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Joseph Stalin's Printing Press

Started by Dave Hughes, July 09, 2018, 02:47:37 PM

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Dave Hughes

There is a museum in Tbilisi, Georgia that contains Joseph Stalin's old printing press.

It was accessed by going half way down a well and then along a horizontal tunnel.

It would seem none of the composing equipment survived, the site has at some stage been ransacked,  just the biggest items left behind.

This press said to be of German origin and old when first acquired in 1905! Also water damaged due to the well regularly flooding.

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John Cornelisse

In the former communistic countries only little letterpress presses and other old equipment has survived....

After the fall of communism they needed to modernize, and almost everything has been trown away, it was old fasioned and it had been "the property of the state"...

So nobody cared about it all.


The Museum is fascinating. This is an article I wrote for Small Printer, the British Printing Society Magazine (July 2018 edition) which gives a bit more information. I'm also attaching some photos.


The underground press has a long history, from the 16th century tracts printed in Calvinist Geneva, to the psychedelic magazines of "Swinging London" in the 1960's, and the "samizdat" literature of the USSR. In most cases the term "underground" simply means, anti-establishment, clandestine or banned by authorities such as the state or the church. At the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing House Museum , in Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, the printing press is, literally, underground.
Stalin (1878 – 1953) was born as Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili in Gori, a town about 85 kilometres east of Tbilisi. His early revolutionary activities included bank robbery, the proceeds of which funded the secret press which the museum celebrates. Between 1903 and 1906, when the press was discovered by the Imperial Russian Police, flyers, pamphlets, and newspapers were printed in Azeri, Armenian Georgian and Russian for distribution in the Eastern Caucasus – a compositor's nightmare of four different alphabets.
In 1937 Stalin and the notorious secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria, decided to rebuild the house and cellar, and, with a new building for exhibits, to open a museum, which survived until 1991. Between 1991 and 1998, when the local Communist Party took over, the museum lay empty, exhibits were pillaged, and the cellar flooded regularly in winter.  A visiting Chinese General berated the Tbiblisi local authority about the flooding and since 2012 the problem has been rectified.
I was shown round by Zhiuli Sikhmashvili, deputy chairman of the Georgian Communist Party, a sprightly man in his 80's and a committed Communist for over 50 years; he has little English, I have little Russian, but somehow, we managed to communicate.
Visitors now descend to the printshop down rickety stairs from an undistinguished bungalow. For the Revolutionaries, the way to work was rather more challenging. As the diagram shown in the photograph aside shows, the Revolutionaries started by climbing 15 metres down a well, then crawling through a 4 metre tunnel, and finally climbing up a 12 metre ladder.
In the gloomy cellar stands the rusty flatbed press, perhaps capable of restoration if the job is tackled soon. The maker's name is Maschinenfabrik Augsburg, the date of manufacture 1893. The press made its way from Germany to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, was then dismantled, transported 600 kilometres to Tbilisi, and reassembled where it now stands.
A small bonus for the printing historian is the F M Weiter Liberty Press  which rests, without explanation, in the room above the cellar. Apparently in good condition, how one of the most popular American jobbing presses of the 19th Century arrived in the museum is a mystery.
Overall, a fascinating museum, and a reminder of how powerful printing can be.

Dave Hughes

Welcome to the Forum Alan.

And thanks for posting a great article, with photos. It looks like the light (or lack of it) was quite challenging down there!
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John Cornelisse

Actually there is no Liberty press in the Stalin-underground museum...

When I did read the word Liberty, I informed David Tribby about it, I'was sure he would love to find another liberty-press anywhere. you all might visit his website:

this was the reply I got:

John –

Thanks for this interesting tidbit. I found a Travel Advisor page about the museum that has a photo album with 167 photos:

Among all of these pictures, there are several that have a reasonably good shot of the upstairs press.

When I saw "Inside the Museum.png" I realized this was not a Liberty press – the treadle is wrong, the bed of the press is vertical when open, the fountain is too small, the cross pieces near the bottom of the frame are missing, it has roller hooks, the ink plate is at the wrong angle, etc. (compare with or or

So why would anyone think this is a Liberty? Well "closeup.png", cropped from another picture, clearly shows "F. M. Weiler" is cast into the top of the platen! I have never seen that before.

All the best,  Dave

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