Equipment in use at the Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop

Kelsey Excelsior Press
Kelsey Press Models
Manufactured in Meriden, CT, 1872-1993

The OLD Kelsey Excelsior
Robert asked:

Is there a list of presses that kelsey made, type and models while they were in business?

Good morning. Thanks for visiting our web site and for your inquiry.

It's a good question. The simple answer is no, at this time, I don't know of any comprehenisive list of presses Kelsey made over the years - and I just recently visited Gene Mosher - last owner of the Kelsey Company - and have had conversations with Pete Wilson - great-nephew of Glover Snow and manager of Kelsey Press production during the 1970's - to try and find answers to this and other questions.

Pete visited The Excelsior Press in 2009 and has been very helpful in explaining how these presses were produced.

But, from my study of the Kelsey Company - which is pretty extensive - I can tell you that beginning in 1923, when Glover Snow replaced Bill Kelsey as manager and owner of the company, the selection slimmed down to the more common presses that we can still find today.

Update 2/21/2011:

While reading Glover Snow's notes on the history of the small press, I just learned that it was Bill Kelsey who standardized sizes of the Excelsior Self-Inking presses in 1901 - years before Glover Snow was involved in the company. However, Glover Snow's father apparently helped Bill Kelsey develop some of these presses. As we learn more about the senior Mr. Snow's involvement in the Kelsey Company, we will update this and other related pages.

(We have read that the senior Mr. Snow first became intrigued by small presses when he visited an exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 - when he was just 13 years old.)

So. To continue... The standard sizes made by Kelsey Co were, from 1901 through 1993, 3x5, 5x8, 6x10 & 9x13. The "Junior" was one more, smaller sized - similar to Mr. Dorman's Baltimorean and Sigwalt's Chicago.

One other important feature of this new 20th-centry design - besides an effective automatic inking system, is the familiar "toggle" method of applying pressure between the platen and the bed. Earlier presses did not use this method, which apparently was based upon the design of Daugaday's Model Press.

They also built a limited edition of 4x6 Watson Side Lever presses, first in the early 20th century - for one customer who used them to print business cards, then again in 1935 - but apparently for just that one year. And, they built the 7x11 Kelsey Star Press for many years, beginning in 1901.

Kelsey also bought out his competition whenever he felt a need - or found an opportunity - and would often sell these presses until the stock of parts ran out. This is why there are two well-known "true Victor" presses - the original Cooks Victor and the later Kelsey Victor which I suspect may have been made from Cooks parts until they ran out, Although Gene Mosher believes that Kelsey cast and machined their own parts using the original Cooks Victor as a pattern. In any case, did Kelsey cast new side arms and replaced "Victor" with "Kelsey" in the castings. We have one of these presses in our collection.

They also used the roller mount carriage design of the Victor in some of the earlier 6x10s. Later - towards the end of Kelsey Co's history, the 6x10 Model X was developed with an ink roller carriage similar to that found on the famous Chandler & Price Pilot.

Prior to 1901, and for a time into the early 20th century, Kelsey tried many different models - including a flat bed cylinder press, a number of "full-sized jobbers" - including the 7x11 "Star" and the larger "King jobber" - and a wide range of different sized table top presses. I'm still working to compile a list.

But, aside from the Junior, which seems to have come quite a bit later, by 1901, I can tell you pretty much what they made:

  1. The Junior (later - date undetermined) - an approx 2x3" press similar to the Baltimore or Chicago/Sigwalt presses. This press had a small handle centered in the front.
  2. The 3x5 Excelsior - in two models, the earlier having a relatively square handle, the later "Model N" having a rounded handle, and some times date-stamped (top center of bed) as to their year and month of manufacture.
  3. The 5x8 Excelsior (illustrated above, left) and 5x8 "Victor" models, which are essentially the same except that the Victor had  a side-handle instead of the standard front handle. The 5x8, seems to be the most popular of their presses. The 5x8s were made in many evolutionary models - identified on the frame castings as models N,O,P,U, and possibly more. We find more 5x8s than just about any other model, followed by the 3x5.
  4. The 6x10 Excelsior*
  5. The rare 9x13 Excelsior - "The mother of all tabletop presses" - which Gene told me that he discouraged customers from buying simply because it was too massive a press for a young person to handle and that due to it's size, it was very slow to operate. The idea was that anyone needing such a large platen would find one of the larger, free-standing "Gordon Style" presses more productive.
  6. The 7x11 "Star" press, which shows in two basic models and was still listed in the catalog almost to the end.

* The 6x10 went through the most evolution, having at least 4 different systems for mounting the rollers. The last and most advanced 6x10 was the Model X, which used a straight-shaft "saddle" system to hold the rollers - similar to what Chandler & Price used on their Pilot and larger platen presses.

The first presses that Bill Kelsey designed himself - with the help of Glover Snow's father - are known as "rail presses" (see drawing at top right of page). This style was common among many manufacturers until "automatic inking" became a major feature by 1900. These presses had no inking rollers or ink disk, relying instead on a hand brayer for inking and a flat, square plate on top of the press which later evolved into the later familiar rotating disk. In fact, the evolution of the "automatic inking system" was big sales tool during the 1880's.

We have recently acquired Gene Mosher's entire collection of the original engravings used in the Kelsey catalogs over the years. Our plan is to catalog, document and print the engravings, then offer them for sale as part of a fund-raising effort for Gene's grand children; Glover Snow's great-grandchildren. Among those engravings, I have found many hand-engraved wood engravings of presses - some dating back to the 1880's. That's where I found engravings of the Kelsey Flat-bed Cylinder press - which I had never even heard of before, but I can tell that it's a Kelsey, because it quite literaly says "Kelsey Press Company" on the side.

I also have some of Glover Snow's original notes on the evolution of these small presses as well as the Printer's Guide he wrote and published as an aid to their customers.

This discussion could go on for a while, so I think you have just inspired a new web page... ;)

additional notes which may be of interest to the reader:

We now have in our collection some of Glover Snow's original writings - some of which were used by Elizabeth Harris of the Smithsonian Institution as she researched her landmark historical work on small presses in America.

Among his comments are many references to competitors in the business, the general impact that these small presses had on the youth and small businesses in America towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century.

When Gene Mosher joined the Kelsey Company in 1958, Glover indicated that, due to changes in printing and duplicating technology, Kelsey Co should not expect to continue selling presses at the current rate much past 1980. Gene and his sons did, however continue on through 1993, when the market pretty much slimmed down an no longer supported an independent press manufacturer of the Kelsey Company's size.

With hindsight, it seems as though if they had just held on another 20 years - and could have envisioned eBay and the internet, they would have found a renewed interest in their classic and competent little machines.

Today, old Kelsey presses found in basements, garages and attics are finding a new life in the hands of hobbyists, artists and graphic designers who appreciate just what these little presses can do. To see a listing of the presses described above, please visit our "Restored Presses" pages at Tina White's restored press and Louis' Rhode Island Restored Presses
note: This page will be updated as more information become available.

- Alan Runfeldt, February, 2011

Watch for notes from my "Conversations with Gene Mosher - 2010" - coming soon.