GUERNSEY HISTORY 

24th March 1793
Famed printer Thomas de la Rue born

Thomas de la Rue

The world owes a debt of gratitude to Thomas de la Rue. Born in La Bourg, Forest, he was one of nine children. When he became an apprentice printer in St Peter Port, aged just 10, the course of the rest of his life was set.

Newspaper publisher

De La Rue founded a newspaper, Le Publiciste, with Tom Greenslade, but the two fell out. De La Rue left and set up his rival, Le Miroir Politique, in February 1813. It published once a week, at 7am every Saturday, from offices at 184 Lower Pollet, and delivered throughout Town.

Within five years, following the death of his father, his marriage, and the birth of his first son, Warren, he had moved his family to London. There, he set up a shop manufacturing and selling straw hats, but his love of print and paper soon took over. He first started binding books, then making paper and, finally, printing playing cards.

De la Rue introduced several new printing methods, and was granted a patent for “certain improvements in making or manufacturing and ornamenting playing cards”. So great were these advanced that he became known as the father of the English playing card. Production increased almost three-fold over ten years to reach more than quarter of a million packs a year, all printed at speed on a steam-driven press.

Hard times

It all came crashing down in the depression of the late 1830s. De la Rue was arrested as a debtor and had to be bailed out by his creditors who, in return, received one of his patents.

Nonetheless, de la Rue’s firm was recognised as an expert printing operation, so it’s perhaps no surprise that it won contracts to print stamps (in 1855) and, eventually, bank notes (initially, in 1859, for Mauritius). It’s with this latter realm that the name remains closely associated. The firm still prints bank notes and cheque books, and its marque can also be found on some bank cards.

Thomas de la Rue died in 1866, with much of the company’s activity carried on by his sons.

Picture of Thomas de la Rue memorial by Unukorno (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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