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On Buying a Ludlow

By James Parrish ©1987

James L. Parrish has been involved with routine and exceptional repair and maintenance of the Ludlow Typograph since the early 1950’s.  Jim Passed away in August of 2004.  He is greatly missed today.  He has prepared the copyrighted article below to give advice to the novice on what to look for when purchasing a Ludlow machine.  Jim is the author of “THE LUDLOW TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE” – 129 pages fully illustrated - $75.00 U.S.


It is very difficult in short form to advise a potential seller or purchaser of Ludlow equipment of all the important factors to consider.  Price generally is the most important consideration.  It also is the most difficult factor to establish.

            A good Ludlow can be bought from an anxious seller for $300.00 to $750.00.  Best buys are from large companies which consider the equipment surplus and want to be rid of it.

            Most of us have a tendency to think only of the machine, not realizing it is a “system” and its market value is better established by what is with the machine.  These items include:

            n         Typeface selection.  Matrices are a most important consideration as to cost and use.  While the machine may be available at an attractive price, purchase may not be wise if accompanying mats are not proper for your intended use.  Most small fonts (6 through 18 points) are in demand and generally sell on the open market for $300.00 or more if in good condition.  Larger fonts can be found for $35.00 to $150.00 each.

            n         Cleaning Kit.  This is an absolute requirement for machine operation.  One should avoid buying from a seller who plans to continue using other Ludlow machines.  He may have several machines but only one cleaning kit:  a new kit cost several hundred dollars.

            n         Spare Parts.  Replacement parts and supplies can be quite expensive.  The seller may place little value on extra parts, but a well stocked parts drawer represents tremendous value to the buyer.

            n         The machine.  Don’t consider buying a machine without prior inspection.  This should include complete electrical tests of each heater and control component, physical examination of each cam, lever and gear and – if possible – operation of the machine under power.

            n         Mold and cooling system.  Turn on the motor and observe the water flow.  On the Model L this can be observed by lifting the lid on the rear of the water tank.  The Model M requires loosening of a fitting at the mold before turning the motor on to insure flow.  Hold a cup or can under the loosened fitting to catch any water that hopefully comes out.  Retighten the fitting.  Next cast a line and listen for a sizzle when the mouthpiece contacts the mold.  This would indicate a water leak on the bottom of the mold where its two components join.

            Cast three of four lines using re-cast.  Lift the top and feel the surface of the mold.  Both left and right sides of the mold should equally cool.  If the left side remains hot, a water flow problem is indicated.  If the mold is not seriously damaged otherwise, this can be repaired for about $150.00.

            n         Plunger.   Observe its movement and its sound when a cast is made. It should drop about ¾ of an inch and stop with a definite “thump”.  If it seems “mushy” and drops further, serious wear is indicated.  Replacement will cost about $175.00.

            n         Mouthpiece.  With the motor turned off, thoroughly clean the top surface of the mouthpiece with a stiff wire brush.  The vents (horizontal indentations on each side of the slot) should be clearly defined.  These vents allow air to escape before any molten metal can be pumped.  If the mouthpiece is worn, the vents will not function in direct proportion to the wear.  A replacement will cost about $350.00.  Used mouthpieces are available for $100.00 and up but check before purchasing.  Inspect for vent definition.  Measure the T-head.  It should measure at least .315.  If it is less than .310 then the machine cannot be adjusted to compensate.

            n         Machine models Most comments relate to models L and M.  I don’t have enough experience with the newer Model “N”.   Introduced in the mid 80’s, but it never got off the ground.

            Model L:        Slanted table top, equipped with a five-gallon water tank on lower left end of machine frame.  Single crucible thermostat.  Rheostat control for the throat/mouthpiece located above the electrical panel on the rear of the machine.  Plunger has single spring.  Original paint: dark blue/gray.  Best buy: serial number 12300 and up.  Good buy:  10200 to 12300.

            Very old machines have square electrical panel box; electrical components almost impossible to replace.  Most have a “hole type” mouthpiece similar to a Linotype and cannot be converted to the superior slotted type with funnel.  Manufactured prior to 1932 with serial number under 3200.

            Later models (serial numbers 3300 to 10100) have a slotted mouthpiece and a rectangular (vertical) electrical panel box.  The panel cover has a rounded top and top corners.  This panel includes two black resistors located above the fuses.  These resistors control the on/off position of the heavy duty magnetic relay (crucible heat) located at the top of the panel and are, in turn, controlled by the thermostat.  All electrical components are hard to get and very expensive.

            Later models (serial numbers 12300 and up), have simplified electrical system in a rectangular panel box.  This panel cover has square corners.

            NOTE:  Any serial preceded by a ZERO indicates the machine has been factory rebuilt.  This could mean a machine with a low serial number has been updated and may still be a good buy.

            MODEL M:    Flat (level) top with one or two lock-down knobs, self-contained refrigerated 2.5 gallon water cooler separate from machine.  Dual thermostat, controls two magnetic relays located in the electrical panel box.  Two plunger springs.  Original paint:  light mottled gray.  Best buy:  serial numbers 16000 to 16500, made from 1965 to 1966.  These have a rear table latch.  Good buy:  serial numbers 16600 to 17900, made from 1966 to 1968.  These have no rear table latch.  Poor buy:  serial numbers 18000 and up.  These machines do not have a crucible spring (a large heavy-duty spring at the front of the crucible above the cam rollers).  This design flaw results in seriously worn cams and a rapid deterioration of the machine in general.  If wear has not been excessive, the missing spring can be added for about $75.00, thus eliminating the flaw.

            n         Electrical configuration.        Most Ludlow machines were wired for 240-volt service.  If installed on a 208-volt service, they will require nearly twice as much time to heat up and the controls will deteriorate quickly.  A normal melt out time is 45 minutes.

            n         Gas pots.         These are relatively rare.  If a gas machine has been well maintained, it is probably a good buy at a practical price.  Gas-fired machines can be difficult to operate but are more trouble-free and less expensive to maintain.  Be sure your orifice is correct for the gas you will be using.  Most often commercial areas have natural gas:  it is a simple procedure to change an orifice for the use of propane gas.