50 Features of Special Collections: Royal Columbian Press

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Royal Columbian Press

Built by Thomas Long of Edinburgh, Scotland, 1832-1850. The Columbian Press was invented by George Clymer of Philadelphia in 1813. Donated to the University Library by the Library Associates of the University of California, Davis, in 1968.

The Royal Columbian Press is housed in the lower level of the library and now is enjoyed by all as an historic piece of equipment. It is beautiful in its own right as well as being an important artifact of printing history.

The Royal Columbian Press (platen size, 25 X 20 inches) was manufactured in Edinburgh, Scotland by Thomas Long of Edinburgh sometime between 1832 and 1850.  Little is known of its ownership history.  The Library Associates purchased and donated the press for the General Library, University of California, Davis in 1968. It was obtained through the assistance of Roger Levenson of the Tamalpais Press of Berkeley and purchased in England.

The invention of the Columbian press by George Clymer of Philadelphia in 1813 represents America’s first important contribution to printing.  Crowned by the American eagle, this beautifully ornate iron printing press, indeed the most ornate of the hand-presses, dispensed with the screw, substituting instead a series of compound levers, which multiplied the pull of the pressman.  Though first introduced in the United States, it was never very popular since its cost was prohibitive for most American printers of the time.dscf0398s

In 1817, at the age of 63, Clymer immigrated to England where the introduction of the Columbian press was heralded by a series of testimonials from American printers giving the impression that the Columbian was in wide use in the United States.  In true American fashion, Clymer expanded his publicity campaign, which included the presentation of Columbians to the reigning monarchs of Russia and the Netherlands.  After the press was tested by four leading printers, the Tsar rewarded Clymer with a gift of 500 rubles, while the King of the Netherlands gave him a gold medal valued at 100 ducats.  Soon after its introduction into England, the Columbian press was fully accepted by the London printers of the day and was manufactured in England and Scotland as well as on the continent.  George Clymer died in August 27, 1834, at the age of 80, but Columbian presses continued to be manufactured throughout the century.