History of Lettering printing

Koenig, Bauer, John Walter, James Moran (and Uncle Tom Cobley and all)

This being Sunday I feel slightly preachy. That being said today’s text is taken from Stan Morison’s The Typographic Arts (Sylvan Press, 1949). Stan writes: ‘…John Walter, with Koenig and Bauer, proved at the office of The Times  what could be done for printing by driving the press by steam. This was the greatest revolution in printing since Gutenberg’ (p.39). Quite a statement and one that sent me to James Moran’s magnum opus, his superb Printing Presses. History and development from the fifteenth century to modern times (Faber and Faber, 1973). If you do not possess a copy and  have a passion for printing then source a copy at your earliest opportunity – you will not be disappointed. (I bought my edition from a bookshop in Cambridge, UK, back in the 1980s, as new, and for 15 pounds sterling.)

Moran notes that Friedrich Koenig (born 1774) came up with the idea of a mechanised press in 1803 when he was in Saxony. Nothing came of the idea (Europe was rather taken up  with wars at the time), so he came to London where he contacted some printers in Fleet Street. It was here he joined forces with Andreas Bauer, an engineer. By 1811 a machine had been built using the conventional platen process. While this worked the principle, writes Moran, was a ‘dead-end’, pushing Koenig to the cylinder, a patent being sought in October of the same year. For those into minutiae, ‘sheets G and X of Clarkson’s Life of WIlliam Penn, volume 1, were the first ever to be printed by a cylinder flatbed machine’ (p.106). Interestingly, the rollers were leather-covered since composition rollers were still being developed around this time. While the press could produce 800 impressions an hour one newspaper proprietor, James Perry of the Morning Chronicle,  was not impressed leaving the field open to the entrepreneurial John Walter. He ordered two machines stipulating that ‘none were to be sold during the life of the patent within ten miles of the City of London’. In a subterfuge  that would later also be adopted much later by another Times proprietor currently in disgrace (Mr RM formerly of Australia), Walter had the first machine installed in secret in a building adjoining the print works – it was here that the issue of 29 November 1814 was printed, to the surprise and frustration of the pressmen working on the old machines. These machines cost plenty – by comparison a Stanhope went for 95 pounds; the Koenig double cylinder for a princely 1400 pounds.