This press was used for over a hundred years by the American Bible Society,
founded in 1816 to encourage a wide circulation of the Holy Scriptures. The
Society started doing its own printing of Bibles in about 1844; thus this press,
built in 1843, would have been one of the first it acquired for the purpose.
The Washington-style press employs two major innovations that distinguish
it from the presses used since the 15th century: it is built of
metal, and it uses a toggle action. A number of improvements in press design
took place rapidly in the early 1800s, which simplified and reduced the cost of
manufacture while developing maximum power with minimum effort. Samuel Rust of
New York designed the main features of the Washington press: a "figure 4"
toggle, which provided greater power than previous levers; and a lighter,
stronger, frame, which could also be disassembled for moving.
R. Hoe & Co. bought Rust's patent and manufactured over 6,000 of
these presses between 1835 and 1902. Simpler and cheaper though slower than the
increasingly sophisticated presses becoming available through the
19th century, these presses found a niche in small shops doing short
runs, and for extra fine printing. A number of contemporary fine printers use
Washington presses today. This is one of the four presses owned by the Rare Book
& Manuscript Library.