We bought our first letterpress, a 1910 New Style Golding Jobber No. 6, this summer and fondly named her Goldie. We were very lucky to find such a coveted press in such great condition right in Brooklyn! It seemed almost too good to be true. Golding’s are known in the letterpress community as expertly engineered platen presses. Another name for the platen kind of press is “clamshell,” since these presses open and close much like – you guessed it – a clamshell. We got Goldie from Zac over at Industry City Distillery in Sunset Park. The distillery is an amazing space, and Zac and his co-founders have so many exciting projects going on. We really felt like we had met a kindred spirit in Zac’s enterprise – in the distillery, he’s got a full machine shop as well as several letterpresses! Goldie hadn’t been running while she was in Zac’s care, but he helped us fill in some of her history.
Letterpress is brimming with history. The introduction of the technology changed the world. Its history is filled with populist and radical stories. Printing technology facilitated far-reaching sea changes in the social landscape. In the 1500’s, the dissemination of printed text precipitated everything from organized labor to a massive change in religious practice. Mass produced bibles printed on a letterpress were the vehicle for the popularization of Martin Luther’s nascent Protestant religion. Who knows what Connecticut would look like today if Protestantism had never been founded? How many more workers would be disenfranchised without printing?
When we got Goldie, it was like an excavation dig. I wiped away crud to find an archival color palette of ink drips and drops. Kerosene and elbow grease revealed original gold and red detailing painted on the press. Here is what we know about her from her serial number: Goldie is 105 years old, weighs about 800 lbs., and she was manufactured in the Golding factory in Franklin, Mass. From Zac, we know that the old yankee broad stayed in New England for most of her life. He got her from a hobbyist in Somerville, Mass. She had been active in that hobbyist’s garage throughout the 90’s but had enjoyed a bit of a sabbatical for the past 15 years. People are living longer these days, though, and it just didn’t seem right to fully retire. She was bored. She thought she might travel.
Filling in the gaps between birth and old age seemed like a gamble. We thought it was likely she had remained in the Boston area between 1910 and 1990; however, during an afternoon of cleaning, we hit the jackpot! While I was cleaning around the platen of the press, I found three fossils- business cards! The cards were jammed deep in a part of the press that likely hadn’t ever seen the light of day. They were so soaked through with machine oil that the paper looked like tanned hide.
Down the rabbit hole of the US Patent and Trademark Office’s database I went! I recognized my beloved childhood ice cream treat Hoodsies in business name H.P. Hood & Sons, Inc. Looking through the trademark and legal documents, I could pinpoint a specific window of time before the company switched over to its current day moniker and signature red oval, Hood. This was still an unsatisfactorily wide window, though. Some time in the 1940’s or 50’s or 60’s. Bleh.
Business card 2 led me to look at Civil War Era patent filings for the very first inhaler. Codman & Shurtleff is still an active surgical supply company, but it got its start way back in the 1820’s. Unfortunately, I came up empty-handed in regards to information pertaining to Goldie, though I did get to scope out antique ether inhalers on the world wide web.
The third business card was the golden ticket! (Har har har) After reading many lumber trade magazines from the turn of the century searching for the elusive Perry Whitney Lumber Co., I switched gears and sniffed out the trail of its partnered company, the Madawaska Corp. “Madawaska” led me to Maine. I was able to dig up their articles of incorporation – 1923! And it was my good luck that they didn’t fare so well. The company dissolved in 1948, giving me a 25 year opening for when this company was partnered with the larger regional lumber company, Perry Whitney, whose offices were, of course, in Boston.
A little digging around and suddenly we have confirmation that Goldie pulled her weight in a Boston print shop for a better part of the 20th century.
Then, I turned my attention to Goldie’s birthplace, the factory in Franklin. With a little bit of Google Maps sleuthing, I found that the factory still looks exactly the same and now houses another printing press manufacturer. It’s amazing how both our press and factory have a place in today’s world, where Subarus wait patiently for their owners in the parking lot and I take orders online.
Here is a 1906 image of the building placed into its 2015 surroundings.
Bekah and Goldie