History of the Composition Roller

There is conflicting opinion as to who actually invented composition based rollers. One source supports Benjamin Foster, of Weybridge, England, although very little is known about him.  Others suggest it was a London printer, Edward Dyas, who was known to Robert Harrild, the London printer/merchant who introduced the composition ball and roller there in 1810. He stated composition was the 'chance discovery of a printer called Edward Dyas'. This person evidently did not have the education or expertise to develop his discovery, subsequently in 1819, Harrild was advertising himself as agent for the 'improved composition.' Another school of thought suggest the man was Adam Spears, a printer employed by Bently & Sons, London. Evidently Spears was told by a cousin, who worked at the Staffordshire potteries, of a method of  placing designs on earthenware, made of glue and treacle. He succeeded, in 1808  producing an inking ball made of glue and molasses. He imparted his wisdom to Bryan Donkin, who in 1813 patented his polygonal machine, stating '. . . or by means of a metal cylinder covered with canvas and coated with a composition of  treacle and glue'. Frederick Koenig switched from using skin covered rollers to composition rollers in 1814. The first rollers were imperfect as they retained a ridge, caused by imperfect moulding and the great difficulty in extraditing the roller from the mould, but by the early 1840's Harrild succeeded in producing them without a seam. Composition rollers were introduced in France in 1820, Germany in 1823 and the United States in 1826.

Manufacturing Composition Rollers 100 years ago
From:'A Practical Treatise on the Art of Printing'  by Charles T. Jacobi

Various English Recipes: [By weight]
                (a) Treacle 12, glue 8, Paris white 1.
                (b) Glue 10, sugar 10, glycerine 12
                (c) Treacle 12, glue 4.
The glue when soft is placed in a composition kettle and heated until the glue is dissolved, the treacle and other ingredients are then added and the whole brew boiled for about one hour. Take care that it does not boil and stir regularly. Before pouring into the mould, make sure it is dry and clean, warmed and coated with a thin oil.
Sperm and lard oils are the best. For small rollers the solid mould, made in one piece is adapted. For the larger kind two section moulds are recommended. The stock must be fastened to the end-piece, and placed in its position in the mould. Pour the composition in slowly without a break around the stock. Overfill the mould and allow to cool. Let it stand for about 12 hours then prepare to draw the roller out of the mould. When removed from the mould, cut off the excess from  the ends of the roller. They should be kept in an even temperature and  protected from dust and allowed to mature for a few days. New rollers should be washed in sperm or coal oil before use; it will prevent the strong suction.



. . . and hints for treatment of old rollers too!
When the rollers have been lying for weeks with a coating of dried ink on them, get an ordinary red paving brick (an old one with the edges worn away will be best), place the roller on a board, then dip the brick in trough of cold water and work it gently to and fro on the surface from end to end, taking care to apply plenty of water, dipping the brick in repeatedly, and in a short time the ink will disappear. Nor is this all; because, if care and patience be exercised, this treatment will put a new face to the roller, making it almost equal to new; the coating of ink having, by keeping the air from the surface, tended to preserve the roller from perishing. Lastly, sponge off clean.