They’d gone about as far as they could go with mechanized flat-bed printing by 1849. The weight of the formes of type and the metal bed on which they were locked were so great in the reciprocal machines then in use , that shuttling them back and forth below the impression cylinders created such force, that in order to stop the whole shebang continuing outwards, killing the operators and demolishing the walls of the printing house, the speed at which The Times could operate the equipment had to be dialed back to 5,000 impressions an hour.

Koenig's reciprocating steam press

Koenig’s reciprocating steam press









Already before the end of the 18th century the idea of wrapping the type round a cylinder to eliminate the wasted back and forth motion had been suggested, the method incorporating types bevelled at the bottom so they’d splay outwards to create a curved surface. Gravity and centrifugal force defeated the plan though as the types would persist in falling onto the floor whenever it was their turn to be at the bottom of the cylinder. Stepney born Augustus Applegath (1788-1871) overcame this difficulty by making his cylinders vertical and bolting four formes around part of the 5 foot 4 inch circumference drum. The surface was thus like the old polygonal thrupenny bit, not a smooth curve, but a series of straight lines each at an angle to its neighbor, mimicking a curve. At The Times there were four of these cylinders and around each were multiple impression cylinders. In the gaps between impressions the inking would be replenished. The Times was able to run this machine at 10,800 impressions an hour. It could have run a bit faster, but loading paper and removing printed sheets became the limiting factor. (Truly curved type plates had to await the development of stereotyping, based upon the use of papier-mâché.)

In the picture below the type formes can be seen in the middle between the two paper delivery (top) and removal (bottom) stations which we can see. There could be up to ten of these. The sheet, printed one side only, can be seen hanging next to the impression cylinder in these stations about to fall forward onto the heap of printed sheets.


A relatively small Applegath Vertical on show at The Great Exhibition

Mr Applegath’s machine was on show at the Great Exhibition in 1851 at The Illustrated London News’ stand, where souvenirs were printed for the amazed visitors. Ironically Thomas Nelson of Edinburgh also displayed at the Great Exhibition their stereotype-based web-fed perfecting press — the next step up in the speed stakes. Nelson declined to patent this technology: an early believer in open-access.




These illustrations of the Applegath machine come from Paul Fyfe’s paper “Great Exhibition of Printing” in Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens. 84, 2016.