Taken from Geoffrey Osborne: ‘Josiah Wade and the Anglo-American Arab Press’. Matrix 4, Winter 1984, 100–110. Updated June 2008.


Josiah Wade 1842–1908: rose to the challenge of improving on the American jobbing printing press manufacturer’s products by manufacturing a superior machine [1]. Arab press produced from date of patent, 1872, until 1959. The ‘Arab’ name was a reflection on a current belief that Arabs were strong and reliable workers and the popularity of Egypt and it ancient artifacts at the time.

The machines were supplied as a kit with assembly instructions and a drawing of all parts, numbered and named. An assembler was often sent from the factory to put the machine together and to demonstrate the machine.

Over the lifespan of the machine, improvements and changes were made; the first of these in the 1870s gave a stronger impression by lengthening the dwell time; in the 1920s the machines had solid-centred pulleys and flywheel, and in the 1940s changes to safety legislation (the Factory Act and Board of Trade regulations) led to a more elaborate safety mechanism and shrouds for belts and wheels. Where these impeded the operator they were often removed. A 1920s machine is reckoned to represent the very best-made.

By the time the company went out of business in 1959, 40,000 Arabs had been produced, including a variable-speed model capable of 1,500 impressions an hour.

The company was sold to Wellman and Parry, Liverpool. This became part of Excelsior Printing Co. in 1978. This company was able to service machines in 1984.


The Arab is a platen press with an extended dwell time, i.e. the type bed is held against the platen for an extended period to give the best ink transfer.

The impression movement is provided by the swinging typebed held against the body of the machine by two drawbars, one either side. As the end of the drawbar, rotating on an eccentric, passes the dead centre of the eccentric shaft it causes the long ‘dwell’.

The eccentric shaft is turned by a crank on the main spur wheel, and this shaft itself moves the swinger arms which lift the platen up to close it against the bed.

This arrangement provides ‘great rigidity in a comparatively light machine’. The Arab press weighs up to 14 cwt[2].

Preparing the platen

The platen is covered with a parchment or rubberised fabric sheet. (this is stretched from the locating pins at the lower edge of the platen up and over the shaft at the upper edge and held with a wire against this shaft).

Under this ‘blanket’ is recommended the following packing: 2 sheets newspaper, 2 sheets manila.

Original equipment included a lay gauge to allow quick and accurate working. This obviated the need for pasting reglet onto the packing and made it easier to get the stock square.

The machines should not be transported fully assembled.

The machines were ‘precisely made’. The platen was ‘adjusted fully to English type height and should not need to be set again.'


The machine should be fully oiled daily in use, particularly the cam track and the shaft of the cam follower; this is the first part to show wear ‘and can be replaced’.

‘Steel shafts, slowly rotating in cast iron bearings, have hardly shown any wear to this day.'

Arabs presses ‘repay careful restoration’. They represent ‘the simplest and quietest platen machines for amateurs to use’ and ‘when adjusted print evenly over the whole forme’.


  1. Bill Elligett’s ‘The jobbing platen – history and development’ (2008) is an informative survey of the origins of this type of press. The provenance of the Arab’s mechanical design, which Wade developed as a patentee of George Gordon, becomes very clear. Also see James Moran, Printing Presses
  2. A discussion on LetPress in 2001 gave a modern weighing (including pallet, and with feed board, self inking arm, flywheel and rollers fitted) of 550kg (foolscap folio) or catalogue weights of Crown Folio - 12cwt 1qr, Foolscap Folio - 10cwt 3qrs
  3. The Erection instructions booklet

The image shows the side elevation of the press. It is taken from a British Printer issue of the 1870s