Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. E. C. Stedman and G. E. Woodberry), “Anastatic Printing,” The Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Eureka & Misc. (1895), 9:279-285


[page 279:]


IT is admitted by every one that of late there has been a rather singular invention, called Anastatic Printing, and that this invention may possibly lead, in the course of time, to some rather remarkable results — among which the one chiefly insisted upon, is the abolition of the ordinary stereotyping process: — but this seems to be the amount, in America at least, of distinct understanding on this subject.

“There is no exquisite beauty,” says Bacon, “without some strangeness in the proportions.” The philosopher had reference, here, to beauty in its common acceptation; but the remark is equally applicable to all the forms of beauty — that is to say, to everything which arouses profound interest in the heart or intellect of man. In every such thing, strangeness — in other words novelty — will be found a principal element; and so universal is this law that it has no exception even in the case of this principal element itself. Nothing, unless it be novel — not even novelty itself — will be the source of very intense excitement among men. Thus the ennyue who travels in the hope of dissipating his ennui by the perpetual succession of novelties, will invariably be disappointed in the end. He receives the impression of novelty so continuously that it is at length no novelty to receive it. And the man, in general, of the nineteenth [page 280:] century — more especially of our own particular epoch of it — is very much in the predicament of the traveller in question. We are so habituated to new inventions, that we no longer get from newness the vivid interest which should appertain to the new — and no example could be adduced more distinctly showing that the mere importance of a novelty will not suffice to gain for it universal attention, than we find in the invention of Anastatic Printing. It excites not one fiftieth part of the comment which was excited by the comparatively frivolous invention of Sennefelder; — but he lived in the good old days when a novelty was novel. Nevertheless, while Lithography opened the way for a very agreeable pastime, it is the province of Anastatic Printing to revolutionize the world.

By means of this discovery anything written, drawn, or printed, can be made to stereotype itself, with absolute accuracy, in five minutes.

Let us take, for example, a page of this Journal; supposing only one side of the leaf to have printing on it. We dampen the leaf with a certain acid diluted, and then place it between two leaves of blotting-paper to absorb superfluous moisture. We then place the printed side in contact with a zinc plate that lies on the table. The acid in the interspaces between the letters, immediately corrodes the zinc, but the acid on the letters themselves, has no such effect, having been neutralized by the ink. Removing the leaf at the end of five minutes, we find a reversed copy, in slight relief, of the printing on the page; — in other words, we have a stereotype-plate, from which we can print a vast number of absolute facsimiles of the original printed page — which latter has not been at all injured in the process — that is to [page 281:] say, we can still produce from it (or from any impression of the stereotype plate) new stereotype plates ad libitum. Any engraving, or any pen-and-ink drawing, or any MS. can be stereotyped in precisely the same manner.

The facts of the invention are established. The process is in successful operation both in London and Paris. We have seen several specimens of printing done from the plates described, and have now lying before us a leaf (from the London Art-Union) covered with drawing, MS., letter-press, and impressions from wood-cuts, -the whole printed from the Anastatic stereotypes, and warranted by the Art-Union to be absolute fac-similes of the originals.

The process can scarcely be regarded as a new invention, — and appears to be rather the modification and successful application of two or three previously ascertained principles -those of etching, electrography, lithography, etc. It follows from this that there will be much difficulty in establishing or maintaining a right of patent, and the probability is that the benefits of the process will soon be thrown open to the world. As to the secret — it can only be a secret in name.

That the discovery (if we may so call it) has been made can excite no surprise in any thinking person — the only matter for surprise is, that it has not been made many years ago. The obviousness of the process, however, in no degree lessens its importance. Indeed its inevitable results enkindle the imagination, and embarrass the understanding.

Every one will perceive, at once, that the ordinary process of stereotyping will be abolished. Through this ordinary process, a publisher, to be sure, is enabled [page 282:] to keep on hand the means of producing edition after edition of any work the certainty of whose sale will justify the cost of stereotyping — which is trifling in comparison with that of re-setting the matter. But still, positively, this cost (of stereotyping) is great. Moreover, there cannot always be certainty about sales. Publishers frequently are forced to reset works which they have neglected to stereotype, thinking them unworthy the expense; and many excellent works are not published at all, because small editions do not pay, and the anticipated sales will not warrant the cost of stereotype. Some of these difficulties will be at once remedied by the Anastatic Printing, and all will be remedied in a brief time. A publisher has only to print as many copies as are immediately demanded. He need print no more than a dozen, indeed, unless he feels perfectly confident of success. Preserving one copy, he can from this, at no other cost than that of the zinc, produce with any desirable rapidity, as many impressions as he may think proper. Some idea of the advantages thus accruing may be gleaned from the fact that in several of the London publishing warehouses there is deposited in stereotype plates alone, property to the amount of a million sterling.

The next view of the case, in point of obviousness, is, that, if necessary, a hundred thousand impressions per hour, or even infinitely more, can be taken of any newspaper, or similar publication. As many presses can be put in operation as the occasion may require: — indeed there can be no limit to the number of copies producible, provided we have no limit to the number of presses.

The tendency of all this to cheapen information, to [page 283:] diffuse knowledge and amusement, and to bring before the public the very class of works which are most valuable, but least in circulation on account of unsaleability — is what need scarcely be suggested to any one. But benefits such as these are merely the immediate and most obvious — by no means the most important.

For some years, perhaps, the strong spirit of conventionality — of conservatism — will induce authors in general to have recourse, as usual, to the setting of type. A printed book, now, is more sightly, and more legible, than any MS. and for some years the idea will not be overthrown that this state of things is one of necessity. But by degrees it will be remembered that, while MS. was a necessity, men wrote after such fashion that no books printed in modern times have surpassed their MSS. either in accuracy or in beauty. This consideration will lead to the cultivation of a neat and distinct style of handwriting — for authors will perceive the immense advantage of giving their own manuscripts directly to the public without the expensive interference of the type-setter, and the often ruinous intervention of the publisher. All that a man of letters need do, will be to pay some attention to legibility of MS., arrange his pages to suit himself, and stereotype them instantaneously, as arranged. He may intersperse them with his own drawings, or with anything to please his own fancy, in the certainty of being fairly brought before his readers, with all the freshness of his original conception about him.

And at this point we are arrested by a consideration of infinite moment, although of a seemingly shadowy character. The cultivation of accuracy in manuscript [page 284:] thus enforced, will tend with an inevitable impetus to every species of improvement in style — more especially in the points of concision and distinctness- and this again, in a degree even more noticeable, to precision of thought, and luminous arrangement of matter. There is a very peculiar and easily intelligible reciprocal influence between the thing written and the manner of writing — but the latter has the predominant influence of the two. The more remote effect on philosophy at large, which will inevitably result from improvement of style and thought in the points of concision, distinctness, and accuracy, need only be suggested to be conceived.

As a consequence of attention being directed to neatness and beauty of MS., the antique profession of the scribe will be revived, affording abundant employment to women — their delicacy of organization fitting them peculiarly for such tasks. The female amanuensis, indeed, will occupy very nearly the position of the present male type-setter, whose industry will be diverted perforce into other channels.

These considerations are of vital importance — but there is yet one beyond them all. The value of every book is a compound of its literary value and its physical or mechanical value as the product of physical labor applied to the physical material. But at present the latter value immensely predominates, even in the works of the most esteemed authors. It will be seen, however, that the new condition of things will at once give the ascendency to the literary value, and thus by their literary values will books come to be estimated among men. The wealthy gentleman of elegant leisure will lose the vantage-ground now afforded him, and will be forced to tilt on terms of [page 285:] equality with the poor devil author. At present the literary world is a species of anomalous Congress, in which the majority of the members are constrained to listen in silence while all the eloquence proceeds from a privileged few. In the new regime, the humblest will speak as often and as freely as the most exalted, and will be sure of receiving just that amount of attention which the intrinsic merit of their speeches may deserve.

From what we have said it will be evident that the discovery of Anastatic Printing will not only not obviate the necessity of copy-right laws, and of international law in especial, but will render this necessity more imperative and more apparent. It has been shown that in depressing the value of the physique of a, book, the invention will proportionately elevate the value of its morale, and since it is the latter value alone which the copy-right laws are needed to protect, the necessity of the protection will be only the more urgent and more obvious than ever.






[S:0 - SW94, 1895] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Anastatic Printing (Stedman and Woodberry, 1895)