By the end of the eighteenth century the time was ripe for a major step forward in printing press construction. The reason this was possible in England was the advances which had been made in the techniques of casting metal. That the man who grasped these facts and used them to produce the first all-metal press was not a tradesman but a peer of the realm is not surprising. Earl Stanhope (1753-1816) was devoted to scientific enquiry, was free from the conservatism of the average printer and had greater resources at his disposal.
When Charles, the third Earl Stanhope, invented the press which bears his name about 1800, he retained the conventional screw but separated it from the spindle and bar, inserting a system of compound levers between them. The effect of several levers acting upon each other was to increase considerably the power applied resulting in sharper impressions.
The Stanhope press consists of a massive cast-iron frame formed in one piece, in the upper part of which a nut is fixed for the reception of the screw, the point of which operates on the upper end of a slider. This has a heavy platen attached to its lower end which is counterbalanced by a heavy weight behind the press, suspended on a lever. The iron carriage is moved in the same way as the wooden press which it gradually replaced.
Various improvements were made as more presses were manufactured, and our press is an example of the second type of construction, strengthened with rounded side cheeks. Stanhope did not patent the press himself but engaged Robert Walker, an ironsmith of Vine Street, Piccadilly, London to manufacture it. Thus our press, number 429, bears the inscription STANHOPE INVENIT but WALKER FECIT. The Stanhope press influenced others - most notably the levers which were used by George Clymer for his Columbian Press.
This press was found by the NSW Government Printer, William Applegate Gullick in 1897 and was donated to the museum in 1938. Though its number and construction date it to the 1820s and therefore make it impossible for it to have been the earliest press in the colony (a wooden press printed the first book in 1795), it is very likely that it was one of the first presses used in the NSW Government Printing Office when established in 1840. The museum also acquired other historic printing presses from the Government Printing Office when it was closed in 1989.