HISTORY OF PERKINS, BACON & PETCH

On arrival in London in 1819 accompanied by Gideon Fairman and Asa Spencer, Jacob Perkins commenced business as steel plate engravers under the title of Perkins and Fairman at 29 Austin Friars in the City of London. In December 1819, an engraver to King George III, Charles Heath joined the partnership, the company moved to 69 Fleet Street and became Perkins, Fairman & Heath. Soon after Fairman relinquished his partnership and the firm changed to Perkins & Heath. In May 1929, Joshua Butters Bacon, who had married Jacob Perkins' second daughter, joined the partnership and it became Perkins and Bacon. Finally, Henry P. Petch, an engraver who had joined the company in 1823 was taken into partnership in 1834 and the company finally became Perkins, Bacon & Petch.

Jacob Perkins had a weakness in that he often failed to follow up on a new project and, after he had set up his banknote printing business, he paid little attention to it. He drew so much money out of it to finance his high-pressure steam experiments that he owed considerable sums to his partners.

Sir Rowland Hill was a friend of Jacob Perkins and through him, Perkins, Bacon & Petch obtained the contract to produce the first postage stamp, the Penny Black – at the price of seven pence halfpenny per thousand 'all gummed and ready for use'. Experience showed that 400,000 imprints could be taken from a single plate without signs of wear and, within a few years, twenty-two thousand million stamps for Great Britain and the Colonies had been printed by the Perkins process. Jacob's 'siderographic' plate brought to an end the possibility of loss of Government revenue through forgery.

Following the death of Henry Petch, the firm became, in 1887, Perkins, Bacon & Co. Ltd. and in 1904 moved from 69, Fleet Street to Southwark Bridge Road.

Charles Dickens was a fine journalist as well as a great author. In 1852 he was editing the magazine “Household Words”. That magazine included an account of a visit Dickens paid to the Fleet Street, London, works of Perkins, Bacon and Petch where stamps were printed. The article was headed “Well Done Mr. Perkins” and Dickens included high praise for a method of printing devised years earlier by Jacob Perkins. The Perkins type of engraving made for the Penny Black was described by Dickens as:

The mother of that prodigious family of Queens’ heads – amounting to two billions during the last dozen years – which have passed through the post offices of the United Kingdom. This steel die is almost imperishable, and its power of reproduction upon the plates from which the adhesive labels are actually printed is all but inexhaustible. What work would have been involved if Jacob Perkins’ invention had not existed? The number of single impressions taken from the original engraving was calculated to be 34,080, and but for Jacob Perkins’ transferring process, each one of these would have taken a fortnight to engrave by hand.

If the Wandering Jew were an engraver and had that little order to execute, he would not have completed it under 1,310 years… The 34,080 heads which Mr Perkins plan has produced on steel, since 1840, would have occupied the miniature bayonets of an army of hand-engravers 110 strong. Had it not been, therefore, for the Perkins transferring process, the Government must have employed the less elegant and coarser appliances of stereotype plates and letterpress printing to produce postage labels at the inordinate rate per day at which they are demanded by an eminently epistolary public. Then comes the cost, to be computed from the data of upwards of 100 engravers at work for a dozen years. Even they must have had different degrees of skill; and the likeness of Her Majesty could not have been equally preserved, as it now is, in the billions of miniatures which the best hundred in the profession could have engraved.

Following the death of Henry Petch, the firm became, in 1887, Perkins, Bacon & Co. Ltd. and in 1904 moved from 69, Fleet Street to Southwark Bridge Road.

(More information on Jacob Perkins' steel plate engraving process and its use in stamp production can be found in Early Inventions).

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