Luxury Design, Past & Present

Copying PressCopying PressCopying PressCopying Press

A very early copying press, manufactured by James Watt, inventor of the copying press and his partner Matthew Boulton. The case is made of mahogany with an internal silver embossed label. Copying presses of the same model were owned by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The original patent was granted by George III in 1780.
English, Circa 1794

James Watt invented the copying press in 1780 and was granted a patent by George III. James Watt had already made a name for himself as an inventor for his work on the steam engine. For both enterprises he partnered with Mathew Boulton, who encouraged Watt to patent his device. To market the device Watt and Boulton demonstrated the machine before both Houses of Parliament, the Royal Society of London and groups of bankers and merchants; the businessmen who would find it helpful to keep records of their correspondence and be able to produce business documents in multiples. The bankers were a particularly nervous about the invention as a machine for forgeries and counterfeiting.

This copying press was a portable version of the original, first made in 1794. Watt discussed the new version in letters to R. Chippendale and Josiah Wedgwood Jr. The same type was owned by George Washington as well as Thomas Jefferson. Both Mount Vernon and Monticello have examples in their collections that were owned by the great men. Though it is reduced in size it functions in the same way as Watt’s earlier invention.

The copying press devised by Watt requires the copy to be made from the original document within 24 hours of being written. The original and the special thin paper that the copy would be produced on were treated with chemicals and then pressed down by either a screw down method, or as seen with the portable model, the rolling press method. After the document had passed through the rollers (protected by the felt lined pads) a mirror image would be produced on the thin copy paper. This paper was then mounted, upside-down, to a backing so that the copy could be read through the paper.

copying press
18th Century

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    Copying Press