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The history of Carbon Paper!

Carbon paper is thin paper coated with a mixture of wax and pigment, that is used between two sheets of ordinary paper to make one or more copies of an original document.

When was it invented and why?

The exact origin of carbon paper is somewhat uncertain. The first documented use of the term "carbonated paper" was in 1806, when an Englishman, named Ralph Wedgwood, issued a patent for his "Stylographic Writer."

However, Pellegrino Turri had invented a typewriting machine in Italy by at least 1808, and since "black paper" was essential for the operation of his machine, he must have perfected his form of carbon paper at virtually the same time as Wedgwood, if not before (Adler, 1973).

Interestingly, both men invented their "carbon paper" as a means to an end; they were both trying to help blind people write through the use of a machine, and the "black paper" was really just a substitute for ink.

Quill

In its original form Wedgwood's "Stylographic Writer" was intended to help the blind write through the use of a metal stylus instead of a quill. A piece of paper soaked in printer's ink and dried, was then placed between two sheets of writing paper to transfer a copy onto the bottom sheet.

Horizontal metal wires on the writing-board acted as feeler-guides for the stylus and presumably helped the blind to write.

Although invented in 1803, the steel pen only became common around the middle of the 19 century; the quill was still in use at the end of the century, and remained the symbol of the handwriting age. First introduced in the laborious days of copying manuscripts in monasteries about the seventh century, the quill was the civilised world's writing tool for a thousand years or more.

A few years later, Wedgwood developed the idea into a method of making copies of private or business letters and other documents. These copies were made at the time of writing and relied on the ink-impregnated paper, which Wedgwood called "carbonated paper."

The writer wrote with a metal stylus on a sheet of paper thin enough to be transparent, using one of the carbon sheets so as to obtain a black copy on another sheet of paper placed underneath. This other sheet of paper was a good quality writing paper and the "copy" on it formed the original for sending out. The retained copy was in reverse on the underside of the transparent top sheet, but since the paper was very thin (what we know today as "tissue" paper) it could be read from the other side where it appeared the correct way round.

Eventually a company was formed to market Wedgwood's technique, but although the company prospered and many "Writers" were sold, Wedgwood's process was not adopted by many businesses. There was still plenty of time, money and labour to handle office work, and businessmen generally preferred their outgoing letters to be written in ink, fearing that such an easy copying process would result in wholesale forgery.

Method

In addition, unlike James Watt's copying method of 1780, which developed into the letter-copying book and became standard procedure in the 1870s, carbon copies were not admissible in court.

Despite a passionate past Pellegrino Turri had very personal reasons for developing carbon paper. He fell in love with a young woman, the Countess Carolina Fantoni, who had become blind "in the flower of her youth and beauty" (Adler, 1973), and Turri resolved to build her a machine that would enable her to correspond with her friends (including him) in private. Although the machine he constructed no longer exists, several of the Countess' letters do, and from her correspondence it is clear that Turri's machine combined carbon paperand the typewriter in a way that did not become prevalent for another 65 years.

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