Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Forgotten Cosmo Soldiers On: Headliner Offset's Predecessor Turns 20 in a New Era of Quality Color

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Forgotten Cosmo Soldiers On: Headliner Offset's Predecessor Turns 20 in a New Era of Quality Color

Article excerpt

AMONG CERTAIN CLASSIC-CAR collectors, the -- unjustly -- maligned Corvair inspires fervor. Certain art enthusiasts are stirred by the abstract expressionist paintings of Hans Holmann. Some jazz fans are turned on by the West Coast bop of saxophonist Wardell Grey.

The obscure object of affection for about three dozen small and medium-sized newspapers throughout the Unit- ed States is the Cosmo color offset press.

Like any other valuable collectible, the press is certainly scarce: Only 44 Cosmos -- serial numbers 3500 to 3544 -- were manufactured by Rockwell Graphic Systems.

More significantly, however, this shortlived model reflects in its very history -- and continuing operation -- the sea change in newspaper production wrought by a widespread demand for color.

Introduced to permit smaller papers to run small amounts of acceptable color, Cosmo presses today print substantial positions of high-quality color. A Cosmo prints 750,000 copies of Sunday comics each week for the Booth Newspapers in Michigan. And a Cosmo prints the downstate edition of the Chicago Tribune. The Cosmo celebrated its 20th birthday this year.

When the first one was installed at the Kenosha (Wis.) News (then a 31,000-circulation paper) in April 1973, color was mostly unknown at smaller daily newspapers. Few were attempting full color, and fewer were doing it well.

Muddy reproduction with wildly shifting registration was not necessarily considered an unsalable defect in those days. The Cosmo was to be the press that brought small papers into the world of color.

"The Cosmo was kind of an in-between press," said Michael Kneale, superintendent of camera/plate/press for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press Gazette and leader of an informal Cosmo users group, which meets once or twice a year.

Indeed, in the evolution of Rockwell presses, the Cosmo stands between the single-width Urbanire and the Headliner color press.

Essentially, the Cosmo is a double-width Urbanire, with 16 page positions per unit instead of the Urbanite's eight.

Approximately 60% of parts are common to both presses, said Bill Lawson of Rockwell's field service department.

The earliest Cosmo presses were sold with 2:1, 112-page folders. Later models included either a 3:2, 132-page folder or a smaller 2:1, 96-page quarter-folder.

Early models used a standard three-arm static belt reel with the press mounted on Y columns. Later, that was changed to a two-arm constant-tension reel mounted on K columns.

All Cosmo presses employ open ink fountains and use a direct dampener with water down first. All came with a single cutoff size of 22 3/4" and use the same plate lockup design.

For most of the smaller papers that bought the relatively inexpensive press (it listed at not quite $400,000 when it was discontinued), the Cosmo was their first real color press. "We got real good color, really, right from the start," said Jacob Saathof, production manager of the News-Gazette in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. The News-Gazette's Cosmo began production in July 1977.

Unlike the current generation of offset presses, the Cosmo has virtually no automatic controls. It can keep pressmen hopping between ink keys and compensators.

On the other hand, "the Cosmo is a very forgiving press," said Lawson of Rockwell. …

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