Carbon paper had its time in the Sun in the age of typewriters, and you’d think its kind has now died out after a short stint in history. You’d be wrong. If you’ve ever CC’ed (Carbon Copied) a funny email to a friend, you’re continuing a legacy which began 200 years ago in Italy.
The Story of Carbon Paper
There’s several interesting aspects of the story of Carbon Paper. The most surprising is that carbon paper wasn’t invented to make copies in the early days and its descendants today have returned to its original purpose.
In 1806, an Italian inventor called Pellegrino Turri built a very astonishing gift for the Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano. The Countess had lost her eyesight at an early age and her friend Turri wanted to give her a way to write private letters to her friends. So he invented an early version of the typewriter.
The machine itself has been lost to the ages, but some of Countessa Fantoni’s letters survive, and we can see the new medium in which they were printed. You see, carbon paper wasn’t invented to be carbon paper as some of us remember it, it was invented to be the dry ink for early typewriters.
Two centuries on there’s still gossip about Turri and Carolina Fantoni. Subsequent fictional takes on the story of the blind countess have painted Turri as her lover. But was he? The Countess’s letters merely refer to him as her ‘Dear Friend’. Whether she was pulling a “We’re just friends” for anyone who might intercept their messages we may never know, but love letters they were, surely? Platonic or otherwise, it takes some love for someone to invent a whole new technology just to hear from you.
Typewriters eventually moved to using ink ribbons, which are merely a fabric version of carbon paper, and they’re still in use today in dot matrix printers for bills at the grocery store down your street. Think of it as a long, winding ink-stained love letter through the ages.
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