On 8 October 2005 a fine print workshop was held at the University of Kentucky's King Library Press. As I was walking around their amazing collection of old printing presses I was astonished to see my family's old lever press, apparently in good working order, which I had sold some ten years earlier. Following is an account of my memories of this press's history. In addition to the pictures on this page, the King Library Press has a fun Quicktime VR 360 degree panorama shot of their main press room. You can see a side view of the Sigwalt at the right side of the image as it is first loaded.
While there are no unequivocal manufacturer’s markings on this lever press, I believe it to be an "Ideal No. 5" by Sigwalt Manufacturing Co. of Chicago. It has a 6 by 9 inch chase – the largest of this kind they made. The age of this example is unknown, but it was certainly in use in my family in the 1930s and possibly long before that. Sigwalt made presses of this kind from the early 1900s to as late as 1962.
The press was owned by my father’s uncle, Francis Joseph ("Frank J.") Newton (1872-1960), a pharmacist in Sandwich, Illinois, approximately 60 miles WSW of Chicago. Uncle Frank was raised by his parents, Alpheus and Clara Newton of Plano, also a small agricultural village, just two miles east of Sandwich. Alpheus and his brother Hiram were blacksmiths in Plano, and at least one of Frank’s siblings, my grandfather, had a technical career as a draftsman and engineer. Frank ran the Moore drug store once owned by his father in law. He used the press to print his store labels, business cards and stationary, and did occasional small jobs for customers. He was also a tinker who invented his own patent medicines such as pimple creams and may have used the press to print package labels for his products. He spent the last few years of his life with my family in Wilmette, Illinois, at which time he was quite feeble. I was only nine years old when he died and so did not get to know him well, but I have since become the de facto family archivist. I have a number of photos and at least one simple journal from Uncle Frank showing sketches of some of his product ideas.
The Newton Crest as rendered in linoleum block by Lowell Newton. This was at least his second attempt, as he had forgotten to reverse the text on the first. I believe this version still has the crest backwards. Block is only 1-1/8" x 1-3/8".
When my family inherited the press in 1960, it was accompanied by roughly 24 California type cases in a large rack that we set up in our basement in Wilmette. The cases were largely empty or had incomplete fonts. The largest amounts of type were Caslon in 8, 10, and 12 point sizes, but none were sufficient in quantity to set a respectable page of book text. There were a couple of complete sizes of Old English. All the type was well worn. My father, Harold Newton (1906-1995), bought a few fonts from Acme Type Foundry in Chicago (I believe he actually went to the foundry itself), including Bernhard Fashion and a box of holiday sorts. He found the various printing technologies of the day an interesting hobby and produced our annual family Christmas cards using typographic and linoleum block designs on the press, and later developed an interest in silk screen printing. He seemed to know the basics of composing with a stick and setting up the chase with furniture, which my brothers and I also learned. None of us took it seriously enough to do much more than basic business cards and letterheads, but we did have a sample book and at least one of my brothers actually made a few dollars printing stationery for neighbors.
I'm not sure if my father learned the skills from Uncle Frank or just read it from a book, but in any case I too became quite familiar with the essential processes and terminology of printing. (I always enjoyed the words associated with printing, especially “quoins.”) Probably the most ambitious project ever created on the press was a small book of poems titled "Poet Tree" that I wrote as an angst-filled teenager in the mid-1960s and published in 1970. I printed an edition of 50 unnumbered copies and distributed them among friends and family.
When my parents retired to Florida in the early 1970s, the press went to my uncle Lowell Newton’s home in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. The huge type cases were sold or otherwise disposed of. Lowell was a creative engineer with a large home workshop and was easily able to cobble together a stand for the press and a rack for about eight or ten type cases. I am not aware of anything he may have printed on the press while he had it, but it’s likely that he did note cards and letterheads. It was understood that I would eventually have the press, and I finally claimed it around 1984. I loved this press, but never had much actual use for it. I joined the National Amateur Press Association and was tempted to contribute a sample of something to the magical monthly bundles of shared work, but the muse failed me and I eventually lost interest.
When, in 1995, I was faced with moving the thing to a new home on the Gulf Coast, I finally decided it had become an albatross. At that time University of Kentucky art professor Deborah Fredericks had become a close friend of some close friends of mine. I never knew Deborah well, but when I moved she offered to buy the press for her studio. I could think of no better use for the old thing than to serve art, so I was delighted to part with it. That’s the last I saw of the press and I seldom thought about it afterward. I knew the Deborah had retired to Maine, and I assumed the press was either with her there, or was being ritually abused by UK art students.
What a delight it was to discover my old friend in the collection of the King Library Press. Apparently Deborah donated it when she moved. I can think of no place better for this little piece of my family history to reside.
November 17, 2005
As I was snooping around the bowels of the Press, I found the type cases that were built by my Uncle Lowell (the blue one in the back). The type has been emptied out - there was nothing special there.