Beeghly Library

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Juniata Library Staff Breathes Life into Historic Press

Reprinted with the permission of the Huntingdon Daily News

By Rebecca Berdar, Daily News Staff Writer

Modern printing presses can run off thousands of copies of a daily newspaper in a matter of hours and have been doing so for decades. The relative ease with which these mechanical, and often computerized, beasts deliver us our morning paper, favorite books and crossword puzzle magazines, was not always the standard mode of operation. A printing demonstration at Juniata College this week gave observers a peek into the painstaking task of pressing words onto paper, as it was done in the early 18th century. The Ephrata printing press, which once produced documents at the Ephrata Cloister near Lancaster, now calls the college's Beeghly Library home. It was donated to Juniata in the mid-1990s by Crist King, who showed library staff how to man the 270-year-old press. King, 92, of New Enterprise, a retired teacher who taught the art of printing to Pittsburgh area grade school students, inherited the historic press from his father, whose father had passed it down to him.

"My first time working with the press was when I was in grade school," King said. "I helped print a sale bill." King’s father and uncle operated a commercial printshop, employing the wooden Ephrata press to run fliers and flours tags. King, who is now the last surviving of nine children, said he and his brother were the youngest of the brood and both had a passion for printing. While King became a teacher, his brother Corliss, who passed away this year, worked for the government press. The Ephrata press became their charge as part of their father’s estate. "We were the last two and we were both printers," said King, adding their choice for the press’s final home was a personal one. "We thought Juniata was a good place for the press, because our church was once a part of the Church of the Brethren," King said.

The press, which was built in Germany and stands about six and one-half feet tall, was moved Wednesday from its usual place of honor in the library’s special collection room, to an open study area among the stacks.

Library director John Mumford and assistant Spencer McMinn - a Huntingdon local and incoming Juniata freshman - rolled out the ink, coated the blocks and showed how early American settlers created the printed word. Using decorative block on plain copier paper, Mumford and McMinn demonstrated the nuances of old-fashioned printing and how early printers really had to put their backs and shoulders into their art.

Mumford said he hopes to, perhaps, start printing a library newsletter on the old press. "It would be hard work," he said, but, added McMinn, "It would be fun."