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James Thomas (left) and Howard Nicholson study the letterpress plate
James Thomas (left) and Howard Nicholson study the letterpress plate

Internal News - 20 September 2007

Classic printing press donated to Library

A Victorian handpress, used in Bath for fine letterpress printing for more than a century, today officially found a new home at the University of Bath Library & Learning Centre.

The 1839 Columbian machine was used for fine letterpress printing at Bath’s Pitman Press until the 1970s and now stands on public display in the Library entrance.

Bath Press have preserved the machine and donated it to accompany the Pitman archives held within the Library’s collection.

James Thomas, Operations Manager of Bath Press, presented the letterpress to Howard Nicholson, University Librarian, in an official ceremony at the Library.

"It is wonderful to receive this historic press, with its direct provenance back to Sir Isaac Pitman, one of Bath's most famous entrepreneurs,” said Mr Nicholson. “The Library holds Sir Isaac's archive and indeed, some of his books in our Library were possibly printed on this very press.

“The press is in good condition and I have no doubt it could be used to demonstrate letterpress printing. We are grateful to Bath Press for donating this important object to the University."

The cast iron press weighs three quarters of a ton and was expertly dismantled and re-assembled by Paul Stephens of Bath Press, for its journey to the Claverton campus.

Up until the late 1950s the majority of book printing in the UK was done by letterpress, but lithographic printing technologies have since reduced its role to craft printers working in private presses.

The University of Bath Library includes the Pitman Collection of 7,300 books on the history of shorthand, writing systems and spelling reform, and the Pitman archives, which were donated to the University by its founding Pro-Chancellor, Sir James Pitman, in 1970.