Cowper, Edward (DNB00)

COWPER, EDWARD (1790–1852), inventor, was born in 1790. In 1816, when he described himself as of ‘St. Mary, Newington Butts, ironmonger and mechanist,’ he obtained a patent (No. 3974) under the title of ‘a method of printing paper for paper-hangings and other purposes,’ of which the chief feature consisted in curving stereotype plates and fixing them on cylinders for printing long rolls of paper. In 1818, styling himself as ‘of Nelson Square, printer,’ he patented (No. 4194) certain improvements in printing, which consisted of a method for a better distribution of the ink, and an improved manner of conveying the sheets from one cylinder to another. This was the origin of the ‘perfecting machine,’ which prints on both sides of the paper at once, and is the model on which the great majority of such machines are contrived down to the present day. In conjunction with the inking arrangement, it formed the first machine, as distinguished from a press, on which good bookwork could be executed. Cowper did not invent the soft composition for distributing the ink, which superseded the old pelt-balls in hand-presses, but devised the system of forming it into rollers. He went into partnership as a printer with his brother-in-law, Augustus Applegath; their business in Duke Street, Stamford Street, was afterwards taken over by William Clowes [q. v.], and they exclusively devoted themselves to machine-making. In 1827 they jointly invented the four-cylinder machine, which Applegath erected for the ‘Times,’ superseding Koenig's machine. The rate of printing was five thousand an hour, an enormous acceleration of speed. Until lately nearly all country newspapers were produced by machines of this design. For many years Edward was in partnership with his brother Ebenezer, and the machines of Messrs. E. & E. Cowper were widely used, not only in Great Britain, but throughout Europe. They also invented a cylinder card-printing machine. Towards the end of his life Edward Cowper was professor of manufacturing art and mechanics at King's College, London. His improvements were of extreme importance, and he may be said to have done for the printing machine what Watt did for the steam-engine. He was the improver, as Nicholson was the projector, and Koenig the first inventor, of the steam printing machine. He died at Kensington 17 Oct. 1852, in his sixty-third year. His brother Ebenezer, who was born in 1804, and died at Birmingham 17 Sept. 1880, aged 76, carried on the practical part of the business.

[Information from Mr. J. Southward; Paper on ‘Printing Machinery’ by E. A. Clowes, in Minutes of Inst. of Civil Engineers, lxxxix. pp. 242–84; Smiles's Men of Invention and Industry, 1884, pp. 178, 195, 209, 215; Athenæum,

23 Oct. 1852; Gent. Mag. 1852, pt. ii. pp. 647–8; Timperley's Encyclopædia, 1842, pp. 857, 867, 885; Description of Applegath and Cowper's Horizontal Machine and of Applegath's Vertical Machine for printing the Times, 1851, 8vo; Bohn's Pictorial Handbook of London, 1854, pp. 76, &c.; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iii. 485, vii. 153; Bigmore and Wyman's Bibliography of Printing, i. 14; Annual Register, 1880, p. 195.]

H. R. T.