Ged, William (DNB00)

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GED, WILLIAM (1690–1749), inventor of stereotyping, was born in Edinburgh in 1690, where he was subsequently a goldsmith and jeweller. Van der Mey of Leyden is credited with having in the sixteenth century produced a stereo block by simply soldering the bottoms of common types together. The expense connected with this method prevented its general adoption. The subject held the minds of printers until Ged took the matter actively in hand. In 1725 he took out a patent or privilege for a development of Van der Mey's method, which held the field until Carey of Paris supplied the idea of the matrix. At this period the best types were all imported from Holland at considerable cost, and only the coarser kinds were obtainable in London. In 1725 a printer asked Ged's opinion as to the feasibility of establishing a type-foundry in Edinburgh, and both agreed that if a cast could be taken from a made-up page of type, the inventors would realise a fortune. Ged made many experiments as to the best kind of metal, and at length decided on using a similar alloy to that employed in the manufacture of type. Clay and even copper were subsequently used by other experimenters. Ged succeeded in obtaining a fair cast of a page, thus producing a stereotype; but no Edinburgh printers would enter into the matter with him, and his endeavours to apply his invention were bitterly opposed by the compositors. Ged had to make his experiments in secret, assisted by subscriptions from friends and with the aid of his son James, who had been apprenticed to a printer. He tried his fortune in London, and made an arrangement with a stationer named William Fenner, and Thomas James, a typefounder, to start a partnership business. Ged accepted a challenge from a typefounder as to which of them should produce the best stereotype block in eight days from a page of bible type. Ged gained a signal victory, but he set all the typefounders, like the compositors, against him and his art. The Earl of Macclesfield procured for him a contract (dated 23 April 1731) for printing prayer-books and bibles for Cambridge University. Only two prayer-books were completed, and the lease was surrendered in 1738. Ged came to utter grief in London through the dishonesty of Fenner and the strength of trade jealousy. Driven back in 1733 to Scotland, he struggled further to establish his invention, but failed, and became broken-hearted. In 1739 he published at Edinburgh an edition of Sallust from stereotyped plates, prepared in 1736 (2nd edit. 1744). A page of these stereotypes belonged to Sir P. M. Threipland, bart., at Fingask Castle, Perthshire. But distrustful compositors, when setting up the type, introduced bad work purposely to bring Ged's plates into disrepute. Ged died in poverty 19 Oct. 1749, after his goods had been shipped at Leith for removal to London, where Ged desired to join his son James. James Ged was a Jacobite, was captain in the Duke of Perth's regiment in the '45 rebellion, and was taken at Carlisle, but was released in 1748. He afterwards tried anew to work his father's invention. But defeated at every point he emigrated to Jamaica, where his brother William (d. 1767) had set up as a printer. Subsequently, Andrew Wilson, the Earl of Stanhope's practical man, starting where Ged left off, worked out the plaster-of-Paris plan that preceded the papier-mâché system, which has established stereotyping in its present position. Ged's daughter, in a narrative of his career, said: ‘He had offers from Holland repeatedly, either to go over there or sell to the Dutch his invention, but he would not listen, as he maintained that he meant to serve his own country and not to hurt it, as handing over his invention to Holland must have done, enabling the Dutch to undersell England.’

[Narrative of Ged, written by his daughter; Nichols's Biographical Memoir of W. Ged, 1781; Wilson and Grey's Modern Printing Machinery.]

J. B-y.