December 16

On this day in 1816 the third Earl Stanhope died. Friend of the younger William Pitt and an outspoken critic of the war with the American colonies as a member of Parliament, Stanhope was also an indefatigable experimenter in the sciences, producing among other things a fire-proof stucco, a calculating machine, and optical lenses. His legacy to the printing craft was an improved method of stereotyping and an iron hand press.

Earl Stanhope’s press utilized a cast iron frame and a multiplied lever for turning the screw which allowed considerably more pressure to be applied by the pressman without additional effort. The combination of these features made obsolescent the wooden presses which had been used by printers for three hundred and fifty years. When the press was developed in 1800, its inventor “presented” it to the industry, refusing to patent the machine. Immediately his ideas were taken up by other inventors, resulting in such improved presses as the Columbian, the Albion, the Washington, and other hand presses, which for the next fifty years were responsible for most of the printing being produced.

Johnson, writing in his manual, Typographia, published in 1824, provides an excellent account of the Stanhope Press, from which most of the later descriptions have been drawn:

“This press is the invention of the late patriotic nobleman whose name it bears; who after many expensive and laborious experiments, at length succeeded, with the assistance of an ingenious machinist (the late Mr. Walker) in bringing the press to a state of perfection. The first press was finished in the year 1800, and its powers were tried at the office of Mr. Bulmer, (the Shakspeare Press) in which house it at present remains. They have undergone several alterations since the first of them were made, particularly in the rounce, and the ribs; the handle of the former was attached to a rod which crossed the plattin, this rod was connected with the spit by means of machinery; the carriage, instead of running on cramps in the ribs as at present, was carried upon wheels on a straight edge, which made a very disagreeable noise; the gallows for the tympans is also removed, and the bearings are attached to the ends of them. . . .

“His Lordship, having objected to the taking out of a Patent for his invention, it was consequently thrown open, upon which several Engineers and Smiths began to manufacture presses on the same principle; it is true some of them made trifling alterations, but in truth they were scarce worthy of notice; therefore, in order to find a market for them they sold them somewhat cheaper; but we can assert, without fear of successful contradiction, that those from the original manufactory were infinitely superior to what were made in other quarters. . . .”

Johnson’s panegyric to the Stanhope Press concluded with illustrations and descriptions of each working part, which he hoped “will enable every pressman not only to put them together, but also to take them to pieces.”

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