Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tilloch, Alexander
TILLOCH, ALEXANDER (1759–1825), inventor of stereotyping, son of John Tilloch, a tobacco merchant and magistrate of Glasgow, was born in that city on 28 Feb. 1759. Alexander, who changed his surname to Tilloch soon after 1787, was educated at Glasgow University, and early turned his attention to the art of printing. In 1781 he began a course of experiments which resulted in the revival, or rather rediscovery, of the art of stereotyping. As early as 1725 William Ged [q. v.] had obtained a privilege for a development of Van der Mey's process, but was prevented from establishing his invention by trade jealousy. Tilloch, unaware of Ged's previous achievements, brought his process to a state of comparative perfection in 1782, and, not being bred a printer himself, had recourse to the assistance of Andrew Foulis the younger, printer to the university of Glasgow. On 28 April 1784 they took out a joint patent for England (No. 1431) for ‘printing books from plates instead of movable types,’ and another for Scotland about the same time. After printing several small volumes from the plates, they were compelled to lay aside the business for a time, and circumstances prevented them renewing it. The art underwent rapid improvement, so that, though Tilloch's patent remained unimpeached, it proved of little pecuniary value (see Wilson, Andrew; cf. ‘A brief Account of the Origin and Progress of Letterpress-plate or Stereotype Printing,’ by A. T[illoch], in the Philosophical Mag. 1801, x. 267–77). From Tilloch Charles Stanhope, third earl Stanhope [q. v.], derived much of his knowledge of the process of making stereotype plates.
In 1787 Tilloch removed to London, and in 1789, in connection with others, purchased the ‘Star,’ an evening daily paper, of which he remained editor until 1821. Towards the close of the eighteenth century the practice of forging bank of England notes was extremely common, and to remedy this Tilloch in 1790 laid before the British ministry a mode of printing which would render forgery impossible. Receiving no encouragement, he brought his process before the notice of the Commission d'Assignats at Paris, the members of which were anxious to adopt it, but were hindered by the outbreak of the war and the passing of the treasonable correspondence bill. In 1797 he submitted to the bank of England a specimen of a note engraved after his plan, accompanied by a certificate signed by Francesco Bartolozzi [q. v.], Wilson Lowry [q. v.], William Sharp (1749–1824) [q. v.], and other eminent engravers, to the effect that they did not believe it could be copied by any of the known arts of engraving. He could not, however, persuade the authorities to accept it, though in 1810 they adopted the process of Augustus Applegath, which Tilloch claimed in 1820, in a petition to parliament, to be virtually his own.
In 1797 he projected and established the ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ a journal devoted to the consideration of scientific subjects, and more especially intended for the publication of new discoveries and inventions. He devoted much of his time to the conduct of the magazine, of which he remained sole proprietor until 1822, when Richard Taylor [q. v.] became associated with him. The only previous journal of this nature in London was the ‘Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts,’ founded by William Nicholson (1753–1815) [q. v.] in 1797. It was incorporated with Tilloch's ‘Magazine’ in 1802.
On 20 Aug. 1808 Tilloch took out a patent (No. 3161) for ‘apparatus to be employed as a moving power to drive machinery and mill work.’ In later life he devoted much attention to the subject of scriptural prophecy, and, having joined the Sandemanians, occasionally preached to a congregation in Goswell Street. He did not, however, entirely lose his interest in physical science, for on 11 Jan. 1825 he took out a patent (No. 5066) for improvements in the ‘steam engine or apparatus connected therewith,’ and it is stated that the engineer, Arthur Woolf [q. v.], was considerably indebted to his suggestions. Tilloch was a member of numerous learned societies at home and on the continent, among others of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries, and of the Regia Academia Scientiarum at Munich. He collected manuscripts, coins, and medals, of which he left a considerable number.
He died in Barnsbury Street, Islington, on 26 Jan. 1825. His wife, Elizabeth Simpson, died in 1783, leaving one daughter, Elizabeth, who married John Galt [q. v.], the novelist.
Tilloch was the author of:
- ‘Dissertation on the opening of the Sealed Book,’ Arbroath, 8vo; 2nd edit. Perth, 1852; printed from a series of papers published in the ‘Star’ in 1808–9, signed ‘Biblicus.’ From the introduction it appears that the papers were intended to deal with the whole book of Revelation, but the subject was carried no further than the opening of the seals and the sounding of the first five trumpets (Notes and Queries, v. vii. 206).
- ‘Dissertations introductory to the Study and right Understanding of the Apocalypse,’ London, 1823, 8vo. Tilloch also edited the ‘Mechanic's Oracle,’ commenced in July 1824 and discontinued soon after his death.
A portrait of Tilloch, engraved by James Thomson from a painting by Frazer, was published in 1825 in the last number of the ‘Mechanic's Oracle,’ with a memoir reprinted from the ‘Imperial Magazine.’
[Imperial Mag. 1825, pp. 208–22; Literary Chronicle, 1825, p. 141; Annual Biogr. and Obituary, 1826, pp. 320–34; Gent. Mag. 1825, i. 276–81; Engl. Cyclop. Biogr. vi. 63; Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1863; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.]