Monday, March 3, 2014

Press Kit

 photo superior-print-shop-cub-animated-combined_zps07760051.gif
Source: Ink on Paper

The "Cub", an adorable little toy printing press from the Superior Marking Equipment Company (SEMCO) of Chicago, was marketed to young children for a good part of the early 20th century. It, along with many other rotary press models like it, had all the markings of a great educational tool for young boys and girls alike. Various model press kits included tiny rubber type, spacers, ink, adhesive back picture dies, tweezers for handling type, an inking brush, ink ribbon, mounting slugs, the rotary press and paper. Instruction manuals encouraged kids to print up handbills and postcards to advertise their yardwork and baby-sitting services, and to write and publish home, school and club activities in newspapers. These toy rotary presses actually worked as advertised, yet required a great degree of perseverance and tireless dedication on the part of the budding young printer. This was not a toy for the high-strung or overactive child, as they would quickly grow weary and impatient. The process was not terribly difficult; it was just tedious. 

Photo source: eBay

Working with delicate pieces of rubber type smaller than the size of a chocolate chip, and not nearly as tasty—young composers with nimble fingers would have to ply the letters apart and sandwich them into place with tweezers.
Source: Modern Mechanix

This 1951 ad for the Cub model Superior press appeared in Popular Science magazine. These rotary presses were often the first introduction to relief printing for many, and helped to determine the direction of countless careers in the printing trade. 

For those determined young typesetters and printers who could manage the tools, SEMCO offered cold cash prize money for inventive and artfully crafted printing examples. Neatness did "artistic taste in selection and arrangement of type faces and pictures, grammar, spelling and appropriateness of copy."  A junior pressman in training was cut no slack. 

The bi-monthly Swiftset Rotary Printers' Journal was a subscription newsletter published by the Superior Marking Equipment Co. This sample copy below was included in my own "Cub" Superior press kit, given to me by a good friend. A subscription could be had for 25¢ per year in 1951. 

Yes kids. Type can "talk". 

The 1951 instruction manual included an order form for these affordable "picture dies". Each picture set was 50¢, while assorted type fonts cost between 50¢ and $1. The "Cub" press price was $2.25 and the largest model, the "Ace", was $8 with all postage paid. 
     I admit, I'm somewhat tempted to fire up my own little "Cub" press at times, though the rubber tires on either side of the drum have hardened considerably. Many of these toy presses can still be found in reasonable condition and price on auction sites and elsewhere. Some even come with printed job work from previous owners such as this fun discovery. Somewhere there must be a rotary toy printer group willing to participate in an invitational postcard print-off show sometime. If not, it's time there was. Meanwhile, this PRESS RELEASE: A television advertisement from the early 1960s showcases another style of toy printer modeled on a litho press. Made by toy manufacturer, Ideal, it originally cost $11.44 when first released.


  1. I would have loved one of these when I was young, although I might have gotten frustrated with the small pieces, impatient child that I was (am). It would be useful for kids today to see this small printer and marvel at how much easier printing is today with a computer.

  2. Reading this really took me to my envious childhood--My male cousins had one of the presses and I coveted it, badly.


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