Revitalization of the unique printing machine from the 19th century


The 19th century Austrian printing machine Helbig & Müller in Wien was put into operation for the first time in over 60 years at the Muzeum Drukarstwa [Printing Museum] in Nowy Targ. CONTI LaserLine CML 1.72 mm elastomeric plates and calibrated papers from PHOENIX Xtra Print Polska, BU M&MR Trading Polska Sp. z o.o. helped by the revitalization.


The historic quick press from the Schnellpressenfabrik Helbig & Müller in Wien factory was constructed by Christian Leo Müller in the first half of the 19th century. It is a flat, single-turn, alloy-cylindrical machine for letterpress printing. It is referred to as the "Rolls-Royce of printing".


The history of the machine is very turbulent. In 1898 it was bought from the printing house of Aleksander Słomski in Krakow by Antoni Borek and moved to the printing house in Nowy Targ. It was disassembled, moved and reassembled several times. It survived World War II and the time of communism in Poland. Finally the machine found its way to the Drukarnia Podhalańska [Podhalańska Printing house], where, probably in order to protect it from destruction or scrapping, its full name was camouflaged by covering the ink-pot plaque with a thick layer of glass putty. Currently, the machine can be admired at the Muzeum Drukarstwa [Printing Museum] in Nowy Targ – the Polish company Sotilo disassembled it, transported it, rebuilt the mechanisms and reassembled it in accordance with the art of printing. There are two more specimens of this machine in the world – in the Deutsches Museum in Munich (fully restored and operational) and probably in the Armenian Museum in Jerusalem (information not yet confirmed).


At the Muzeum Drukarstwa [Printing Museum] in Nowy Targ, more than 60 years after the last operation of the machine, the first attempts to restart and print it were carried out. The arduous revitalization of the machine was carried out by specialists – Janusz Karpiński (owner of the Polish company Sotilo) and Eryk Woźniak (a technologist and production manager of LIBRA-Print in Łomża), together with the team of local workshops and craftsmen-handicraftsmen. The first prints were made using the 1.72 mm CONTI LaserLine CML elastomer form from PHOENIX Xtra Print Polska, engraved in Studio Flekso PXP in Gdynia. It took a long time to find a suitable material compatible with the historical machine – the material had to imitate the one used in 19th-century printing. It is therefore an absolute phenomenon that CONTI LaserLine plates, designed for the latest generation devices and production, also work well in more than 170-year-old machines. It is on the CML plate from PHOENIX Xtra Print Polska that a work will be created to complete the entire revitalization work, printed during the ceremonial inauguration of the machine connected with the official opening of the Muzeum Drukarstwa [Printing Museum].


Eryk Woźniak: “The essence of Leo Müller's innovative invention consisted in the use of the drive of the form table modeled on the drive of steam locomotives, where the torque is transmitted by means of an arm to a road wheel. Leo Müller turned the principle around and in the printing press the torque is transferred from the gear to the arm that drives the form table and further on the other parts of the machine. In order to stabilize the sliding movement of the form table, he designed idler wheels which, in a very flexible and stable way, guided the heavy lead form along the machine foundation. It should also be noted that in this solution, Müller used the muted operation of the printing cylinder in the form of special rails coated with leather, stabilizing the rotational movement, which had a positive effect on the stability of the reproduction of the printed drawing or text. All printing machines constructed later by competing companies based on the revolutionary solution of Leo Müller and they are successfully used to this day. The preserved machine is one of the first machines built by the Schnellpressenfabrik Helbig & Müller in Wien company – this is evidenced by the fact that its design is devoid of the patented solution with intermediate wheels. Many parts of the machine are made by hand. For example, in a 1300 mm long and 43 mm wide blade there are 78 hand sawn teeth. The toothed bar has individual teeth, their height, width and a dividing line. The mating gears are equipped with teeth made of ash wood, also sawn and fitted by hand. During the works, it was possible to read the year of production of the machine – 1848, and its serial number 162”.


Renovation and reconstruction of the historic Helbig & Müller in Wien machine is possible thanks to EU funds from the Polish-Slovak project "Technical monuments connect us", implemented by the Muzeum Drukarstwa [Printing Museum] in Nowy Targ and the Handmade Paper Museum in Ludrova, and co-financed by the European Development Fund Regional as part of the Interreg Program VA PL-SK 2014-2020. The renovation works of the machine were completed in December 2020, however the official inauguration of its return to operation (and the official opening of the Muzeum Drukarstwa [Printing Museum] as well) is unfortunately still unknown due to the coronavirus pandemic – it is initially planned for May 2021.


We would like to thank Mr. Janusz Karpiński and Mr. Eryk Woźniak for their help in preparing this material. The history of the machine was presented on the basis of a conference paper prepared by Mr. Eryk Woźniak:

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