Early in 2019 I was asked to build an English common press such as would have been used by William Jaggard for printing the First Shakespeare Folio in 1723. There are no existing English presses this early although there are two incomplete presses at the Plantin Moretus Museum in Antwerp thought to be from the seventeenth century. Unfortunately, as well as being incomplete both are fitted with a mechanism for controlling the descent of the platen (the Blaew mechanism) which did not make its appearance in England until later; because of these factors, neither was suitable as a model.
Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the whole Art of Printing published in 1683-4 does provide descriptions and illustrations of what he claims are two types of English seventeenth century press. He refers to these two types as ‘The old- fashioned Press’ and ‘The new- fashioned Press’ but this distinction must be taken with a pinch of salt as the only major difference between the two is that his so called New Fashioned press employs the Blaew mechanism, referred to above, rather than the traditional wooden hose. Moxon’s intention is to promote the use of the Blaew mechanism on English presses. He disparages the traditional English press (The old fashioned press), and provides no description; only an inadequate illustration which leaves out important components. The new fashioned press has a better main illustration (Plate4) together with depictions of all its parts fully described and dimensioned. My need was for a description of the old fashioned press . By stripping out from the new fashioned press account the changes associated with the Blaew modifications, I would have enough information to proceed with the press construction.
My first job was to check out the dimensions that he provides. In general these are good. Moxon provides detailed measurements down to an eighth of an inch. There are occasional errors though. In particular the sum of the measurements he gives for the height of the cramp irons and the height of the iron ribs would raise the plank above the side rails so preventing them from guiding the plank on its way through the press. This is a trivial fault easily corrected by increasing the side rail height . A more significant error is that the length of his press spindle is some four inches too short. I suspect that when measuring it he forgot that four inches of the thread part of the spindle are within the nut and so buried in the head.
A rather strange feature of Moxon’s press is that its width between the cheeks is some four inches wider than is necessary to accommodate the carriage. It is not obvious why this has been done and I have not seen this on any other early press. It necessitates the fitting of packing pieces on each side of the carriage to prevent the carriage moving sideways when printing. The need for these is not mentioned in his account but one can be seen on the near side in his illustration.
The Moxon press near completion.