Extract from The Printers' Manual by C.H. Timperley - 1838

On Composition Rollers and Balls.

It is curious to contemplate the various changes which have taken place in the press-room within the last thirty years and in nothing more than in the introduction of composition balls and rollers, for the invention was at once the means of getting rid of the nauseous, filthy process in, the pelt-house, and rendering a press-room as free from offensive effluvia as any other part of the office. Both a great saving of time and expense were effected. As this composition has now become one of the most essential requisites of a printing-office, it may not be improper to give both the ingredients of which the compo is made, and the method of making rollers and balls. The proportions have been so variously stated, and so much depends upon the state of the atmosphere, that it would almost be impossible to state with accuracy the exact quantity of each. But the simple prescription which experience has proved best, is, to provide glue of the finest quality, made from the, cuttings of parchment or vellum; fine green molasses, pure as from the sugar refiner, at least not adulterated for the bakers' or grocers' shops ; and a small quantity of the substance called Paris-white, and you will have every ingredient requisite for the compo.

To two pounds of glue add six pounds of molasses, and about half a pound of Paris-white, which will make the compo of a superior quality to any other proportions, and will be sufficient for two demy rollers. Some persons only use the simple glue and treacle, while others use a small quantity of isinglass, or a few drops of sweet oil. It is necessary to procure a mould accurately made, and well finished, made either of brass or iron, in two parts,, and adjusted to each other with rebates, the inside being finely turned and polished, and having flanches projecting, by which the parts are screwed together by screws and a lock-burr.

The next material part of the apparatus is the melting kettle. This must be a double vessel like a glue-kettle, so that the compo in the interior may be melted by the heat of the boiling water in the exterior. For this purpose a strong boiler 1nay be the best or readiest thing found, into which let a tin vessel be fitted, with a flanch to rest on the rim, so as to leave one or two inches clear under it. This vessel may be six or eight inches above the top of the boiler, so that the lid of the one may fit the other ; and it must have a large lip for pouring the compo. Being thus prepared, put the glue into a little water for a few hours to soak. Pour off all the liquid, and put the glue into the inner vessel, the boiler having in it as much water as it will contain when the inner vessel is in its place. Put it on the fire and boil the water as quick as you please, the heat of which will soon cause the glue to dissolve, and evaporate part of the water. Let them be well incorporated together for at least an hour, receiving heat from the boiling water, which is a uniform degree that cannot exceed 212°. If Paris-white be added, mix the powder with a very fine sieve, frequently stirring the compo. In about an hour, it will be fit to pour off ; then take the inner vessel out of the boiler, and pour the mixture gently into the mould. If poured into the mould at night, it will be ready to take out the next morning.

When taken out of the mould, hang it in a cool, dry situation, until ready for use. As there will be rather more of the compo at each end of the cylinder than would work clear of the frame in which it is to revolve, so much must be cut off from each extremity as is necessary for the working of the roller, by encircling it with a piece of fine twine.

To keep the rollers thus made in good condition for working, a place should be chosen where the air has free circulation, without being subject to the extreme heat of the sun in summer, or the freezing damp air in winter: in short, in as even a temperature as possible.

It will be necessary to keep a stock of more rollers than are at work ; as it is frequently found, when a roller is sick, greasy, or soft, or you do not know what is its ailment, that washing it clean and hanging it to rest for a time, restores it to as good a state as ever. Notwithstanding the general use of compo rollers, balls will be found sometimes necessary to vary the mode of work. Cards, single cuts, light forms, &c. may require the experiment, as least, of a change. In order to make the compo balls, a mould will be required, made from a circular plate of copper or tin, nicely planished, and beaten concave so as to sink in the centre about half an inch; which is often turned over a wire at the circumference, and supported to a level by three little feet.

To wash the rollers or balls made with this compo, nothing more is requisite than the application of water, in cold frosty weather a little warmed, but cold as possible in warm weather, which needs only be used with the hand. Before they are worked again after washing, about an hour’s drying will be necessary. Sometimes, if from the effect of bad ink they show an appearance of grease, and make friars, a mixture of spirits of turpentine and water will be necessary; or a little pearl ash lye.

If becoming soft by a sudden change of the atmosphere, a washing in spirits of turpentine will harden them. If by a cold or dry night they are found too hard at first getting to work in the morning, a few turns at a moderate distance from the fire, or over the flame of a burning sheet of paper will be the remedy. They sometimes get into such a state as to require the flame of a candle to be passed over the whole face, which must be done with the greatest care and patience.

To make the smaller rollers for jobs or galleys, you may unite, with plugs of wood, two or three together; or you may have the open keepers, with double projections to place between each when you fill the mould. They are easily divided by the cord as above directed.

If you have old compo remaining, and find it necessary to renew either rollers or balls, a small portion of the fresh material must be incorporated with it. But, as the rules already given can alone determine the proportions requisite to make the compo harder or softer, it will not be possible to lay down the precise quantities of the respective ingredients that may in such cases be proper. The molasses, or vegetable substance, will certainly evaporate and become impoverished by frequent meltings: the glue, or animal substance, will grow harder: the earthy substance will retain its quality: but a little addition of new spar will be necessary to clear and bind the whole together.

The rollers are found to answer every description of work--for the largest or smallest type — the lightest or heaviest form — all solid type, or all rule work — for the strongest or weakest ink — for black, or red, or any colour; and indeed, upon the whole, the introduction of the invention constitutes a new era in the art of printing.

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