Susan Bremer of Heritage published the second of a series of articles about engraver, author and publisher W.L. Ormsby. It appeared in the July 22, 2021 issue of the Heritage Currency News email.
Part II of W. L. Ormsby's story is one of creative and mechanical achievements. Although most well known as a banknote engraver with a questionable reputation, W.L. Ormsby was a prolific inventor with twenty-four inventions to his credit. His inventions were all based on his fixation with anti-counterfeiting measures for currency.
Ormsby invented a machine called a grammagraph. The grammagraph machine is used to copy medals, medallions and scenes onto banknote dies to give the illusion of bas relief, a method wherein the depth of the engraving from the side does not reveal the subject but looking at the item from the front gives the complete picture. Bas relief is most commonly used on coins. The grammagraph was eventually used as a pantographic engraving machine, which produces roll-die engraving on metal. In conjunction with Samuel Colt of Colt Firearms, this method was used on the cylinders of the Colt Walker pistol as well as several others. Ormsby contributed a half dozen engravings which were used on the cylinders of the pistols, including Rangers and Indians, the Second Texas Navy and Battle of Compeche, and Stagecoach Hold-up. Originally, intended as a method of counterfeit deterrence, this invention opened another avenue to success for Ormsby.
The Historic and Important Deluxe Engraved Colt Model 1849 Pocket Revolver
Presented to Gunsmith Anson Chase from the Inventor, Colonel Colt
Ormsby received a patent in the 1800s for a roller-die transfer press. The roller-die transfer press is actually the third step in the process of creating a roller die. The first of these steps is engraving of the steel plate, next the hardening of the steel plate, and lastly the use of high pressure to transfer the engraving to the roller-die. This method would be used by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for many years to come. The invention of the roller-die transfer press contributed to Ormsby's thought processes regarding the anti-counterfeiting ability of a single plate note. The Morrisania Bank is the only example known of an institution using a single plate printing.
Very Rare and Ornate Morrisania Bank "One" Proof Exemplifies
the Intricacies of W.L. Ormsby's Engraving Techniques
Other anti-counterfeiting inventions by Ormsby included a ruling machine and geometric lathe for engravers. Engravers use these machines for both currency design and execution. The machines allowed for exact duplication that counterfeiters would have a difficult time emulating. These types of machines are still in use at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing today.
Ormsby's obsession with anti-counterfeiting measures becomes obvious as one learns more about his inventions, making the soiling of his reputation with accusations of being personally involved in several counterfeiting schemes more questionable. Part III of our discussion of the life and works of W. L. Ormsby will continue to explore his counterfeit deterring efforts and the scandalous fight against professional slander that came upon him towards the end of his career.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
W.L. ORMSBY, PART ONE
Wayne Homren, Editor
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