“You want the students to get their hands dirty, quite literally,” says Yannick Portebois, a Canada Research Chair in Book History who also teaches in the St. Michael’s College Book and Media Studies program.
That’s why U of T is the proud owner of this 6,000- pound, hand-operated flatbed Reliance printing press.The vintage device can be found in the John M.Kelly Library foyer. It is part of a collection of antique presses and other printing artifacts, which are housed in the St. Michael’s Print Room on the library’s second floor.The Reliance press allows students to actually put ink on paper, instead of just reading about the process.“It’s wonderful to work with this machine,” says Portebois, “because you feel the power of it.”
Reliance presses were manufactured in Chicago between 1895 and 1911, and this particular one was previously owned by Don Black, a Toronto-area dealer and collector of vintage printing equipment.Over the course of the 20th century, as printing technology rapidly evolved, hundreds of presses of a similar vintage were simply dumped in Lake Ontario, making those that remain particularly valuable. Rarity isn’t the only thing going for it, however – it’s also a dream to work on.“It’s humongous, but it is so smooth to operate,” says Portebois. “This is machinery of high precision.”
The students of the Book and Media Studies program are now starting to take orders for custom-made postcards, invitations, greeting cards and other small letterpress stationery items, and it looks like the Reliance press will be around to help them for years to come.“Listen, there’s no way you can break this machine,” says Portebois with a laugh.“It’s pure iron.”