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William Burn Invents the Rolling Press, the First Machine Used in Bookbinding

Rolling press from Zaehnsdorf, The Art of Bookbinding. 

Rolling press from Zaehnsdorf, The Art of Bookbinding. 

In 1827 London bookbinder William Burn received the Silver Vulcan Medal from the the Society of Arts for his invention of the Rolling Press for Bookbinders. Remarkably this was the first machine that was adopted into the bookbinding trade, a hand-craft that was very gradually mechanized after printing and paper-making. The purpose of the rolling press was to flatten and consolidate the folded sheets before they were sewn into a book. Up to this time this process had been done by workmen hammering the sheets with a fourteen-pound beating hammer --a monotonous, strenuous, and time-consuming job. 

"Among other books that were pressed in the presence of the Committee was a minion Bible, which was passed through the press in one minute whereas the time needed to beat the same would have been twenty minutes. It is not, however, merely a saving of time that is gained by the use of the rolling press; the paper is made smoother than it would have been by beating, and the compression is so much greater, that a rolled book, will be reduced to about five sixths of the same book if beaten....

"By 1830 every shop of any sized used the Rolling Press and as a consequence twenty-five men previously engaged on Bible Society and S.P.C.K. were thrown out of employment. Humble Memorials and Petitions were addressed to the Noblemen, Gentlemen and Clergy 'not to let its destructive effects operate any longer against us.' But the Noblemen, Gentlemen and Clergy, scenting further price cuts, held their peace and the grumbling of alarmed workers slowly subsided. The Rolling Press had come to stay and twenty-five years later, the catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851 gave it pride of place in the Judges' Survey of Binding Trade innovations" (Darley, Bookbinding Then and Now [1959] 31-33).

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