This machine arrived in the lobby at Oxford University Press, New York a couple of months ago.

IMGP2835

The plaque next to it reads

“STARWHEEL PRESS                                                                      Produced by George Mann & Co., Leeds, England.                                  In operation at the Press in Oxford late 19th, early 20th century.                 The machine design was developed in Victorian times, and works by having an inked plate laid on the flat bed of the machine, and then having a sheet of moist paper introduced under the roller to produce an image. Many pieces of printed illustration from engraved plates were produced with this technology.”

Not the clearest of descriptions, but one gets the idea. The star wheel would be used to apply the pressure to which of course the press owes its name. The plate would be fixed to the flat bed, not just laid on it, then inked. When the paper was put on top, pressure was applied evenly across the entire image — the flat bed would move under the roller I believe, not the roller move along the bed. The press would I expect be used for single page illustration tip-ins: engravings, mezzotints, halftones etc. It could have been pressed into service as a proofing press for jobbing work.

A press like this could be used for letterpress (most likely) or for lithography, printing direct from the stone.