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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.

New Information?

If you have new information about Liberty platen presses, please contact me.

Surviving Liberty Presses

Take a look at a table listing known Liberty presses, including location, press size, and serial number.

You can also read detailed reports on the following:

Collage of Liberty presses

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.

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
1886 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. Before 1886, the average rate was 385; afterward it was 273.

Document Scans

Parts Diagrams

Steve Saxe provided scans of Liberty Press parts. He writes, "The Liberty press parts diagrams are on two sides of a single sheet. The sheet was too large for my scanner platen, so I had to stitch two scans for each side. The sheet is very old and stained, but readable. It came to me via Martin Speckter from Damon & Peets, which was still in lower Manhattan in the 1970s."

One diagram, titled Parts of "Liberty" Press, shows 82 parts (numbered between 1 and 210).

The second, titled New Parts of the Liberty Press, shows 46 parts (numbered between 300 and 359) with names of most in both English and German.

Parts of a Liberty Press New Parts of the Liberty Press

Degener Patent

Liberty Patents

F. O. Degener received three patents related to the Liberty platen press, dated Apr 24, 1860, Dec 13, 1870, and May 28, 1872. He received an extention for the original patent on April 24, 1874. These patent and extension dates were included in the shield surrounding the serial number on most presses manufactured from about 1875 until about 1890.

Between 1886 and 1889, Frederick Van Wyck received three additional Liberty-related patents. After these improvements, the press was marketed as the "New Style Noiseless" Liberty press.

PDF files containing images of these six patents have been downloaded from the official United States Patent and Trademark Office website.

Number Date Issued to Title PDF file
27,973 Apr 24, 1860 F. O. Degener Improvement in Printing-Press 4 pages
110,018 Dec 13, 1870 Fred Otto Degener Improvement in Inking Apparatus for Printing-Press 2 pages
127,316 May 28, 1872 Frederick Otto Degener Improvement in Printing Presses 3 pages
348,302 Aug 31, 1886 Frederick Van Wyck Throw-Off Mechanism for Oscillating Printing-Machines 3 pages
368,258 Aug 16, 1887 Frederick Van Wyck Gripper Mechanism for Job-Printing Presses 2 pages
410,302 Sep 3, 1889 Frederick Van Wyck Printing-Press 3 pages

The Liberty press with serial number 10266 is the only one found (so far) with a plaque that lists the following nine patent dates: Nov 19, 1885; Febr 23, 1886; Aug 31, 1886; Oct 16, 1886; Oct 30, 1886, Nov 4, 1886; Nov 10 1886; March 3, 1887; Aug 16, 1887. Patents have been found for only the first and last of these dates. Most of the other dates in the list are invalid for U.S. patents as they do not fall on a Tuesday.

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 Stichting Graphilec.

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

press closed press closed 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

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.

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.)

Liberty Sightings on the Internet

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