

‘These machines hardly ever come up for sale. I went to the Melbourne Show with my daughters, and on the way out I collected a copy of The Weekly Times. In the back there was a tiny ad for a farmyard sale. There must have been 150 things listed there in tiny type, and among them was a Chandler and Price Press. I knew instantly what it was.

‘Because it was a small rural auction, I suspected few others would have noticed it. I called the agents who gave me enough information to reveal that this was the real deal, so I went up on the Friday before and had a look at it. It was covered in surface rust, but seemed to work. I stayed the night, went to the auction the next morning and won the press for a very modest sum,’ he beamed.

Greg loaded this 800 kilograms of shambolic treasure onto the back of his brother’s ute and carted it back to Melbourne. He used a block and tackle to drop it onto his shed floor, then rolled it into place on broom handles.

The Tiger Kelly Press had taken its first tentative steps.

Boys’ own shed business

There followed months of painstaking cleaning, sourcing or making the few missing parts, reassembling, and giving the whole contraption a fresh coat of paint.

‘It’s hard to get parts. You can get them from the US, but there are hurdles,’ he said.

So Greg found himself in dusty local warehouses where Men Who Know Things sort through arcane objects murmuring the mantra, ‘it’s here somewhere’.

And of course there is jargon to learn. Greg lists these like reading from the menu of a satisfying meal: there is the platen, chase, quoins, furniture and a base; tympan paper, packing, hickeys, make-ready and mottle come trippingly from his tongue; there is the bed, flywheel and impression screws; a left double saddle pin is matched by a right one, and there are throw offs, fountain drivers and catch yokes.

It also came with an electric motor ‘sounds awesome’. This ‘bulletproof’ piece of electrical wizardry will eventually drive a belt that automates some of the functions of the press.

In the meantime, everything is done by hand. And foot.

Hands (and feet) on

The process is simple. To get it moving, Greg pumps a foot pedal. Ink smeared on a metal disc is picked up by rollers and transferred onto a plate that carries the artwork. When the time comes to place an image on paper, Greg pulls The Red Handle.

He painted the handle fire engine red to lend some serious drama to this otherwise shiny black monster. Oh, and the name Chandler and Price Co, Cleveland Ohio – Greg picked that out in gold.

The Red Handle pushes inked-up artwork against paper. Not dark enough? Do it again. But wait, there’s a bonus. Because of the sheer force of the coming together of plate and ink, the image is embossed into the paper. None of the slick surface ink of modern presses here.

What goes around…

Greg’s printing harks back to a day when craft was all. Hands at work, not the ones and zeroes of our digital world. The go-to print method for the first half of the 20th century, letterpress printing was bullied out of the way by the offset process, which in turn has been sidelined by slick digital presses.

Letterpress, though, has enjoyed a renaissance, hunted out by discerning buyers who want something unique, bespoke, tactile and beautiful. It might be slow, but what comes off Greg’s press is real and human.

‘While it’s fascinating to me how this kind of machinery works, and restoring it has been fun, the actual process of printing is the best. It is anti-technology. I am happy to be here all day just faffing around printing stuff. I love it.’


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