[Birmingham], James Watt & Co., [1795].

Copying machine consisting of two brass rollers, two pasteboard presses, damping tray, crank, vial for ink, two ink stones, brush in a silvercase, wetting book, drying book, original instruction book (with one engraved plate, 18 pages, original blue wrappers), and copying paper; contained in its original mahogany case (approximate measurements 37 x 29 x 13 cm); with the authenticating plaque signed James Watt & Co. recessed in the damping tray.


US $31824€25778

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‘An outstanding piece of copying equipment of the late eighteenth century was invented, manufactured, and sold by none other than the great engineer, James Watt. The process which this copying machine employed was patented in 1780 as ‘A new method of copying letters and other writings expeditiously.’

‘For several years before [1780], James Watt had been travelling back and forth between his Soho works in Birmingham and the tin mines at Cornwall where he was erecting one of his steam engines. There was a large correspondence between him and his partner Matthew Boulton and he found it tedious to copy out by hand the lengthy letters and technical memoranda on mechanical matters involved. Seeing the need for a copying method, he seems, without more ado, to have sat down and invented one, patented it, and built an elegant portable machine on which to apply it.

‘In the process used on James Watt’s copying machine the letter-to-be-copied was written with a special copying ink on a sheet of good quality paper and placed, when dry, in contact with a water-dampened tissue-paper. The two were held together for a few minutes in some form of mangle or screw press. The writing which offset on to the tissue gave an impression in reverse, but as the tissue was very thin it was simple to read the writing from the other side where it appeared the correct way round ... The writing was dried without blotting or application of heat, and contact with the dampened tissue was best made within twenty-four hours of writing the original. A full prescription or recipe for the ink is described in the patent. The process depended on the nature, quality and freshness of the ink, on the essential thinness of the paper tissue, and on the papermaker’s ability to make it tough and durable when wet ...

‘An excellent piece of office copying equipment - the first in history ... The book of instructions issued with it is a first-class piece of technical writing, a model of clarity and attention to detail’ (W. B. Proudfoot, The Origin of Stencil Duplicating p. 21).