LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Gutenberg-style printing press built this summer at Bucknell University makes its way to Washington, D.C., this week where it will be featured in a prestigious library exhibit and then be part of the library’s ongoing hands-on education program.
The press, built by George Waltman, director of the University’s product development laboratory, had an interesting history – even before it left the Bucknell campus for its permanent home in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol building.
Product Development Lab Director George Waltman, left, and Professor Tom Rich ink block type for printing.
With very few modifications, the working press is an exact replica of a mechanical engineering senior design project researched, designed and built by three engineering students – Shannon Cooney, Patrick Kunze and Aaron Tajima, all Class of 2001. That hand press had been housed since 2001 for education and demonstration purposes at the Bertrand Library. It, too, lived in cyberspace on Web pages detailing the press.
Folger Shakespeare Library
And that’s where Steven Galbraith discovered it. Galbraith is a curator of books at the Folger Shakespeare Library, a world-class Shakespeare research center and home to the world’s largest collection of the bard’s material and a collection of rare Renaissance books, manuscripts and works of art.
He had been searching for a Gutenberg-style model to be used for education purposes and in the exhibit, “Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper,” which runs from Sept. 24 to Jan. 31, 2009.
Galbraith said it was while he was looking for a “historically accurate printing press” to support the library’s programs that he landed on a Web page featuring the model press created by Bucknell engineering students.
“Bingo,” he said. “There it was.”
After meeting with Bucknell representatives, including Tom Rich, professor of mechanical engineering and Robert L. Rooke Chair in the Historical and Social Context of Engineering, Doris Dysinger, then curator of Special Collections/University Archives, and Ann Tlusty, associate professor of history and National Endowment for Humanities Chair in the Humanities, Folger awarded Bucknell a commission to build a replica for the renowned Washington-based library.
Over the summer, Waltman and Rich huddled over the original senior design and Waltman started work on the actual construction in early July. Waltman devoted more than 100 hours above his regular work hours to complete the project.
He used gorgeous grained Pennsylvania red oak. For one of the prominent metal parts, Waltman built a wooden pattern that the Watsontown (Pa.) Foundry Co. used to pour a cast iron support for the press’ platen, the part that holds the paper against the inked type.
The students originally had incorporated an off-the-shelf stock aluminum plate in that position and it was one of the few modifications that Waltman incorporated to make the press as true as possible to what might have been used when the first presses with movable type were employed a few hundred years ago.
As Waltman was completing the construction, Rich found a source for a set of 18-point Cloister moveable type from a company in San Francisco as well as a distributor of special matte black ink. “George is a master craftsman.
He’s done a wonderful job,” said Rich. “I think they’re going to be thrilled with this.”
On a recent work day, Waltman and Rich were discussing a last-minute tweak. They were aiming for perfection and wanted to make sure that when type, ink and paper were properly positioned and the heavy brass handle pulled to press all together that the black ink was uniform across the surface of the page.
“Close. Very close,” said Waltman as he examined a hand-pressed print. A little more tweaking and he’d have it just right.
Just one important task remained: attaching a brass plaque to the frame with the names of all the Bucknellians involved in the project, including the Class of 2001 students whose senior class design project was the genesis for the new press. At least one of them was planning to be on hand when the Folger exhibit opens to the public on Sept. 24.
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