The Ptolemaic Press is a letterpress print establishment, producing works from vintage equipment and metal type.
The main printing press used is an "Arab" (produced by Wades of Halifax) Foolscap Folio model, serial number #3803 dated 1926. Foolscap Folio refers to the size of the chase (the printable area), which in this instance is 9" x 13". The machine weighs a little over 10cwt (or 550kg).
Serial Number 3803 spent its working life with Taylor’s of Wombwell, who started out as a small local jobbing printer in the 1890s in the mining town of Wombwell in Southern Yorkshire. Returning home from the battlefields of World War I, Albert Taylor's two eldest sons had a lucky break when they managed, at short notice, to print the publicity for a London theatrical agent whose touring show was just about to open in Barnsley. In order to fulfil the order, the brothers had to saw up the kitchen table in the shape of a gigantic "W" for the posters. Their effort so impressed the agent that he promised the brothers the bulk of his future business. He was true to his word and this proved to be the foundation on which a successful business was built.
By the mid-1920s Taylors were one of the leading printers of entertainment industry advertising in the United Kingdom with music hall, fairground and circus showmen among their national client base. The firm became a limited company in the 1920s, around the time this machine was purchased new. The Ptolemaic Press bought the machine from professional restorer Patrick Roe in 2018, who had obtained the press from Charles Taylor earlier the same year.
Our primary business is creating the Terrascopædia, a magazine dedicated to underground rock, folk and psychedelic music. It's a direct descendant of a commercially printed magazine called the Ptolemaic Terrascope which was published between 1989 and 2004, but it's also very much a standalone publication. As far as we know it's the only magazine of its kind in the world.
The type used throughout the Terrascopædia can be traced back to punches engraved in London during the 1720s by William Caslon (for more information, see below). Caslon Old Face #128 is a revival introduced in 1916 by the Monototype Corporation Ltd at Salfords near Redhill in Surrey. The type we used for many of the first 9 issues was cast for us in 2014 by Hand & Eye of London E1; in 2018 we purchased a complete fount of brand new type cast for us on an original Monotype Composition Caster owned by the Paekakariki Press in Walthamstow, London - quite literally around the corner from where the original Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine was printed.
The paper used is 145gsm Zerkall White Extra Smooth, mould-made acid-free paper made from part cotton rag with 4 deckle edges. It is unsized so it accepts and enhances the ink, and the smooth surface gives good reproduction of fine detail.
In addition to publishing the Terrascopædia, we often undertake small jobs for customers including, for example,
- Printing postcards
- Printing paper bags
- Printing price tags
- Printing ephemera - poetry a speciality
- Printing inserts for record releases
In addition to an ever growing collection of vintage images and printing plates, we also have a large selection of both composition and display founts, including:
16pt Poliphilus #170 (1923)
16pt, 24pt Blado #119 (Italic 1923, based on Arrighi circa. 1526)
12pt Caslon Old Face #128
12pt Caslon Old Face #128 SMALL CAPS
10pt, 12pt, 18pt Caslon Old Style #2
16pt Caslon Italic
18pt Caslon Bold
12pt, 18pt Baskerville Italic
24pt, 36pt Dorchester Script
12pt Garamond Roman
6pt, 8pt, 12pt, 14pt Gill Sans
8pt, 10pt Gill Italic
6pt, 8pt, 10pt, 12pt, 14pt, 18pt Gill Bold
14pt Gill Title
24pt Gill Cameo
18pt Gill Shadow
18pt Borghese (founders type by JG Schelter & Giesecke of Leipzig, 1904)
24pt Haddon Condensed (founders type)
18pt Imprint Shadow Italic
18pt Perpetua Title
8pt, 12pt, 18pt Plantin
8pt, 12pt Plantin Bold Italic
8pt Rockwell Bold
18pt Rockwell Shadow
8pt, 10pt, 12pt, 18pt Times Bold
8pt, 10pt, 18pt Times Italic
Our "house" type is Caslon Old Face, based on an original design by William Caslon I (c. 1692–1766). Influenced by late 17th century Dutch designs, Caslon became the most popular English type of the 18th century. William Morris used a revival of Caslon Old Face for his The Roots of the Mountains (pub. 1889). Morris would probably have used type produced by the H.W. Caslon & Sons foundry from the original (or, at least, early) matrices, given that Henry William Caslon, the last lineal descendant of William I, had passed away only 15 years beforehand, in 1874. Ours is Monotype Series 128 which was first cut in 1915.
"Why are William Caslon’s types so excellent and so famous? To explain this & make it really clear is difficult. While he modelled his letters on Dutch types, they were much better; for he introduced in to his founts a quality of interest, a variety of design and a delicacy of modelling which few Dutch types possessed. Dutch founts were monotonous, but Caslon’s founts were not so. His letters analysed are not perfect individually; but in mass their effect is agreeable. That is, i think, their secret – a perfection of the whole, derived from harmonious but not necessarily perfect individual letter-forms. To say precisely how Caslon arrived at his effects is not simple; but he did so because he was an artist. He knew how to make types, if ever a man did, that were ‘friendly to the eye’, or comfortable – to use Dibdin’s happy term.
Furthermore, his types are thoroughly English. There are other letters more elegant; for the Caslon characters do not compare in that respect with the letters of Garamond or Grandjean. But in their defects and qualities they are also the result of a taste typically Anglo-Saxon, and so represent to us the flowering of a sturdy English tradition in typography. Caslon types are, too, so beautiful in mass, and above all so legible and ‘common sense’, that they can never be disregarded, & I doubt if they will ever be displaced."
D. B. Updike, Printing Types, their History, Forms and Use