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FROM CADWALLADER COLDEN TO B. FRANKLIN.*
A New Method of Printing.
As the art of printing has, without question, been of very great use in advancing learning and knowledge, the abuse of it, as of all other good things, has likewise produced many inconveniences. The number of books printed on the same subject, most of which are nothing but unskilful and erroneous copies of good works, written only for ostentation of learning, or for sordid profit,
* This letter was first made public in the American Medical and Philosophical Register, a periodical work edited by Dr. David Hosack and Dr. John W. Francis. The first number of this journal appeared in July, 1810. It was continued for several years, and, although chiefly devoted to medical science and practice, it contains many valuable papers on other subjects, illustrative of the progress of knowledge in the United States, and proving the ability, learning, and research of the editors. It possesses a special interest for the general reader in the biographical sketches of eminent men, drawn from accurate and original materials, which are inserted in different parts. Among these is a spirited and well written memoir of Cadwallader Colden, from the pen of Dr. Francis, the more important as the author had access to a large collection of manuscript papers in possession of the Colden family.
Cadwallader Colden was born in Scotland, on the 17th of February, 1688. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh. He came over to Philadelphia in the year 1708, where he practised physic till 1715, when he made a voyage to Europe, but returned in 1718, and settled in the city of New York. He soon after relinquished the practice of physic, and entered upon a public career, holding successively the offices of surveyor-general of the province, master in chancery, member of the council, and lieutenant-governor. This last post he occupied for fifteen years, during a large part of which period the administration of the government devolved upon him, on account of the death or absence of the governors. "His political character was rendered very conspicuous by the firmness of his conduct during the violent commotions which preceded the Revolution. His administration is also rendered memorable among other things for several charters of incorporation for useful and benevolent purposes." He resided many years of his life at his place,
renders the path to knowledge very intricate and tedious. The reader who has no guide, and the greatest number have none, is lost in the wilderness of numberless books. He is most commonly led astray by the glaring appearances of title-pages and other artifices of the mystery of bookselling.
It is likewise a common complaint, that a poor author makes nothing near the profit that the bookseller does of his labor; and probably the more pains the author has taken, the more difficult the performance, and the more masterly it is done, the less profit to him; for the good books, like jewels, never lose their intrinsic value; yet they have fewer purchasers than Bristol stones, and the sale of them is slow.
called Coldenham, a few miles from Hudson's River, west of Newburg. He died at his seat on Long Island, September 28th, 1776, in the eightyninth year of his age.
"Though his principal attention," says Dr. Francis, "after the year 1760, was necessarily directed from philosophical to political matters, yet he maintained with great punctuality his literary correspondence, particularly with Linnæus of Upsal, Gronovius of Leyden, Dr. Porterfield and Dr. Whytt of Edinburgh, Dr. Fothergill and Mr. Collinson of London. There were also several communications on mathematical and astronomical subjects between him and the Earl of Macclesfield. With most of the eminent men of our own country he held an almost uninterrupted epistolary correspondence. Among them we may mention the names of Dr. Garden, Mr. J. Bartram, Dr. Douglass, Dr. John Bard, Dr. Samuel Bard, James Alexander, and Dr. Franklin. With Dr. Franklin in particular he was a constant and intimate correspondent, and they regularly communicated to each other their philosophical and physical discoveries, especially on electricity. In their letters are to be observed the first dawnings of many of those discoveries, which Dr. Franklin has communicated to the world, and which so much astonished and benefited mankind."
He wrote many treatises on medical, mathematical, and philosophical subjects, and also a well known "History of the Five Indian Nations." He left several manuscript papers, which are curious and valuable. He was particularly skilled in botany and the mathematical sciences. In short, for the great variety and extent of his learning, his unwearied research, his talents, and the public sphere which he filled, Cadwallader Colden may justly be placed in a high rank among the distinguished men of his time. - EDITOR.
As the lessening or removing of some of these inconveniences may be of use to the republic of letters, I hope to be excused in making the following attempt for that purpose, by proposing a new method of printing.
Let there be made of some hard metal, such as copper or brass, a number of types, or rather matrices, on the face of each of which, one letter of the alphabet is to be imprinted en creux, by a stamp, or such other method by which the matrices for founding of types are commonly made. They must be all of the same dimension, as to breadth and thickness, with that of types, but half their length seems sufficient. Their sides must be so equal and smooth as to leave no vacuity between them when joined. There must likewise be a sufficient number of each letter or character to compose at least one page in octavo of any book.
These matrices, I suppose, may be cast in a mould, or a plate of copper may be divided exactly into squares, and the letter or character be stamped into the middle of each square, and the squares afterwards cut asunder by a proper saw. The best method of making these will be easily discovered by those whose business it is to make founts for printing-types.
When a sufficient number of each letter and character is obtained, they are to be placed in the same manner the types are, when composed for printing, only that they must all stand directly as they are read, and as they will appear afterwards on the paper.
The composure of one page, after it is carefully corrected, is to be placed in a case or mould, fitted to it, of the length and breadth of the page, and of suchdepth as to cast a plate a quarter of an inch thick, which will perfectly represent a page composed in the common manner for printing.
As to the art of casting the plate perfect, founders
and type-makers must be consulted for the composition of the metal, and for the flux for running it clean. and clear, so that no vacuities be left; for which purpose, I am told that the funnel, by which the melted metal is poured in, being made large, and the filling it with the melted metal after the mould is full, are of use to make the letter everywhere full and complete. For, by the weight of the metal in the funnel, the liquid metal in the mould is pressed into every crevice. The funnel's extending the whole length of one of the sides. gives, likewise, free vent to the air.
Or, after a page shall be composed, as before mentioned, and the types and matrices well secured in a frame upon a strong plate, they may, by a screw, be pressed upon a sheet of melted lead, and thereby a plate of lead be procured, representing, as the former, a page composed of types for printing. Which of the methods are most practicable, artists can best determine.
After the page shall be thus formed, the matrices may be loosened and dispersed into their proper boxes, and may serve for as many other pages as types in common printing do.
When a number of pages, sufficient for a sheet, are thus made, they may be carried to any printing-press, and such a number of sheets as shall be thought proper be cast off, and then be laid by till more copies be wanted.
I choose an octavo page, because, if the page-title and page-number be left out, as likewise the directions and signatures at the foot of the page, by joining two · pages together, it may be made a quarto, or by joining four, a folio. Thus several editions, in octavo, quarto, and folio, may at once be made, to suit every buyer's humor.
The page-titles, number, and bottom signatures may
be cast in small moulds apart, and joined, as may be proper.
The most convenient size of a page is that of small paper, so as to fill it up, and to leave very little margin; then by adding the page-titles, or marginal notes, or notes at the bottom, all cast in frames separately, the large paper may be sufficiently filled.
I believe that this method of printing, every thing considered, will not be more chargeable than the common method. A thousand, or some thousands sometimes, of copies are cast off at once in the common method, and the paper and pressman's labor of what is not speedily sold may or must lie dead for some years; whereas, in this method, no more need be cast off at a time than may well be supposed to sell speedily. If I be not mistaken, the metal necessary for one sheet will not exceed the value of four hundred sheets of paper, and in the common method several hundred sheets lie useless for, sometimes, many years. If the book should not answer, there is a great loss in the paper; whereas the metal used in this method retains its intrinsic value.
I shall instance some of the advantages in this method, which induce me to communicate my thoughts to others.
1. An author by this means can secure the property of his own labor.
2. A correct edition is at all times secured, and therefore may be useful in the classics, trigonometrical tables, &c.
3. A weak and ignorant attempt on the same subject will be discouraged; for, as a new edition of a valuable book is continually secured, without any new expense, booksellers will not readily hazard the publishing of books of the same nature,