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
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,
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
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
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.
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.