Apparatus for the Graphic Arts
Elegantly made brass-bound wooden box, 8 ½" × 15" × 3 ½", with inlaid top. The top and bottom fold out to form a writing table. An integral frame supports two writing pens. A brass plate is inscribed "Hawkins' Patent Polygraph, Manufactured and Sold by I. H. Farthing, No. 43, Cornhill, London. No. 282." Received in 1850.
John Isaac Hawkins was an English mechanic residing in Philadelphia about 1800. He was a close friend of C. W. Peale, and an inventor of such various devices as a "Patent portable grand piano," a formula for waterproofing shoes, and an improvement in distillation. About 1802 he invented the polygraph, a paper-ruling machine, and the physiognotrace, the latter of which is probably the one invention attributed to a John J. (I.?) Hawkins in the U. S. patent records (pantograph and parallel ruler, May 17, 1803).
The polygraph was a device for writing more than one copy of a letter simultaneously, through pens connected by a mechanical linkage. As originally invented the device was apparently considered imperfect, as Hawkins left it, upon his departure for England in 1803, for Peale to perfect. Peale was to receive the American rights, save a ten per cent royalty. He did produce some for sale in October, 1803. The first one was reportedly sold to B. H. Latrobe, who showed it to Thomas Jefferson, subsequently its principal exponent. Despite Jefferson's enthusiasm the device does not appear to have been very widely adopted.34
Hawkins himself continued the improvement of the device, and manufactured it in England. The date of the present specimen is uncertain, as it has not been possible to trace the maker, Farthing. It was presented by a student of Jefferson, Nicholas P. Trist ( 1800-1874), a fact which lends credence to its alleged association with Jefferson.