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Jacob Perkins And His Patent For Steel Softening

 
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Valued Member
New Zealand
27 Posts
Posted 05/10/2020   05:06 am  Show Profile Bookmark this topic Add indigo to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
Jacob Perkins was the inventor of the method of softening steel for engraving, then re-hardening it. He moved to England in 1819 and was granted a patent for his technique. Wikipedia lists his patent as:

GB 4400/1819. Machinery and implements applicable to ornamental turning and engraving, transferring engraved or other work from the surface of one to another piece of metal, and forming metallic dies and matrices; construction of plates and presses for printing bank-notes and other papers; making dies and presses for coining money, stamping medals, and for other purposes. 11 October 1819

As far as I can tell, patents in that time were only valid for 14 years. So I don't understand why his firm, Perkins Bacon, seemed to have a monopoly on this process for stamp production in the 1840s and 1850s. Surely his patent would have expired years previously and rivals would have set up with similar processes?

If anyone has any information, or even guesses, I would be grateful for a reference. In fact, I can't see the original patent or its accompanying drawings so if anyone has these, I would also be interested.
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Valued Member
239 Posts
Posted 05/10/2020   05:52 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add NSK to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Stanley Gibbons writes that the firm had in use a machine known as the "Rose" engine invented by Mr. Perkins. This made the complicated backgrounds for banknotes. As the authorities were concerned about counterfeiting of stamps, this may have been decisive in granting the company the contract for printing postage stamps.

The Penny Black was printed from 11 plates. The first plate gas the varieties 1a and 1b. Plate 1 had not been hardened. This caused wear and led to the hardening of the plate. It was withdrawn and repaired. The repaired plate is known as plate 1b.

Also, in the 1840s and 1850s, there was still a British Empire where much was decided in London. Perkins was chosen to print the first stamps for Great Britain. Perkins certainly did not have a monopoly on printing stamps outside the Empire. The first Bavarian stamp was printed at Weiss - if I am not mistaken - and the first Dutch stamps were printed at the Royal Mint of the Netherlands. I doubt Perkins was considered in either case.

It might, therefore, be mostly circumstancial.
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Pillar Of The Community
United States
1386 Posts
Posted 05/10/2020   11:01 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add cjpalermo1964 to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Patent term was a fluid concept in 1819. Extensions could be granted by the Crown (and were) to favoured persons. The Patent Act of 1852 reorganized and rationalized the system as a defined bureaucracy, and also further extended the term of prior patents subject to payment of stamp taxes. I am checking with patent law colleagues in the UK on whether a standard reference work explores the legal details.
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Pillar Of The Community
United States
4046 Posts
Posted 05/11/2020   03:55 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add ikeyPikey to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
... Surely ... rivals would have set up with similar processes? ...


The patent is for a method; rivals would still have had to invest time & materials & money to develop & perfect that same (or equivalent) method.

And, we're talking metallurgy, where there is a lot of devil in the details.

One example (with which I am familiar) is thin (more like ultra-thin) mirrors. If you just grind the shape you want, and polish it, and anneal it, you don't get the shape you want. The expertise comes in knowing how to grind the mirror & polish the mirror with an error so that, when you anneal the mirror, you get the shape your customer is paying for. Getting the error right requires a lot of trial & error and, as above, time & materials & money.

And, in the case of the banknotes business, on spec.

Cheers,

/s/ ikeyPikey
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Valued Member
New Zealand
27 Posts
Posted 05/11/2020   06:46 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add indigo to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Thank you to everyone who has replied. I appreciate the ideas and advice. I still find it hard to imagine whether the scenario in London of the 1860s was that rivals were prohibited by patent exclusion from doing the whole decarbonise - transfer - reharden thing or whether, as suggested, it was just that Perkins Bacon had such a head start and were just so *good* at it that nobody else could compete.
I need to chat to a 180-year-old with a good memory!
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Posted 05/11/2020   07:32 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add NSK to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
were they so good? In 1855, the contract for printing British stamps with a face value over 2d. was awarded to De La Rue. Perkins continued to print the values up to 2d, that had old designs.
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Valued Member
Canada
66 Posts
Posted 06/01/2020   12:30 am  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add canadian to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
indigo: please check your email for my comments on the question you posed.
cNA
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Valued Member
New Zealand
27 Posts
Posted 06/01/2020   6:00 pm  Show Profile Bookmark this reply Add indigo to your friends list  Get a Link to this Reply
Thank you, canadian, for your comments. The closest I can get to the patent by Jacob Perkins is the transcription of it on pages 84 and 85 of "Postage Stamps in the Making" by Fred Melville, 1916. Melville discusses Perkins' process of decarbonating (his term) steel to soften it for engraving. Melville says:

"Although the method was first described in England by Mr. Joseph C. Dyer, of Boston, Mass., when in London in 1810 (Specification No. 3385), along with other inventions stated to be the result of many years' labour, perseverance, and study by Jacob Perkins we give Perkins' own (and later) description of the method by which he treated the steel:"

Melville goes on to quote directly from Perkins' patent and I will give just the first part of that quote as it is quite long.

"In order to decarbonate the surfaces of cast-steel plates, cylinders or dies, by which they are rendered much softer and fit for transferring or engraving designs thereon, I find that pure iron filings, divested of all foreign or extraneous matters, produce the softest decarbonated surface, and therefore I use iron filings as pure and as free from rust as I can obtain them. I also carefully exclude all carbonaceous matter, and any substance from which carbon can be obtained. The stratum of decarbonated steel should not be too thick for transferring fine and delicate engravings; for instance not more than three times the depth of the engraving. The surface of the steel may be decarbonated to any required thickness. To decarbonate it to a proper thickness for fine engravings I expose it for four hours to a white heat, enclosed in a cast-iron boxwith a well-closed lid. The sides of the cast-iron box I make at least three-quarters of an inch in thickness, and at least a thickness of half an inch of pure iron filings should cover or surround the cast-steel surface to be decarbonated. The box should be suffered to cool very slowly, which may be effected by shutting off all access of air to the furnace, and covering it with a layer of six or eight inches in thickness of fine cinders. Each side of the steel plate, sylinder, or die, must be equally decarbonated, to prevent it from springing or warping in hardening. I also find it much the safest way to heat the plates, cylinders, or dies, in a vertical position. I make use of good cast steel in preference to any other sort of steel for the purpose of making plates, cylinders, circular or other dies, and more especially when such plates, cylinders or dies are intended to be decarbonated. For the reason given above, the steel is decarbonated solely for the purpose of rendering it sufficiently soft for receiving any impression intended to be made thereon. It is, therefore, necessary that any piece of steel, whether in the shape of an engraved plate or a cylinder or a die, with engraved or other figures upon its surface, should be again carbonated or reconverted into steel capable of being hardened."

So in Perkins' own words, that was his invention whereby artists could engrave steel as readily as copper, after it had been softened, or "decarbonated".

There are six illustrations attached to this original patent, but they are not covered in Melville's book.

I also note the comments about the supply of steel by John Sellers and I will see what I can find about him.

From Melville's book, here is a photo of where Perkins must have carried out all these wonderful processes.

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