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Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf

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Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf (1738-1815) was a German-born, French-naturalized industrialist. He became famous for founding the royal manufacture of printed cottons of Jouy-en-Josas, where the toile de Jouy was manufactured.

1738 Born 11 June 1738 in Wiesenbach.

1815 Died in Jouy-en-Josas (now Yvelines).

For more biographical information see Wikipedia entry.

Oberkampf went to France at the age of 18, and subsequently built up the largest factory producing printed textiles in Europe. His first printing workshop was founded in 1760. At the beginning of the 19th century, the factory at Jouy was at the cutting edge in applied chemistry (dyeing and bleaching with chlorine) and in the mechanization of the printing process, Oberkampf having introduced copper-plate printing, invented in England. Oberkampf died in 1815 and the factory was sold in 1821. Oberkampf commissioned painters and artists to stimulate innovation in design.[1]

Oberkampf had evidently been widely credited with the invention of cylinder printing, but this misapprehension seems to have generally been abandoned. James Sheridan Muspratt took strong exception to the claim, and his response[2] is reproduced below, as it has historical interest beyond the work of Oberkampf:-

'Cylinder Printing. — The introduction of the copper cylinder, engraved in the manner of the flat plates, by which it was evidently suggested, formed, as already remarked, by far the most important improvement ever effected in the art of calico-printing. It has also been stated — page 568 — that this invention is claimed to have been first made by a calico-printer named Oberkampf, at Jouy, in France, but was afterwards independently discovered by a Scotchman of the name of Bell [Thomas Bell], and was first successfully applied in Lancashire about the year 1785, by the house of Livesey, Hargreaves, and Company. The latter part of this statement is quite correct ; but Oberkampf’s claim to be the first inventor of the cylinder, although it will be found acknowledged in all the works on calico-printing, is really without foundation. Indeed it must appear remarkable and unaccountable, even on a prima facie view of the case, that if so important a discovery was first made in France, at any time prior to the year 1785, its successful application should not have been achieved in that country till many years after it was firmly established in England — not indeed till the beginning of the present century. The simple truth of the matter is, as now clearly established on incontestable evidence, and admitted by M. Persoz himself, that Oberkampf imported the engraved cylinder from England, and first introduced it at his establishment at Jouy in 1800. M. Dollfus Gontard, an eminent French printer, in a letter addressed by him to M. Huguenin Cornetz [see Huguenin et Ducommun ] of Mulhouse, distinctly states that Oberkampf was the first person in France who used the engraved cylinder, and that he was indebted for all the details of the invention, and all the machinery connected with it, to an English mechanic, who remained fifteen or eighteen years attached to his establishment. The name of this English mechanic is given by the writer of the letter in question as M. Handrés, probably a French corruption for Andrews, or some similar name. M. Gontard affirms that Oberkampf’s first productions in this kind of printing appeared in 1800, and adds that in 1801, and the five following years, the demand for these productions, though limited to one color, and the simple mignonette pattern, was immense. Ebingre, another calico-printer, who had been formerly a workman in Oberkampf’s establishment, discovered the secrets of the new process through some of his old associates still employed there, and, in conjunction with a person of great mechanical genius named Lefevre, erected in his own establishment machines on the same principle, which afterwards came into pretty general use.

'Such was the history of the introduction of cylinder-printing into France, from which it appears that Oberkampf has no claim whatever to the invention ; and this is even admitted by the very terms in which his title to it is asserted by the French writers ; for all agree in dating it no further back than the beginning of the present century, when cylinder-printing had already been successfully carried on in England for a period of at least fifteen years. For example, in a French work, entitled Elementary Lessons in Chemistry, which was published at Rouen in 1839, it is stated that prior to the year 1801, the calico-printers had only two methods of printing, the hand-block and the flat plate ; but at this period the celebrated Oberkampf, of Jouy, attempted in his fine printing establishment, so long without a rival, to print with engraved copper cylinders. This new method, continues the French writer, which the Manchester printers were not long in adopting and improving, so as to render it at once simple and expeditious, produced a revolution in the art, the effects of which were incalculable. This account of the case is simply amusing, and would indeed have been scarcely worth refuting, had it not been taken up and repeated, so far as regards the ascription of the first invention of the system to Oberkampf, even by English writers, who knew and stated at the same time that the method was practised in England with complete success so early as in 1785.

'With regard to the actual invention of the system, this must be referred to a date still earlier. Pope, in his Manual of Discoveries, states that, in 1770, Messrs. Charles Tayler and Thomas Walker, of Manchester, printed fabrics with wooden cylinders, on which the designs were engraved in intaglio. Persoz considers it more than probable that these cylinders were formed, not of wood, but of copper plates bent round, and soldered at the edges. On the other hand, it may be doubted whether they were not constructed of wood, but cut in relief like the common block, which seems to be the method that would have most naturally suggested itself in connection with the idea of a cylinder at that period. At the same time, it is quite possible that this may have been, as Persoz conceives, the first attempt to apply the invention of Bell, and that, having proved a failure in the first instance, from certain defects of construction, it was only applied with success in 1785.

'The Editor has been thus minute and particular in stating these facts, because it has been usual to ascribe to Oberkampf the principal merit of this important invention ; a merit to which it appears, even on the authority of French writers themselves, that he has not the shadow of a claim, even as a second and independent discoverer. Cylinder-printing is purely a British invention, and the entire and undivided honor of the discovery must be given to Bell.

'Engraving the Cylinders . — It has been stated that the first cylinders were formed of plates of copper bent round into a cylindrical form, and soldered at the edges. It is evident that to engrave such cylinders all over with the multitude of minute figures which exist in many patterns, must have been a work of great labour, difficulty, and expense. The cylinders, which vary in length from thirty to forty inches, and in diameter from four to twelve inches, are now turned from a solid piece of metal, accurately bored through the axis ; and instead of engraving the entire surface by hand, the pattern is impressed upon them by a most ingenious transferring process, which greatly diminishes the expense. This process is so well described by Baines, that we cannot do better than give it in the words of that writer : —

'The principle of this invention, says Baines, is the same which Mr. Jacob Perkins applied to the multiplication of plates for the printing of bank notes, and Mr. Perkins has the reputation of being its inventor ; but the process had been practised in Manchester some years before he came from America to settle in London. Mr. Joseph Lockett, engraver for calico printers in Manchester, introduced this system about the year 1808 ; he may be considered as at least one of the inventors, and he certainly did more than any other person to perfect it. The method of transferring is as follows : — The pattern intended to be engraved is so arranged in the first place by a drawing made to agree with the circumference of the copper cylinder, as that it will join and appear continuous when repeated. This is then carefully followed by the engraver, and cut or sunk on a small steel cylinder, about three inches long and one thick, so softened or decarbonized as to admit of being easily cut. The steel is then tempered or hardened, and by means of pressure against another cylinder of softened steel, a facsimile is made in relief, that is, raised upon the surface. The second cylinder is then hardened in the same way, and it becomes hard enough to impress the whole engraving, even to the most delicate lines, on the copper cylinder, when pressed against it in a machine. The small cylinder originally engraved is called the die; the second cylinder, which is in relief, is called the mill. The latter is successively applied to the whole circumference of the copper cylinder, which is thus entirely covered with the pattern, as finely wrought as if it had been directly produced by the tool of the engraver. The surface of the die originally engraved is not more than about one-fiftieth part of the surface of the copper cylinder, and the engraving itself is therefore multiplied fifty-fold. By this means the most delicate designs, which would occupy an engraver many months to effect by hand, can be completed in a few days ; of course the cylinders are produced at a much less price, and they may be executed in a very superior manner. Should the copper cylinder be so far worn as to require the pattern to be re-engraved, it can be done by the same process with amazing rapidity, and at a very trifling cost, as the mill is already prepared.

'The annexed engraving —......

'Sometimes the die is cut on a flat surface, and the pattern transferred in relief to the mill by a suitable mechanism. In other cases the die is cylindrical, and the mill flat. The pattern is also sometimes produced by etching, in which case the polished cylinder having been heated, is covered with a thin coat of varnish, such as is used by historical engravers. The pattern is then traced on the cylinder with a diamond or steel point, and aquafortis is afterwards applied to the surface, by which the parts exposed become corroded or engraved. A complicated and ingenious system of tracing-machinery, invented by Mr. Lockett of Manchester, is capable, like the kaleidoscope, of producing an endless variety of patterns, which have the advantage at the same time of not being dependent on mere accident for the changes evolved. Eccentrically engraved cylinders, covered with a ground-work for patterns of great variety and beauty, are largely exported from Manchester, and the foreign printer adds the pattern to suit the taste of his customers. The electrotype has also been used for producing the design on the printing cylinder, but not hitherto with much success.

'The English calico-printers possess a great advantage over their foreign competitors from the cheapness of engraving in this country, and the variety of patterns they can command. The English engraved copper roller is the best produced, and is an article of export to all parts of the world where printing is earned on. The French, with all their neat-handedness and ingenuity, says Dr. Ure, can produce nothing approaching in excellence to the engraved cylinders of Manchester —-a painful admission, he adds, universally made to him by every eminent manufacturer in Alsace, whom he visited on a tour through that flourishing department. Copper rollers form a very important item of investment in the printer’s capital, some of the larger print-houses holding stocks of engraved rollers valued by them in varying sums from £50,000 downwards. The value of one of these cylinders before engraving varies from £5 to £7, and the cost of engraving from £5 to £10. The engraving affords employment to a large number of skilled hands, capable of producing every variety of effect, equal to any efforts from the burins of the best engravers of the day. ....'


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] 'Oberkampf and printed cotton, 18th to 19th centuries - Production, design and consumption': International symposium 8-10th October 2015
  2. [2] 'Chemistry Theoretical, Practical and Analytical, as Applied and Relating to the Arts & Manufactures' Vol 1, pp.694-5, by Dr. Sheridan Muspratt, 1860