Monday, 6 February 2012

A Brief History of Copying

It is interesting how long copying has been a major area of thought and invention with regard to office work and writing in general. In 1803, an instrument called a “polygraph” that made duplicate copies of letters, or, presumably, other writings, was invented, and a year later, in 1804, Thomas Jefferson acquired one, made some modifications to it, and thereafter used it extensively. It is recorded that he wrote more than a thousand letters a year in some years, and that more than 20,000 of his letters survive.


Jefferson’s “Polygraph” harnessed two regular ink pens together, so that when he wrote with one, the second pen duplicated his writing on a second sheet of paper, which he then filed in alphabetical order by date, so that he had a complete record of his correspondence, as do grateful historians today.

As you can deduce from the photograph above, a Jeffersonian polygraph was not necessarily simple to use; one had to really earnestly want the copies, in order to take the trouble and bother to use it. Also, it would not be easily portable; like the clunky PCs of a more recent yesteryear, it would be portable only in the sense that it was not fastened down to the table.

Charles Dickens, and others of his era, describe clerks whose sole employment, day after day, was to copy documents down “in a fair, round hand.”.

As recently as the 1940s, authors who submitted long and complex works to publishing houses, had little or no way to preserve for themselves their own copies of their works, in case the publisher might lose it, or change it beyond what the author could approve. In this regard, one recalls the long and involved conflicts between Irma Rombauer and Bobbs Merrill Publishing House, in regards to Rombauer’s work Joy of Cooking. The disappearance of the original manuscript, and the impossibility of recreating or establishing what had originally been in it, caused years of bitterness and expense.

Carbon paper, mimeograph machines, and photocopiers have done much to increase human productivity, improve general record keeping, and reduce legal conflicts since then. When PCs were new, in some offices their chief benefit was considered to be the ease with which duplicate copies could be generated, and also stored.

With regard to this distinguished history, it pleases me to think that Swivelscript can stand on the shoulders of these giants, as it were, and take data copying one step further, by making it possible to copy data not only onto duplicate forms, but even into new and additional forms, as well.

Swivelscript could not only have produced copies of Mr. Jefferson’s letters; it could also have produced a categorical index or compendium of their subject matter. Swivelscript could not only have produced a duplicate copy of each of Mrs. Rombauer’s’ recipes and scholarly discussions; it could also have created an index, thus saving the whole business of a two year lawsuit over the miss indexing of her 1962 manuscript.

In a modern office, almost all information that is entered or written by an employee, is written for the purpose of doing something specific with that information in the immediate or near future. With Swivelscript, the first part of this next job can be automated, by assigning Swivelscrip to transfer that information immediately to its next function.

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