Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Submitted by Jessica Rogers
We moved our Columbian hand press from the first floor of the library to the third floor, in front of Special Collections, to make more room for the Learning Commons. If you have not yet had a chance to see it, please, stop by and gaze in wonder at the remarkable craftsmanship and beauty of this historic hand press. As your eyes drift over the various decorations and counter-weights of this cast iron behemoth, take a moment to think to yourself “man, I bet this thing is really, really, really, heavy.” And it is.
Our particular Columbian was cast in 1843 at 120 Aldersgate Street, London, as stated on the brass plate which is mounted at the top of the structure. There is no indication as to when it was shipped to the U.S., where it was used, or when it arrived at the University of Iowa. It is roughly seven feet high and four feet wide (when the press bed is out) and made primarily from cast iron. Although no exact weight of the machine could be found it has been firmly established that the press is very, very heavy. Moving the press from the first to third floor took five men and a cherry-picker, a tool that is used in auto shops to lift car engines. After nearly four hours (and one almost-broken toe) the Columbian was at last settled in its new home.
The Columbian press was invented in 1813 by George Clymer, an American mechanic in Philadelphia. Sadly, Columbian presses were not as popular in the U.S. as they were overseas and Clymer moved his business across the pond where the machines proved more popular. Despite American printers rejection of his press, Clymer continued to decorate the Columbian (the name itself a tribute to Clymer’s beloved America) in patriotic symbols. In fact, Columbian presses can be most easily identified by the bald Eagle counter-weight at the top of the press. To date, there are no remaining American made Columbians and any Columbians located in the U.S. were made abroad and shipped back to American printers.