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
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.
||Number In Use
It appears that 250 to 400 presses were produced each year,
starting in 1860.
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
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:
- Federal State
Museum of Hesse at Darmstadt, Germany
- Mystic Seaport
Museum at Mystic, Connecticut
- Ted Salkin's press
in Healdsburg, California
- History Park at
San Jose, California
Benary-Speicher at Erfurt, Germany
Congregational Church of Hyde Park in Boston,
Massachusetts (now in Zion, Illinois)
Verroken's press in Lessines, Belgium
- Tempo Srl, Belluno,
- Luis Nunes's press
in Lisbon, Portugal
Kempenaers' press in Belgium
- Presses seen in
various collections during a tour of Low Countries in
- Kner Museum
at Gyomaendrõd, Hungary (not a Degener &
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
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
- Steve Saxe, Oct 22, 1996: At one point the
firm was located in one of the arches of the Brooklyn Bridge, on
the Manhattan side. The Liberty was called "half a press when
closed, and two presses when open" because of the size when it
was opened for feeding.
- Steve Saxe, Oct 30, 1996: There is a
Liberty Press at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. There used to be
one at Bowne & Co., Stationers, at the South Street Seaport
Museum in NYC,
- Steve Saxe, Jul 8, 1997: I have a
contemporary (1870s - 1880s) parts diagram of the Liberty press,
showing all the parts separately, each one named in English and
- Niall Cook, Apr 27, 1999: ... last week I
moved a Weiler Liberty Platen about 50 miles from Tunbridge
Wells to my home near Canterbury, England. Currently in (very
large) pieces in the garage, I just need some time to clean it
up and reassemble before being back at full steam.
- J. Mike Powers, Apr 23, 1999: There is one
at the Heritage Museum in Libby, Montana. It was donated to our
museum by the Museum of the Rockies to keep it from selling and
being moved out of state. This press is historically important
to Montana, as it may have been the second or third press
introduced into Montana.
- Erik Desmyter, Apr 23, 1999: We also have a
Weiler Liberty in good & working condition. She is also painted
blue with gold lines and has the Berlin / New York engraving.
[From Gent, Belgium]
- Steve Saxe, Apr 30, 1999: According to
Ralph Green's A History of the Platen Jobber (1953;
reprinted by Letpress listmember Hal Sterne, 1981) ... Otto
Degener was a German who worked for Gordon, and who procured a
patent for his own press, the Liberty. Degener's partner was
another German, F. M. Weiler and the firm name was Degener &
Weiler. Degener died in 1873 and his son, F. L. Degener
succeeded him. Weiler bought out the son in 1877 and continued
the business under the name F. M. Weiler.
1881 Weiler established a factory in Berlin, Germany, where the
Liberty press became popular. The press lost ground in the US,
however, and Green says that after 1890 manufacture in this
country was discontinued, and all Liberty presses after that
date sold in the US came from Germany. Green adds that Liberty
presses were still on the market in Germany until about the time
of World War I.
- Jim Gard, May 1, 1999: I've just returned
from the San Jose Historical Museum this afternoon where we were
printing bookmarks on our F. M. Weiler Liberty Press as a
demonstration and advertising piece for some 300 special
- Bruce Graham, Dec 26, 2000: Call the
Cooperstown, NY, Chamber of Commerce to get information about
the Farm Museum. They have (or at least had) a Liberty press in
their print shop.
- Erik Desmyter, Aug 5, 2001: This seems to
be a Liberty platen press on a Bulgarian banknote
- Philip Driscoll, Aug 5, 2001: According to
the "Catalog of World Paper Money," the picture is that of
Khristo G. Danov ... These notes were issued in 1992.
- Nick Smith, Aug 6, 2001: Khristo Danov
lived 1828-1911. He was a teacher & writer, responsible for the
re-introduction of printing & publishing into Bulgaria - his
first publication was a calendar which appeared in 1855. Whether
he ever used a Liberty press seems doubtful - more likely the
bank-note designer just chose it as a suitably archaic looking
- Erik Desmyter, Aug 5, 2001: There are a few
surviving F.M. Weiler Liberty presses here in Belgium in private
collections and museums. Our own F.M. Weiler Liberty (serial
number 12274) is deep dark blue with gold lines (on nearly all
cast iron parts) and has the original ink fountain.
Another F.M. Weiler Liberty press no.11883 also
has the ink fountain and the owner informed me recently he
thinks of selling this press.
- Erik Desmyter, Nov 24, 2001: I have tried
to bring together the info we gathered together in the past
years from different sources about the history of the Liberty
press. (Excellent summary!)
- John Cornelisse, Dec 14, 2003: Somewhere
near Antwerp, an old printer has a "small" liberty-press on the
attic, and this press is gonna be a part of the exhibition in
the MIAT-museum in Gent.
- Ted Shuart, Oct 22, 2004: I would like to
add The Farmers' Museum's Liberty to the list. The press
has a brass plate with the inscription "Liberty No. 2 Patented
Apr. 24, 1860 by Fred Otto Degener NY". ... It is a dandy
press and I use it for daily production running at
least 40,000 copies a year on it.
- Erik Desmyter, Oct 24, 2004: I visited Barbara
Henry at Bowne about 2 years ago and then the Liberty was dismantled
in storage since a long time.
- Erik Desmyter, Nov 1, 2004: Liberty Machine Works
sold also some other presses than the Liberty.
- Marc Cote, Nov 21, 2004: I have been asked by a church
in Boston to sell a letterpress... I believe that the press has been there
since the erection of the church... The press was used for baptismal
certificates, church circulars and the like.
- Bob Oldham, May 19, 2005: Ad Lib Press has just acquired
Liberty platen job press #6706, a model 2A (9x13) made by Degener &
Weiler probably between 1874 and 1877.
- Erik Desmyter, Nov 11, 2007: Together with
Bob Oldham I have written a few months ago a 22 page article
about the complete history of the Liberty Press for the Printing
Historical Society in their Journal, New Series 10: The Liberty
Press: a platen job press invented by Frederick Otto Degener.
- Göta Svensson, May 8, 2008: I am new to this
mailinglist. Owner of 1 Liberty platen, 1 Heidelberg windmill
and 1 FAG proof press.
- David Carpenter, May 8, 2008: My name is
David Carpenter and I live in Warsaw Mo. I own a Liberty#2
(platen) press which was purchased by my great uncle
Dr. B.P.Homan in the 1920's.
- Helen | Pepperina Press, Sep 3, 2008: Has
anyone been to the Printing Works in the Genadendal mission?
There is a very rare Liberty platen press there in the Drukkery,
*not* the museum.
- Erik Desmyter, Nov 9, 2008: I don't know of any
existing Liberty press videos but give me some time and I will
create a small video for you of a Liberty in action and post it
- Dave Brune, Sep 25, 2009: I have a Model 2,
Serial number 1180 that has been in my family for about 80
years. My grandfather started the Brune Printing Company with
it many years ago.
Scans from a Dutch Textbook
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
Click to see a full-sized version of the
press closed or the
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."
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:
- Scans from English language magazines and catalogs
covering 1874 - 1890.
- Western European advertisements for Liberty (or
Liberty-like) presses scanned by Herwig Kempenaers, a Liberty
press owner in Belgium.
- Articles and ads from Hungarian magazines provided by
Julianna Füzesné Hudák of the Kner Museum.
You can read detailed results of my
- The manufacturer's name changed from "F. M. Weiler's Liberty
Machine Works" to "Liberty Machine Works" around May 1886. They
moved from 51 Beckman to 54 Frankfort Street. They were
"successors to Degener & Weiler."
- In 1888 they touted advanced features of their redesigned
"Noiseless" press. It got rid of six specific problems related
to the "old Degener" press.
- Pictures in ads in 1886 and 1887 show the delivery board on
the left side of the press. Beginning in 1888 the delivery board is
back behind the platen (with a big cut-out for the throw-off) and the
feed board is shown as attaching on the right.
Liberty Sightings on the Internet
Here are links to Liberty Press information found on other Web sites:
- Thomas & Erik Desmyter put together a two minute
video clip showing the operation of a Liberty-style press
made by the Belgian manufacturer Henri Jullien from
Brussels. Some aspects of the press, differ from Degener's
Liberty, but the overall movement is the same.
- Erik Desmyter of Gent, Belgium, has a number of
presses, including a Liberty manufactured about 1880. His Web
site might contain some Liberty pictures, although he
changes the content from time to time.
Briar Press on-line museum includes an entry for the Liberty.
- On Briar Press, there was a discussion about a Liberty
press in South Africa.
- A Liberty press is featured in the History San José print shop at
History Park in San Jose, California.
- Göta Svensson's blog,
Tryckkammaren, includes a picture of her Liberty press.
- A Liberty is on display at the
Museum for the Printing Arts in Leipzig, Germany.
- The Kner Printing Industry Museum in Hungary
has a permanent exhibition,
Books from the Gyomai Kner Press, which includes a Liberty-style
press manufactured by J. Anger & sons.
- The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre scanned the
December 27, 1890, issue of Typo, including an
advertisement for the Liberty.
- The Amalgamated Printers' Association Web site reprints
"The Liberty: a Study in Exoticia" from
the October 1976 issue of Type & Press.
- For many months Bill Elligett wrote about a different printing
press. In January 2005 he selected
- A collection of printed ephemera includes an
1888 color advertisement for Liberty Machine Works.