Few readers of the Ledger, I presume, have ever seen or heard the name placed at the head of this article. Nevertheless it was the name of a man who conferred a favor upon them all; since he invented the art without which it would be impossible to sell a copy of the Ledger at its present price. William Ged was the inventor of stereotyping. He was a Scotchman, born about the year 1690. For some years he was a thriving goldsmith at Edinburgh, and was considerably noted in the trade for his ingenuity. He invented some tools and processes which facilitated the exercise of his craft, and these he freely made known to persons of the same vocation. It appears that his attention was called to the art of printing by his being employed in paying off the hands of an Edinburgh printing-house, which led him to reflect upon the vast amount of labor absorbed in the production of a book. In those days, a goldsmith performed some of the functions of a banker, and kept other people's gold in his strong box as well as his own. It was probably in his capacity as a banker that he furnished the money for tho payment of the Scottish printers. It is a curious circumstance that as late as the year 1723, no types were cast in Scotland, although the business of printing had then attained considerable proportions in that country. It seems, too, that the English printers then imported some of their best type from the continent. Young Benjamin Franklin, in that very year, worked as a journeyman printer in London, and he tells us that LJs master employed fifty men ; but notwithstanding tliis large demand for I types, the English printers imported some kinds from Holland, a country which appears to have had in ancient times almost a monopoly of the business of type-founding. One day in 1725, William Gcd fell into conversation with a printer who spoke of the loss it was to Scotland not to have a type-founder nearer than London. The printer showed the ingenious goldsmith some single types, and also composed pages standing ready for the press, and asked him if there was anything so difficult in the manufacture of type that he could not invent a way of doing it. "I judge it more practicable," replied the goldsmith, " for me to make plates from the composed pages than to make single types." " If," said the printer, " such a thing could be done, an estate might be made by it." William Ged requested the printer to lend him a page of composed type for an experiment, which he took home with him and proceeded to consider. After several days of experimenting, he appears to have hit upon the right idea. That is to say, he came to the conclusion that the composed page must be cast; but the question remained, what was the proper material in which to cast it; and it was not until two years kad elapsed that he discovered the secret. He appears to have tried the harder and more expensive metals before attempting it in a metal or compound of metals similar to that of the type itself. At the end of two years, he had such success that no one could distinguish an impression taken from one of his cast plates from ordinary print. From this time, he had the usual experience of an inventor. Although not destitute of capital, he offered a fourth interest in his invention to an Edinburgh printer, on condition of his advancing all the money requisite for establishing a stereotype foundery. But this printer, upon conversing with others of the craft, became so alarmed at the expensiveness of the undertaking that he failed to perform his part of the contract. The partnership lasted two years, during which the cautious Scotch printer advanced but twenty-two pounds ; and the impatient Ged looked eagerly about him for a more enterprising partner. Tims four years passed away after he had begun to experiment. A London stationer, William Fenner by name, being by accident at Edinburgh, heard of the invention, and made an offer for a share in its profits. He agreed to advance all the money requisite ; and, four months after date, to have a house and materials ready in London suitable for Ged's purpose. The inventor thought it a hard bargain to relinquish one-half the profits of so valuable and costly a conception; but ho gladly accepted it, and proceeded to arrange his business fora removal to the metropolis. Arriving in London at the time appointed, he was sorely disappointed to find that neither house nor material was ready for him. His delinquent partner, who was a plausible fellow, contrived to satisfy him with his excuses, and even induced him to admit into the firm a type-founder on condition of his supplying them with the requisite amount of type. This tpye-' founder, however, furnished them only with refuse type, wholly unsuitcd to the purpose, which Ged rejected, to the great disgust of both his partners. Not discouraged, he next applied to the king's printers to know if they would take from him stereotyped plates of a certain excellent type which they had recently introduced. A day was appointed for Ged to lay before them in detail his plans and proposals. Before the day named for the interview, the king's printers very naturally consulted upon the subject the very type-founder who had furnished them with the admirable typo which had attracted God's attention. The type-founder as naturally pooh-poohed the new system ; indeed, laughed it to scorn, and said he would give the inventor fifty guineas if, in six months, he would make one page of the Bible by the new method, which would produce as good an impression as could be obtained from good type. The interview, however, occurred, and probably Gcd would have convinced the king's printers of the feasibility of his plans, but for the adverse opinion of an interested man. The printers told the inventor of the offer" of fifty guineas, and said that the gentleman who made it was then in the house : " Being called into our company," Mr. Ged relates, in a narrative dictated on his death-bed, after a long life of disappointment, " he bragged much of his great skill and knowledge in all the parts of mechanism, and particularly vaunted that he and hundreds beside himself could make plates to as great perfection as I could; which occasioned some heat in our conversation." The dispute was settled at last by a kind of wager. The type-founder and Gcd were each of them.to be furnished with a page of the Bible in type, and bring back within eight days a stereof yped plate of the same; and he who failed was to treat the whole company. An umpire was appointed—the foreman cf the king's printing house—and the parties separated. The result may best be given in Ged's own quaint language: " Next day about dinner time, each of us had a page sent us. I immediately after fell to work, and by five o' th' clock that same afternoon, I had finished three plates from that page, and caused to take impressions from them on paper, which I and partners carried directly to the king's printing house and showed them to said Mr. Gibb, the foreman, who would not believe but these impressions were taken from the type ; whereupon, I produced one of the plates, which, he said, was the types soldered together, and sawed through. To convince him of his mistake, I took that plate from him, and broke it before his face, then showed him another, which, made him cry out. He was surprised at my performance, and then called us to a bottle of wine ; when lie purposed I shoiiM take eleven pages more, to make up a form, that he might see how it answered the sheet-way." . Poor Ged had been only too successful; for the printers fancied they saw in this new invention the destruction of their business; and from this time, there appears to have been a tacit understanding among them that Ged and his scheme were to be frustrated. At the expiration of the eight days, the type-founder failed to keep his appointment, but had the honesty to send word that ho could not perform the thing himself, neither " could he get one of the hundreds he had spoken of to undertake it." The news of Ged's invention circulated in London, and specimens of his plates were handed about, till one of them fell 115 into the hands of the Earl of Macclesfield. This nobleman caused the partners to be informed, that the office of printer to the University of Cambridge was vacant, and that the heads of the University would be glad to receive them, and award them the privilege of printing Bibles and Prayer Books by the new process. This was joyful intelligence; but the too easy and credulous Ged was not the man to profit by it. Indeed, the opposition of the London printers was so general and so violent, that a stronger man than he might have struggled against it in vain. He now discovered that his partner, Fen-ner, was not possessed of capital, and they were obliged to admit a fourth partner, who afterwards boasted that he had joined the company for the sole purpose of destroying it. " As long as I am their letter-founder," said he to a leading printer, " they shall never hurt the trade, and it was for that reason I joined them. " The contract, however, was obtained from the University, and Ged went to Cambridge to superintend the work. But lie was utterly unable to contend against the opposition of the printers ; and the less, because he had not been bred a printer himself. His partners deceived and cheated him ; his colleague, the type-founder, sent him damaged and imperfect type. He sent to Holland for a supply. After two months they arrived, but they proved to be so incomplete that ?fin impression taken from them was little more than a page of blots. After struggling with difficulties of this nature for four or five yeavs without being able to complete the stereotyped plates for one Bible or Prayer Book, his patience was exhausted and he returned to Edinburgh, a ruined man. The , true cause of his failure was his extreme credulity, which was such as to disqualify him from- successfully dealing with men. At Edinburgh his friends, anxious that so valuable an invention should not be lost,_jnade a subscription to defray the expense W stereotyping one volume, and Ged apprenticed his son to a printer in order that he might not be dependent for the necessary assistance upon a hostile body. By the aid of his son, he completed plates for a Latin Sallust, which was printed in the year 1736, and copies ijf it are still preserved in Scotland as curiosities. As he was unable to procure the best tpye, this Sallust is not a very fine specimen of stereotyping ; but it is a convincing proof that William Ged had mastered the chief difficulties of the art, and that in more favorable circumstances he could have executed work which even at the present day would be considered creditable. The invention was never a source of profit to the inventor. By the time his son was a sufficiently good compositor to render him valuable aid, and just as they were to embark in business together, he was taken sick. He died in 1749. It is a proof of the simplicity of his character and of his faith in the value of his invention, that, though he had offers from Holland either to go thither px, sell his invention to Holland printers, he always refused. " I want," said he, " to serve my own country, and not to hurt it, as I must have done by enabling them to undersell by that advantage." After Ged's death, the secret slumbered till about the year 1795, when it was revived or rediscovered in Paris, and soon after brought to considerable perfection in England. At present the art of stereotyping has been brought to the point, that our daily newspapers, such as the Times, Herald, and Tribune, containing eight large pages, are stereotyped every night in from twenty to thirty-five minutes, and as many copies of the plates can be produced as may be desired.—New York Leclyer.
This article was originally published with the title "Inventor of Stereotyping—William Ged"