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The Clay Process

( Originally Published 1927 )

During the same period when Ged was working out his stereotyping process, a French printer, GABRIEL VALLEYRE by name, invented in 1730 a method of casting plates in molds, which he used for making calendars which were placed at the opening page of church books. The method discovered by Valleyre was the so-called clay process. He pressed the set-up form of movable type in clay or other earthy substance ; removed the cast made in this manner from the form and then poured molten copper into it. His clay or his copper was faulty; the edges of the letters were not clearly and sharply defined, the surface of his plates became rounded and many letters were broken. One advantage of his process was that it took the mold from low spaces and quadrats without filling them up. (A long time afterwards Valleyre's method was revived, improved, and employed in the Government Printing Office in Washington. The thus modified "clay stereotyping method" was used there as follows : The form was placed upon a movable bed of an iron molding-press. A flat iron plate was screwed upon the inside of the lid of the press, and upon this plate a thin layer of prepared clay was spread. Preliminary impressions were taken to obtain the outlines of the type and to remove the dampness from the mold. The surface of the form of type was rubbed with benzine; the lid of the press closed and clamped by means of a lever, the movable bed of the press was raised and the mold thus obtained by pressure. Then the mold was taken out and placed in a slow-drying oven. This operation took a few minutes for drying, and then the molding-plate, separated by a thick wire bent in shape to fit the bottom and sides of the plate, was clamped fast to a companion plate of equal size. Into the opening between the plate, formed by the wire, molten stereotype-metal was poured, and the stereotype cast by this clay method was formed.)

J. MICHEL FUNCKTER, whose methods are described as having been practiced in Germany about 1740 merits being mentioned, because his operation was akin to the one practiced by Ged and later on by the printers in France. Funckter, a printer of Erfurt, published in that city in 1740 a little pamphlet entitled: "Short but useful introduction to the cutting of wood and iron plates, to make types, ornaments and other drawings and also to the art of baking plaster, preparing sand molds for type-casting, vignettes, medals and forming of matrices therefrom." This pamphlet called the attention of many printers to the new art of making solid printing plates.

Without having any knowledge of Mueller or Ged, ALEXANDER TILLOCH, editor of the "Philosophical Magazine" and part proprietor of the "Star", a London daily newspaper, conceived the idea of stereotype printing in 1781, and in the following year he entered into partnership with the printer to the University of Glasgow, ANDREW FOULIS by name, in order to carrying on the business of stereotype printing.

At the start of their venture, they advertised the following arguments regarding solid-plate printing to the book-printers and book-sellers: "If founding could be applied to single letters, why not to pages, to get rid of a sacrifice of capital submitted to at first because of the enormous expense of block-cutting. Founding of pages, on the first view of it, promises many advantages in point of economy; and to science it holds out, what can never otherwise be obtained—the possibility of procuring, in a short time, Immaculate Editions. From books cast into solid pages, no more copies would be printed than might be wanted for immediate sale; the money thus saved from being sunk into paper to be piled up in warehouses for years, as at present, would serve as surplus capital to print other works; all errors as soon as discovered, could be rectified in the plates, to prevent them from appearing in later copies, instead of running thru a large edition, as at present." After great labor, and many experiments, these gentlemen overcame every difficulty, and were able to produce plates, the impressions from which could not be distinguished from those taken from the types from which they were cast. Though they had reason to fear, from what they learned Ged had met with, that their efforts would experience a similar opposition from prejudice and ignorance, they persevered in their object for a considerable time, and at last resolved to take out patents for England and Scotland, to secure to themselves, for the usual term, the benefits of their invention.

The patents were four in number and dated April 28th, 1784, being granted to Andrew Foulis and Alexander Tilloch, "for a method of making plates and for the purpose of printing by or with plates, instead of the movable types commonly used, and for vending and disposing of said printing plates and the books or other publications therewith printed, whereby a much greater degree of accuracy, correctness, and elegance will be introduced into the publication of the works both of the ancient and modern authors than had been hitherto obtained." The specification gives but a meagre account of the details of the process. The plates, it said, were made by forming molds or matrices from the page of the books or other publications to be stereotyped, and such molds or matrices were filled with metal or with clay, or with a mixture of clay and earth. Tilloch explained that his molds were by preference taken in plaster of Paris; the plates were thin, and mounted on wooden blocks.

Owing to some circumstances of a private nature, not connected with the stereotype, the business was laid aside for a time, and Tilloch having moved from Glasgow to London, the concern was dropped altogether; but not till several volumes had been stereotyped and printed under the direction of Tilloch and Foulis.

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