International Printing Museum

Paul Landacre’s

Washington Hand Press

The Lindner Collection at the International Printing Museum has numerous gems of printing history. Some of those gems even tell an unique Southern California history. One such example is the Landacre Washington Press.

     The early origins of the press we call The Landacre Press are unknown (although false legend had it that Mark Twain himself printed on it). It was manufactured just prior to the Civil War in Cincinnati and made its way west to California on a wagon. What can be verified is that the press was discovered in 1929 in the famous ghost town of Bodie, California. According to biographer Anthony L. Lehman in his book “Paul Landacre: A Life and A Legacy” the press was found “standing rusted and caked with grime in a ramshackle barn that was being held together more by habit than by nails.” It was found by acclaimed editor and photographer Willard Morgan. Morgan left this press to his friend and fellow artist Paul Landacre in 1930.
Paul Landacre was one of the most acclaimed wood engravers of the twentieth century, known for his technical acumen paired with the artistic beauty of his illustration and prints. His prints are featured in prestigious museum collections throughout the world and his house is a Los Angeles Cultural Historic Landmark. Landacre spent months lovingly restoring and repairing the press that would become his constant companion for the rest of his working life. 
Paul Landacre and his Washington Press
Paul Landacre and his press 

   In an article for “The Relief Print Woodcut Wood Engraving and Linoleum Cut” (1945) he wrote:

“I print my engravings on an old Washington Hand Press, using a silk timpan and a printing blanket made especially for hand presses. This method is, for certain types of engraving, undoubtedly superior even to modern power presses which have more advantage in speed. The advantage of the hand press lies in the great pressure which may be sustained and the amount of pressure being felt in the pull of the lever”.

     Paul Landacre so loved his press that he made an engraving of its toggle and lever entitled “The Press” in 1934.  That print became one of Paul’s most famous images, being featured in shows at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the San Diego Fine Arts Guild, and the American Artists Group in New York. Prints of this wood engraving are now in the collection at The National Gallery of Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, the De Young Museum, The Huntington Library, and many more prestigious collections. It was even featured on the vinyl cover for the 1977 release of Symphony No. 6 by Walter Piston and Piano Concerto No. 1 by Leon Kirchner. Just last year a copy of that vinyl was donated to the Museum by our patron and friend John Horn of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

The Press 1934 Paul Landacre
“The Press” on a vinyl cover next to the actual press that inspired it

Tragically in 1963, after Paul’s wife and companion passed away from cancer, the artist took his own life.  He made plans to leave his press in the hands of one of his students at Otis Art Institute who would love and care for it as he had. However, before the press could be passed on, unknown thieves managed to steal it in the night. For anyone who has tried to move a Washington Press, weighing in at one ton or more, you’ll no doubt know the amount of knowledge, strength, and skill these thieves must have had to pull it off. Anthony L. Lehman surmised, “It would have taken no less than several men, some type of hoisting apparatus, a truck, and a considerable amount of time and muscle. The larger parts of the press were extraordinarily heavy, and Landacre’s home was built on such a steep hillside that it was impossible to pull a vehicle alongside.”

Joe Landacre Initials (JL) center punched on the press
Joe Landacre Initials (JL) center punched on the press

There was one possible sighting of the press shortly afterwards but other than that, it would be almost 20 years until it was rediscovered in 1981 by none other than the Los Angeles printing equipment collector Ernie Lindner (and later the Founder of the International Printing Museum). Ernie received a call by someone who came into possession of the press through an unpaid storage bill that the thief seemed to have skipped town on. According to Ernie the press seemed badly weathered and had been exposed to the elements for roughly three years. Its authenticity was later confirmed by multiple sources included Paul’s brother, Joe Landacre, who identified his initials J L which he had centerpunched into the ornate, cast iron decorations on the press shortly after Paul’s death. Ernie, knowing the importance of the item, bought the press and brought it home to restore it.

That’s when another Southern California legendary artist, Vance Gerry, became involved with the press. Vance was a letterpress printer and a close friend of Ernie Lindner, but most know him as a legendary storyboard artist for Walt Disney. Vance worked on such classic films as The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, and One Hundred and One Dalmations. 
Ernie and Vance collaborated on other press refurbishment projects, usually with Ernie fixing up the mechanics and Vance giving a new coat of paint and decorations. When restoring the press, it was searched in vain to find some identifying marks, but all that was found was the original serial number, 2331. Ernie was able to determine that it was manufactured in the mid-19th century by C. Foster & Brother in Cincinnati, Ohio.  It is a very rare example of the Washington-style press, with less than five known to exist. The nameplate on our Landacre Press was copied from another C. Foster Press Ernie found at the Sacramento History Museum. 

When Ernie co-founded The International Printing Museum in 1988 with his world-famous collection, the Landacre Washington Press was one of the first presses every visitor encountered when they walked through the doors; it remains one of the gems among the Lindner Collection. 

The Landacre Press may be enjoyed in the Museum’s main gallery every Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm or by appointment Tuesday through Friday. Let’s see if you can find those centerpunched initials!

The Landacre Press is part of the Cincinnati Press Project, a database of Cincinnati-made printing presses. If you have knowledge of a Cincinnati-made press not presently in the database, be sure to contact them!

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