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Was the First Cylinder Press Built in the United States?

Nicholsons press from Thomas History of Printing

Schematic of Nicholson's cylinder press from Nicholson's 1790 patent as published by Thomas in his History of Printing in the America (1810). Thomas would have been able to read Nicholson's patent from the text and plates printed in Repertory of Arts and Manufactures, Vol. 5, Number XXVII (1796) 145-170.


In his History of Printing in America (2 vols., Worcester, 1810, p. 219-220) American printer, publisher, and printing historian Isaiah Thomas wrote of a Dr. Kinsley building a cylinder press in Connecticut before Koenig developed his presses in England:

"Some years since doctor Kinsley, of Connecticut who possessed great mechanical ingenuity, produced, among other inventions a model of a cylindical letter press. It was a subject of much conversation among printers, but was never brought into use. The invention, however, did not originate with Kinsley. Cylindrical letter presses were invented in 1789, by William Nicholson, of London, who obtained a patent for them in 1790. Kinsley's model was from Nicholson's plan, with some variation. Nicholson placed his forms of types horizontally; Kinsley placed his perpendicularly; his method was not calculated for neat printing. Nicholson's presses were used, and, it is said, made excellent work. These presses require but one person to work them, who is able to perform as much or more work in a day than two at common presses. The workman applies a sheet of paper to the form, turns the cylinder by a handle, the impression is made; and, he has nothing more to do than to take off the printed sheet, and put on another white one, thus continuing to print. The form is blacked by the revolution of rollers, properly prepared for the purpose. For a description of these presses, see appendix and the plate, both of which are copied from the supplement of the Encyclopedia, vol. 3.

In the Appendix to volume 2 of his work, pp. 531-538, Thomas quotes from the "Encyclopedia" a rather full description of the operation of Nicholson's press, and reproduces a plate titled "Cylindrical Printing Presses, Invented by William Nickolson (sic), printer London."

Thomas's full description of the cylinder press shows that the concept would have been well-known to readers of his book in America. From his statement in vol. 1, pp. 219-220, it appears that Thomas understood the potential advantages in operation of the cylinder press; however he does not give any indication that any printing was actually done on Kinsley's cylinder press or that any other cylinder press was built in America up to 1810. From the quotation printed above Thomas appears to have understood that Nicholson actually built a press that was "used, and, it is said, made excellent work." None of the other references that I have read indicate that Nicholson ever made a working press. It is understood that Friedrich Koenig, inventor of the first power press, did read Nicholson's patent, and took Nicholson's ideas into account in building his first cylinder press.

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