Compressing plumbago dust, casting type, type-composing machine, etcSawing Plumbago
Compressing powdered Plumbago
Manufacture of Allows
Young's Type-Composing Machine
After this long digression I must retrace my steps, forget for a time all the great doings of the 26th June, 1879, and remember only, so far as this little personal history is concerned, that I was at the time of which I am writing, simply Henry Bessemer, an unknown youth struggling to get a footing in the world by working with hand and brain for many hours every day, a task most cheerfully performed. In those days I had one great and paramount object always before me; one bright guiding star that kept me from falling into the almost irresistible temptations which the pleasures and gaieties of London hold out to every youth of a sanguine temperament who, like myself, happens to be sole master of his own actions. With no friendly voice to give counsel, or to guide and regulate my hours of leisure, or cheek my wanderings, that one silent but ever-present irresistible control which the desire to be worthy of, and united to, a beloved object, ever exercised over me, kept me in the straight path, made my labour sweet, and almost converted it into an amusement.
At this period the enthusiasm of the amateur was fast giving way to a more steady commercial instinct, and I let no opportunity slip of improving my position, but I felt that I was still labouring under the disadvantage of not having acquired some technical profession. With the exception of my card-embossing and die- making business, I had nothing to depend upon, and I but too readily allowed my attention to be directed to new subjects which always exercised a sort of fascination over me; this tendency I found difficult to control, but I invariably made myself believe that as soon as I could strike some "good vein" I should work it to its full capacity, and never again be tempted to turn aside after mere novelties.
Just before I had embarked on my luckless Stamp Office enterprise, I become aware of some curious facts relative to the manufacture of black lead pencils. The only mine in Great Britain which yields plumbago, or black lead as it is called, suitable for pencil-making, is situated in one of the mountains at Borrowdale, in Cumberland, and is about 1000 ft. deep. This rare and very valuable mineral substance became the subject of continued robbery about one hundred and forty years ago, and is said to have enriched many persons resident in the neighbourhood. It was strongly guarded by the proprietors, but they were more than once overpowered by an infuriated mob, and possession of the mines was held for a considerable time by the desperadoes. When the owners again got possession, their carts, which conveyed the produce of the mine to Keswick, were always guarded by soldiers.
The entrance to the mine was afterwards protected by a strong building, consisting of a well-appointed guard room and three other apartments on the ground floor, in one of which was an opening into the mine, secured by a trap-door, through which alone the miners could enter. In another of these apartments, called the dressing-room, the miners changed their ordinary clothes for a working dress, and after six hours' work in the mine they had again to change their dress under inspection, lest some of this valuable substance might be concealed about them.
The plumbago, when perfectly cleaned, was packed up in casks and despatched to London, and there disposed of at monthly sales by auction, at the offices of the proprietors, in Thames Street, where it realised from thirty-five to forty-five shillings per pound, the annual sales ranging in value from £30,000 to £40,000 sterling.
Plumbago is found in small irregular nodules about the size and shape of a potato, and consists of carbon in a peculiar state of aggregation, with a small impregnation of iron.
The trade in pencil-making at the time of which I am speaking -- about 1838 -- was chiefly in the hands of the Jews, and one important branch of it consisted in sawing these little nodules of plumbago into slices of about one-sixteenth of an inch in thickness. This art of sawing the plumbago was a most difficult one to acquire, and hitherto all efforts to replace hand labour by machinery had failed; hence it remained a monopoly in the hands of the Jewish workmen, who were paid as much as a guinea per pound for sawing the material. The difficulty of cutting it into slices without breaking them was very great, while
|Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.|