Wedgwood, Ralph

Wedgwood, Ralph
SUBJECT AREA: Paper and printing
fl. late eighteenth/early nineteenth century London, England
English inventor of carbon paper.
Wedgwood was descended from Thomas Wedgwood, the father of Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of the famous pottery firm. In 1806, he patented an apparatus for making copies of handwritten documents, Wedgwood's Stylographic Writer. It was originally developed with the intention of helping the blind to write and had a metal stylus instead of a quill pen: a piece of paper that had been soaked in printer's ink and then dried was placed between two sheets of paper, and wires placed across the page guided the stylus in the hand of the blind writer.
A few years later Wedgwood developed this apparatus into a way of making a copy of a letter at the time of writing. He used impregnated paper, which he called carbonic or carbonated paper, the first known reference to carbon paper. It was placed between a sheet of good quality writing paper and one of thin, transparent paper. By writing with the stylus on the thin paper, a good copy appeared on the lower sheet, while a reverse copy appeared on the underside of the other, which could be read right way round through the transparent paper. In its final form, the Manifold Stylographic Writer was put on sale, elegantly presented between marbled covers. Eventually a company was established to make and sell the writer, and by 1818 it was in the name of Wedgwood's son, R.Wedgwood Jun. of Rathbone Place, Oxford Street, London. Many of the writers were sold, although they never came into general use in offices, which preferred battalions of Dickensian Bob Cratchits armed with quill pens. Wedgwood himself did not share in the family prosperity, for his pathetic letters to his daughter show that he had to hawk his apparatus to raise the price of his next meal.
Further Reading
W.B.Proudfoot, 1972, The Origin of Stencil Duplicating, London: Hutchinson.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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