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Drawing from 1887 Liberty Press ad

The Liberty Platen Press

An experienced letterpress printer may feel an odd sense of disorientation when looking at a Liberty platen press. All the familiar pieces seem to be there, but they don't go together like a C & P or Pearl. The ink disk feeds ink to the rollers, but the rollers don't travel very far -- the disk slides underneath them. The platen and bed both move, meeting in the center of the press.

The Liberty was popular in the United States and Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century, but eventually lost out to the Gordon style platen presses. Most of the presses in the US were scrapped, and today only a few remain. Chapter 1 of Ralph W. Polk's Elementary Platen Presswork includes a brief description of the Liberty:

Degener's Liberty Press. An interesting job press, called the Liberty, was invented by F. O. Degener, of New York, in 1860. The bottom edges of the platen and bed were hinged together, and they raised and opened out into a horizontal position to receive the sheet, the bed passing under the ink rollers on the way up. The platen and bed then closed for the impression with a hinge-like motion, again inking the form on its downward sweep, and causing the ink disc to pass under the rollers. This was a popular press for a short time because of its power and speed but best results were not possible because of its clam-shell action. It was also called the Noiseless Jobber.

The Full Story

Erik Desmyter and Bob Oldham wrote a 22-page article,"The Libery Press: a platen job press invented by Frederick Otto Degener," giving the complete history of the Liberty Press, for the Journal of the Printing Historical Society, New Series number 10, spring 2007. Copies of the issue can be ordered from the Printing Historical Society in London, United Kingdom.

Serial Numbers and Year of Manufacture

In their article, Erik and Bob point out that a number of Liberty press advertisements include the wording "more than n in use," where n is a number that kept changing. By noting the publication dates of these ads, we can get a rough correlation between a press's serial numbers and its year of manufacture.
Year   Number In Use
1875 6,000
1880 8,000
1883 8,400
1887 10,000
1891 11,000
1899 13,000
1903 15,000
1909 16,000

It appears that 250 to 400 presses were produced each year, starting in 1860.

Degener Patent

Degener's Liberty Patents

Between 1860 and 1872, F. O. Degener received three patents related to the Liberty platen press. You can view the ten scanned pages Erik Desmyter got from the U. S. Patent archives.

Surviving Liberty Presses

Collage of Liberty presses Take a look at a table listing known Liberty presses, including location, press size, and serial number. The listings are based on postings to the LetPress e-mail discussion group, a search of the Internet, and e-mail messages from John Cornelisse, Herwig Kempenaers, Erik Desmyter, and Helmut Wuensche.

You can also read detailed reports on the following:

How to identify Liberty presses

If you come across a Liberty platen press, there are several key characteristics to look at to determine its date of manufacture. Here's a page on how to identify a Liberty press.

Letterpress E-Mail Discussion List

One of the best sources for Liberty press information is the Letterpress E-Mail Discussion List (LetPress). Participants have described their own presses, talked about Liberty presses they've seen, and shared excerpts from books they've read. You can find the messages by searching the Archives Page for the words Liberty press. To receive LetPress messages or search the archives, you must join the list.

Here of my favorites, with links directly into the archives so you can follow the entire thread of related messages. (Because the messages appear exactly as they were written, and cannot be updated, they may contain information or links that have gone out of date.)

Scans from a Dutch Textbook

press closed press closed John Cornelisse, who lives in The Netherlands, provided scans from a Dutch book used in graphics schools. It contains technical drawings of all kinds of presses. The publication information for the book is:

VOLCKE, J.A.: Boekdrukmachines. Amsterdam, De Arbeiderspers, 1946. Gebonden. 110 p. Ills. Voor de Stichting Graphilec.

Click to see a full-sized version of the press closed or the press open.

press open press open
In the same textbook, John found a reference to another manufacturer in Europe who made Liberty presses. John translates the text on the picture as "Liberty-platen made by machine-factory, Joseph Anger and Sons, Vienna, Austria." Liberty-like press made by Anger and

Scans of Liberty Advertisements and Articles

You can view Liberty-related pages scanned from magazines, including While looking through early volumes of The Inland Printer, I found some items related to the Liberty. Highlights: You can read detailed results of my search.

Liberty Sightings on the Internet

Here are links to Liberty Press information found on other Web sites: