Doug Charles

The bed and platen machine was the mainstay of the American book printer from the 1830s into the 1870s. In Britain during the same period, the platen machine was favored for quality bookwork, cutwork and specialty printing. Examples were still in service at the beginning of the 20th century. As J. Gaskill wrote in 1877, 'The work produced by them resembles press-work more than that thrown off by any other machine.'

    Make-ready procedures were those with which the handpress man was already familiar; the bed-and-platen impression avoided the pitfalls of slurring, misregister, and forme wear to which early cylinder machines were prone. The cylinder's problems were exacerbated by soft packing and the practice of raising or lowering the cylinder to alter the impression, a method that although 'mentioned only to condemn it' in the 1871 Hoe catalogue, was openly urged upon operators as late as 1877 in Gaskill's British manual.

    Until printers and engineers responded to the requirements of the cylinder -- accurate forms,  and rigid impression -- the advantages of the platen machine outweighed its relatively small output and high operating cost. By the 1880s, however, the platen was mostly relegated to short-run jobs, reprints from old plates and specialties such as banknote and bible work. In 1888, Wilson & Grey characterized platen owners as 'addicted to old plant.'

Bed and Platen: Flat-Surface, Flat-Pressure. Excludes all job presses (jobbing machines). 
Carriage: Horizontally-reciprocating portion of machine. Sometimes refers to "type-bed".
Coffin: Type-bed. Also: Table.
Cut: Any typographic plate or block bearing an illustration.
End: A double platen machine's two ends each consist of type-bed, ink-table, table bolt or clutch, tympan and frisket.
Impression Bed: The cross-girders and ribs of the press frame upon which the coffin is supported during impression.
In, Out: An end is "in" when under the platen, "out" when in feeding position. "Inner" means toward the platen in reference to a machine. Not to be confused with "inner" and "outer" formes.
Inker: Forme roller.
Machine, Press: In most 19th century accounts, 'press' refers to handpress; 'presswork' to handpress printing. A printing machine is one in which power-input is by rotary means, allowing the use of steam or other prime mover. The distinctions blurred over time.
Register: A printed piece is either in register or not. If not, it must be registered. 'Registration' is a clerk's term, not a printer's.
Slider: Can refer to the individual sliders or to the assembly of two sliders and their linking bar. See cuts in Wilson (1879).
Table bolt: Attached to type-bed (under the ink table) upon a spring, it is lowered into the aperture on the slider to put the end into action. JM Napier used a hinged clutch arm to which a rectangular table bolt was affixed.
Waver: Distributor roller, 'angle roller', having endwise motion.
Wood cut: Wood engravings were often so termed.

The machines, in attempted chronological order:

XXXXXXXXXXX.Iii.xTreadwell, 1821 [U.S.A.]

    Boston polymath Daniel Treadwell devised the world's first commercially successful powered flat-surface machine. He decided upon a mechanized adaptation of the handpress after he had observed cylinder machines in England and judged them unsuitable for conditions in the United States. American realities also compelled Treadwell to build the early examples largely from timber, restricting the use of iron to platen, impression toggles and various smaller parts. The bed of the first machine was said to be of stone. Later productions incorporated more ironwork, improvements to the mechanism and a more compact build. A description of the machine and an account of its development and early employment, with three illustrations showing the original machine, a 2-unit version, and a later improved model, can be found in Wyman 1888.

    The Treadwell was really suited only to the needs of America's very few 'production printers' of the period, of whom the best-known was the bible printer Daniel Fanshaw of New York. Fanshaw worked a battery of Treadwells, first (steam-powered) at the American Bible Society and then (mule-powered) at the American Tract Society. According to the online History of the New York Fire Department, Fanshaw was running nineteen machines when his plant was destroyed by fire in 1836. Fanshaw's attachment to his Treadwells resulted in his losing both the ABS and ATS contracts in 1844-1855. The Societies were impressed by the newer Adams machine and its superior product.  At least fifty Treadwell presses, both singles and doubles were manufactured, contradicting Robert Hoe III's assertion that only 'three or four were constructed'.

    As well as in such urban centers as New York, Boston and Baltimore, Treadwells were notably used by Gales & Seaton of Washington, D.C., who handled a large volume of U.S. government printing. From a list of patents granted in 1826 (Treadwell was a bit tardy!):

Daniel Treadwell, Boston, March 2 (1826), power printing press -- this press was about this time in operation in the offices of the 'National Intelligencer', and was considered by the proprietors, Messrs. Gales & Seaton, one of the most valuable discoveries ever conferred upon the art. It was said to be the only press on the cylindrical principle, adapted to book printing, which it executed in the most beautiful manner. (The First Century of the Republic: A Review of American Progress, New York, Harper & Bros., 1876)

The quoted term 'cylindrical' I take to indicate power input through rotary motion, rather than referring to the means of impression.

    Treadwell's machine more than doubled the output of a vigorously-worked handpress, while requiring the services of a feeder and a taker-off, and the attentions of a pressman.  A 'first' itself, the Treadwell embodied innovations which would later become general, including an impression throw-off, revolving disc distribution, geared inkers, points attached to frisket instead of tympan and the double machine, in which two complete machines were driven from a common shaft. (The later British double platen, while in effect two machines, employed but a single platen and one bed drive for both of its 'ends'.) Despite the mechanisation, the Treadwell's handpress ancestry showed in its massive timber frame, long equal-length toggle and lengthwise orientation of bed and platen.

    Power was transmitted to the machine via a vertical shaft at the rear of the press, extending downward through the floor to the sweep of a horse-whim or geared to a waterwheel or steam engine. This shaft carried the impression cam, the bed motion control cam, and a bevel gear  from which the bed motion was derived. In the case of a double machine, the two presses were set back-to-back with the vertical shaft rising between them, the same cams and gear operating both. No flywheel was provided on the early presses, so the animal or engine had an easy time of it until the press came on impression when great power was suddenly required for a pace or two, immediately followed by a sudden release of resistance. Ralph Green wrote that the horse learned to stop at the point of impression, so a third attendant was required in the 'press crew' - to restart the horse each revolution of the whim (Green 1951, p. 146).

     Shaped like an enlarged lobe from an automobile camshaft, the impression cam straightened the toggles via a horizontal bar with a roller on its cam end and its other end bearing upon the center of the toggle. The bar could be lifted so that its roller cleared the impression cam, thus suspending the impression while the press continued running. The bar was lifted by handle near the feeder's position. Another nearby lever disengaged the bed-motion from the vertical shaft to bring the mechanism to a halt.

    The toggles resembled those of a handpress, but were positioned to take the thrust of the impression bar and so faced the rear, rather than the side of the press. The platen, in its raised position, rested at a tilt, with its front edge somewhat elevated to ease the passage of blankets and frisket as the carriage ran in. The platen was raised by counterweight.