Start the presses

Published 8:39 am Friday, September 11, 2009

COURTLAND—The Southampton Agriculture & Forestry Museum in Courtland has another piece of history from the days of the platen printing press to show off to visitors.

And one young, new enthusiast of platen presses would be more than happy to show visitors what it can do.

Gene Capps, a resident of Carrsville, recently donated a Curtis & Mitchell Columbian No. 2 platen printing press to the museum in honor of his daughter, Monica.

“Gene agreed to give the press to his daughter,” museum volunteer Bill Billings said. “But his daughter didn’t have room for it. So he said he would donate the press to the museum with the agreement that he would give it in her honor. That way everybody is happy — Monica doesn’t have the press sitting in her kitchen, we get the press here and it’s not sitting out in the rain.”

Capps said he purchased the press from Earnest Jones, a fellow pilot with Franklin Equipment Co., around 1970 and then used it for his Isle of Wight Printing business. But at some point, it was moved and stored in an outdoor shed.

“It sat out there for pretty close to 25 or 30 years,” Capps said. “It was covered, but the wind and the rain got to it.”

Billings said they were able to start restoring the press about six months ago, when Jerry Joyner of Sedley sandblasted it.

“That was our big break,” Billings said. “That really helped us save it.”

After the sandblasting, the press — which was built in the mid-1880s, is made of steel and weighs hundreds of pounds — was moved to the garage of the Southampton County Historical Society building in Courtland for priming and painting. New rollers were also added to the press.

The machine now sits alongside the museum’s other platen press, a Chandler & Price “Old Series” from 1885, which Billings donated to the museum almost four years ago.

Both machines piqued the curiosity of 12-year-old Matthew Bulls of Sedley when he and his family visited the museum during a recent event.

“I was just looking for something to do,” Matthew said. “My sister was at the grist mill and my brother was at the blacksmith. I was walking around and I saw this, and I asked, ‘Can I try it?’”

Since then Matthew has become a kind of printer’s apprentice.

“We put him to work,” Billings laughed. “We had him clean the floor and clean the type, and when we got hungry we sent him out for hot dogs. When the line for bookmarks got short, we had him go outside and try to get some more people in here. It was good having a printer’s apprentice.”

Said a smiling Matthew, “I do the dirty work.”

Billings said Matthew would be busy for this year’s Heritage Day celebration at the museum on Sept. 19.

“He’ll be printing two-color souvenir bookmarks to give away,” Billings said. “In the past for Heritage Day, or whenever we have visitors, Matthew will show the kids how to print them. He has the kids print their own bookmarks, doing it by hand just by turning the flywheel. Then if it gets to the hard part, with the impression, he’ll help them.”

He added, “We’ve found that’s a good way to do it because it goes slow enough that no one gets hurt (by the moving parts on the press).”