Recycling Wizards, or, Timely Warnings to Rash and Disobedient Children and Adults

Title page from A Timely Warning to Rash and Disobedient Children  [Edinburgh? : ca. 1721?] (Cotsen 96399)

Wizards are coming soon to the Cotsen Gallery — at least illustrations of them from a wide range of Cotsen Library books, as Andrea Immel wrote last week. While doing photo research for the exhibition, Andrea asked me if I’d come across any good prospects in the course of my cataloging work.  One came instantly to mind: the title page woodcut from A Timely Warning to Rash and Disobedient Children.

Why?  Glad you asked… This book came to mind so readily because  while previously cataloging it, I realized that I’d seen this illustration before – at least reproductions of it — in several modern editions of Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.  This woodcut first appeared in the 1616 quarto edition of the play and was recycled in a number of subsequent seventeenth-century printings.  (An earlier quarto version — sometimes referred to as the “A Text” — had appeared in 1604, without this woodcut and with a printer’s device on the title page.)   Faustus is depicted in the middle of his magic circle, book in hand, at the moment when his conjurations have summoned Mephistopheles, depicted as a horned demon with a forked tail, emerging from the infernal depths through the floor of Faustus’ study.  In the background we can see some of his scholar’s books and, ironically, a cross, symbol of all Faustus is abjuring. Somewhere along the way, this woodcut seems to have become something of a visual icon of the play.

Modern reproduction of the title page of 1616 quarto edition of Dr. Faustus.

The woodcuts used for the 1616 quarto of  Dr. Faustus and the reprinted versions of 1619, 1620, 1624, 1628, and 1631 (and possibly others) all look  essentially identical, suggesting that the same woodblock may actually have been reused for them all.  (The woodcuts in the later quartos don’t crop off the right side of the illustration, but I think this is a printing aspect of a cheap book for which a printer was less likely to reprint an imperfectly-printed page, rather than a variation in the actual woodblock. But take a look at the copy of the 1624 title page below and decide for yourself.)  However, the cut appearing on the title page of A Timely Warning is a bit different, as we can see looking at the two woodcuts side-by-side, suggesting that a new block had been cut at some point, using the original cut as a guide.  Compare the Timely Warning cut to the one used in original 1616 version of Dr Faustus. Mephistopheles has become larger relative to Faustus and rendered somewhat differently, Faustus’ library has acquired more books, and the window of his study is now open, revealing the natural world he has forsaken with his “unnatural” conjuring.  But despite these differences, I think it’s remarkable that essentially the same illustration was still in use some one hundred years after it first appeared in the 1616 quarto.  This suggests that the illustration must have resonated strongly with readers and also that it had evolved  into an evocative symbol of the Faustus / Faust story, at least in England.

Illustrated title page of “… The Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Dr Faustus…” (London: [ca. 1700]) (RHT 18th-72)

A very similar, but new version of the Faustus illustration graces the circa 1700 version of The Damnable Life printed by “C. Brown” and sold by “M. Hotham, at the Black Boy on London-bridge.”  This version is more like the original woodcut from 1616 than the one used in the 1721 Timely Warning, but there are clear differences when we look at all three cuts together. Faustus, the devil, and the cross are all packed more tightly together in this version than in the cut used for Marlowe’s play.  The symbols in the magic circle are different, and there are a number of other small variations, all of which suggest that this cut was made by yet another woodblock.

Although the story of Dr Faustus is strongly associated with Marlowe (accused by some of being a blasphemer himself, who “died swearing” and a believer in the dark arts), the Faust legend predates Marlowe’s play.  The basic outline involves a learned man and scholar of theology who becomes bored and disenchanted with his studies — “a greater subject fitteth Faustus’ wit,” in Marlowe’s words — who arrogantly makes a pact with the devil and exchanges his soul for knowledge and power.  As such, it’s often presented as a cautionary tale: Faustus forsakes religion and God, makes a deal with the devil, cannot repent, and is himself forsaken to damnation; the mortal sinner gets what he deserves. As an early printed version of the Faust story, the 1592 Historie of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Doctor Iohn Faustus used by Marlowe as a source, phrases the story’s conclusion:

Then came the Devill [sic] and would have me away…as I turned against God, he would dispatch me altogether … [then was heard] a mighty noyse and hissing as if the hall had been full of snakes and adders … Faustus began to crie for help … but shortly [he was] heard no more.

Much like the woodcut of Faustus and Mephistopheles, the (non-Marlovian) language in this first translation of this version of the Faust story into English was also remarkably long-lived, as I was surprised to discover (but I’m getting ahead of myself).

The moral of the story seems intended to be clear to us, as does its title: Damnable Life, and Deserved Death!  But Marlowe used the outline of the story and reworked it as the basis of a tragedy, titled accordingly: The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (or The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus in the 1604 quarto; both were published after Marlowe’s 1593 death, so neither title was necessarily his choice).  Marlowe’s protagonist Faustus suffers as a result of a “fatal flaw” — arrogance, pride, and susceptibility to trafficking with the devil — in a way more like Tamburlaine, King Lear, or Macbeth than the main character in Damnable Life, and Deserved Death.  Faustus suffers the same hellish fate — “Faustus is gone, regard his hellish fall, / Whose fiendful fortune may exort the wise” says the speaker of the Epilogue — but most audiences’ response to the “moral” of Marlowe’s play is is more nuanced and complex, as the playwright no doubt intended.

Close up of the title and (long) sub-title of A Timely Warning

Historically, hellfire, brimstone, and eternal damnation in the cauldron of Hell has given pause to both adults and children through the ages.  But would worldly power over kings or  having Helen of Troy as a paramour be the sorts of temptations that might hit home to children?  That moral and plotting dilemma was resolved by the author of A Timely Warning by framing the story as one of an overly indulged prodigal son — “a young gentleman ” — who sells his soul to the devil to get revenge against his father and mother because his father denied him some money.  While that’s an extreme reaction, for sure, what child hasn’t felt some degree of anger, resentment, and even a desire to “get back at” parents who won’t give him / her what’s wanted?  The resentful, demon-trafficking youth undergoes “a sad and deplorable condition” and eventually forfeits his soul on a “dreadful night,” a fate meant to provide a vivid cautionary warning “against temptation.”  This is one of those remarkable earlier titles where essentially the whole story is outlined in the title and sub-title, perhaps just in case a young reader is tempted not to read the whole book.

Modern reproduction of the title page of the 1624 Dr. Faustus quarto.  Compare this with the 1616 quarto’s printing and also the other variations.

The moral is once again meant to be clear.  Added to the usual Faustus moral about blasphemy and dealing with the devil is another familiar moral often found in children’s books from this era: the  punishment of a disobedient child.  Moral works of the time didn’t flinch in scaring children about the possible consequences of disobedience to parents or teachers.  So added to a message about God-faring or moral behavior here is the forceful reminder to be an obedient child.  And at least one later version sought to extend the didactic beyond children: A Timely Warning to Rash and Disobedient Persons, which appeared in a number of editions as did the the A Timely Warning to Rash and Disobedient Children; judging from the number of editions, the Timely Warnings were popular books — at least with adults, generally the ones doing the actual book buying. 

Versions of the Faust story remained popular in England well into the nineteenth century, appearing in the form of books, chapbooks, and updated versions of the play.

Fairly typical of the chapbook-stye publications is a twenty-four page Glasgow publication, apparently from the 1840s, titled: History of Dr. Faustus: Shewing his Wicked Life and Horrid Death, and How He Sold Himself to the Devil, to Have Power for 24 Years to Do What He Pleased… with the Assistance of Mephistopheles; with an Account of How the Devil Came to him at the End of 24 Years and Tore Him to Pieces. That’s a mouthful of a title once, again more or less summing up the whole story.

Upper wrapper of History of Dr. Faustus… (Glasgow: [ca. 1840?]) (Ex 3580.999 v.29)

The cover title is undated and has only “printed for the booksellers” in terms of an imprint, but this Faustus was apparently published as part of a series of popular folk- and fairy-tales, such as Beauty & the Beast and Sleeping Beauty. The woodcut illustration is relatively uninspiring, and I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to depict Faustus or Mephistopheles; it may just be a “stock” woodblock that the publisher had on-hand and used to provide a visual element to spice up the text and get potential buyers’ attention?

More visually striking is Dean & Munday’s six pence version of: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Faustus: Relating the Diabolical Means by which He Raised the Devil to Whom He Sold his Soul and Body on Condition that Lucifer Should Give Him Unlimited Power for Twenty-four Years…  Unlike the demonic depiction of the soul-claiming devil in some earlier versions we’ve looked at, this frontispiece presents Mephistopheles as he reappears to Faustus, deceptively clothed “like a Gray Friar” after his initial devilish appearance terrifies Faustus.  But also clearly visible in the background are flying demons, which the reader can readily see, unlike the duped Faustus perhaps.  And interesting aspect of dual perspective conveyed through illustration?

The Remarkable Life of Dr. Faustus… Dean & Munday, [ca. 1830?] (GAX Cruik 18–.3 )

While this edition seems to have been aimed at a general audience, Dean & Munday was a prominent publisher of short children’s books of the time, in particular “toy books” aimed at children, which typically combined numerous hand-colored illustrations like this one with abridged text.  (The publisher’s advertisement on the lower wrapper lists Dr Faustus under “six-pence each titles,” not under “children’s books, colored plates, 6 d each.”)  The text of this version presents an abridgement of the original 1592 text from The History of the Damnable Life, and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus over 250 years after the original publication, the feat of textual longevity I alluded to above.  As so often was the case with children’s literature, essentially the same content was repeatedly repackaged and “freshened up” with new illustrations to appeal to the market.

But some aspects of the text were jazzed up a bit over time, often adding more “theatrical” elements and details, and some sensational details, often not meant for children (although no doubt enjoyed by some).  After the 1592 version’s concluding “they heard him no more” lines, Dean & Munday’s Remarkable Life and other some nineteenth-century versions add the lines:

But when it was day, the students… arose and went into the hall in the which they left Doctor Faustus, where notwithstanding they found no Faustus, but all the hall lay besprinckled with blood, his brains cleaving to the wall; for the Devil had beaten him from one wall against another. In one corner lay his eyes, in another his teeth, a pitiful and fearful sight to behold… Lastly, they came into the yard where they found his body lying on the horse dung, most monstrously torn, and fearful to behold, for his head and all his joints were dashed in pieces.

In terms of delightful garishness of illustration, my favorite of Princeton’s Faustus illustrations might have to be the one used as a fold-out frontispiece in Thomas Richardson and Son’s The Remarkable Life of Dr. Faustus, a German Astrologer and Enchanter: Relating the Means Adopted by Him to raise the Devil, Who Gave him Extraordinary Magical Powers, on Condition that He Should Have his Soul and Body at the End of Twenty-four Years...   That mouthful of a title — not even the full version! — is more than matched by the hand-colored engraved fold-out, I think.

Title page and fold-out frontispiece of Richardson and Son’s The Remarkable Life of Dr. Faustus… (Derby, [between 1820 & 1840?] (3580.999 v.23)

A terrifying horned devil with fabulous scaly-looking wings sizes Faustus (now an “astrologer,” not a scholar) by the neck, while a serpent twines itself around Faustus’ body, and a chorus of demons worthy of Hieronymus Bosch cheers on the devil in fiendish delight.  Advances in printing technology technology allowed larger and more detailed illustrations in cheap nineteenth books than in the earlier publications ones we’ve already looked at.  And perhaps the sensational presentation here was also meant to cater to a public taste fed by theatrical spectacles in the nineteenth century, when far more elaborate costumes, lighting, and special effects were possible than in Marlowe’s time, when special effects at the relatively plain, outdoor public theater stages were limited to trapdoors, smoke-pots, and rumbling metal thunder, and perhaps a few fireworks.  By the nineteenth century, audiences and readers expected more than plain text and simple woodcuts.  But the message was much the same as in the seventeenth-century The History of the Damnable Life and indeed the text was much the same in this nineteenth-century version too.

And in case you’re wondering the full title of this edition is: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Faustus, a German Astrologer and Enchanter: Relating the Means Adopted by Him to Raise the Devil, Who Gave him Extraordinary Magical Powers, on Condition that He Should Have his Soul and Body at the End of Twenty-four Years; his Various Conversations, Interviews, and Wonderful Events with his Deputy, the Spirit Mephostophiles [sic]; with his Journey to Mount Caucasus, Particulars of his Conjurations and Enchantments; with the Ceremonies Belonging to the Operations of Necromancy; the Bonds; and the Horrible Death Inflicted on Him by the Devil at the Expiration of the Term.  With a title like that, it’s a wonder that the printer had any type left in his case to print the rest of the book!

Encounters with Illustration Processes, or “What Did You Do on Your Summer Vacation?”

Remember being asked the, “What did you do on your summer vacation?” question at the beginning of each new school year?  And usually being hard-pressed to come up with a “good” answer?  Here’s a possible answer for one grown-up in 2017… Imagine being in a postgraduate-level class held at a leading American university with fellow professionals, some of them tenured faculty members, and making pictures of various types… And liking it…  And learning a lot in the process…

Original wood-engraved block used to print upper wrapper of McLoughlin Brothers’ “Little Pet’s Picture Alphabet” (ca. 1875) Cotsen 32858

No, this is not the Cotsen Blog’s April Fool’s Day posting!  And the classwork was definitely not quite as simple as “making pictures” either.  But in a recent class on “Book Illustration Processes” at “Rare Book School,” a program held each summer at the University of Virginia’s main Charlottesville campus, not far from the Thomas Jefferson-designed “Lawn” and Academic Village, we did get to make wood-engravings, metal-cut engravings, and drypoints, as a complement to five days of 8:30 am to 5 pm classes, lectures, and presentations, and lots of scholarly reading.  (Definitely not a leisurely “vacation”!)  And in the process of putting reading into practice, we did  learn a lot about the differences between these illustration processes (and other processes) that were widely used in books for both children and grown-ups from the earliest days of printing into the mid-eighteenth century (when Thomas Bewick began executing wood-engravings) and on into the early twentieth century, when manual illustration processes became supplanted by process-printing and photo-mechanical work.

It’s one thing to read about how a burin (a sharp, chisel-like tool used in wood-engravings) leaves characteristically different traces on a wood-engraved block than those made by a metal engraving graver on a copper or steel plate (most which can usually be seen only under magnification).  It’s another to wield these tools with your hands and feel how differently an engraving tool interacts with the wood or metal medium as it glides relatively smoothly through a soft metal surface — the incised engraved lines which will provide the basis of the intaglio engraving — compared with the sort of jabbing motion made by a chisel-like burin as you try to scoop out bits of the non-printing area on a piece of hardwood.  (Full disclosure: we actually used linoleum blocks, rather than hardwood, in the interests of conservation and safety, and zinc plates rather than a copper ones, in the interests of economy (copper is expensive!), but the basic processes used are still the same in the respective media.)

Let’s take a look at the faux wood-engraving I made (with apologies for the lack of artistry or wood-engraving skills) and a trial printing of it.  As you can see, parts of the block were cut away (using the burin), leaving the outline of the elephant illustration on the original level of the block’s surface.  (A version of the illustration had been made on the block as a guide for us to follow — as is always the case in wood engraving — but the goal was for us to leave the lines more or less intact and carve away the rest; the idea being that the printed surface would then replicate the guide illustration.  Vestiges of these lines have been obscured by the printer’s ink now, though.)  When the block is inked, these chiseled-away away sections — recessed below the printing surface — remain uninked and so appear as white space in the actual print — and also on the block itself, as you can see.  Wood-engravings tend to accentuate black colors, as you can see in this crude example.  In the hands of a real master wood-engraver, like Thomas Bewick or the Dalziels, the effect can be highly dramatic!

“Wood-engraved” block (actually a lino-cut block) at right, and trial print made from it (at left): note the black-white contrast and the “mirror images.”

Do you notice anything fundamentally different about the block and the print-out made from it?  The print image is reversed.  This doesn’t really matter in an illustration like this, except perhaps for a more aesthetic effect one way or the other, but imagine if the block depicted an actual landscape scene, a building, or included some lettering!  The wood-engraver would have to work “in reverse” in order for the actual print to have an accurate orientation.  Even if a mirror, or reverse-view guide-image was used, imagine how much harder this would make the cutting!  Hands-on work like this project really brought home the skill of the wood-cutters to all of us in the class — and also the sheer level of physical effort needed to engrave the block — and not obliterate the image by chiseling out too large a gouge (my elephant almost lost an eye that way, as you can perhaps see if you look closely).

Two printings from of the same block: one the whole block (on left) and the other with the background masked out by a paper frisket (on right).

Take a look at the two prints above and see if you can spot the difference and figure out how that was done… The print on the left displays the entire block’s illustration — the elephant and the quasi-decorative border.  For the print on the right, I used a paper “frisket” to effectively mask off the background (it’s not perfectly done, as you can see on the right edge, but I hope you get the basic idea).  The frisket here was just a piece of paper cut to mask off the area outside the illustration outline, or any area you don’t want to print — Photoshop-style techniques done manually!   In a case like this, we might want to hide the border to make the illustration fit more harmoniously on a page with letter-press text above and below — or for the sort of small vignettes often seen on title pages or as head- or tail-pieces in wood-engraved books in the hand-press era.

A frisket could also be used to facilitate the printing of two-color illustrations (usually red and black), by first masking off the area to be printed in red, and then masking off the area already printed in black with another frisket when red was printed.  This allowed the page to be printed without unlocking the printing form or the whole illustration by just re-inking the added red color– a significant saving in time, effort, and money at the time.  The same basic approach was also used for red and black text on the same page, in many cases.

As so often happens, once you learn about something in one context, you seem to happen upon another related instance soon afterward.  Just days after returning to work at Cotsen Library after Rare Book School, we were looking at a wood-engraved block from the mid-nineteenth-century, used by McLouglin Brothers — the renowned New York publisher of children’s books, games, paper dolls, and paper-based toys of all sorts from the mid-nineteenth century- into the early twentieth century — to print the upper paper wrapper of their children’s publication, Little Pet’s Picture Alphabet, especially unusual since the block is housed with a copy of the actual toy-book-like publication now (Cotsen 32858).

Wood-engraved block (from McLoughlin Brothers’ publisher’s archives) and an example of one of the two-color paper wrappers printed from it (Cotsen 32858

You can see the “mirror image” relation between the block itself and the printed version again. I think that the essentially outline line-illustration and black half-circle backdrop around the children was printed upon red paper (or paper printed red), but I’m not certain.  The black area has the kind of “textured” irregularity usually found in solid black areas of wood-engravings or wood blocks; pure black was hard to to print smoothly via a woodblock, made from organic, naturally textured wood (in contrast to the smooth surface of an unworked metal plate used for intaglio printing).

Side view of the composite wood-engraved block, highlighting the lines between the separate individual blocks.

You can also see the lines between different pieces of the composite wood-engraved block — it looks like seven separate blocks to me.  This enabled several engravers to render an illustrator’s artwork on different blocks at the same time — time was money in printing then, as now.  It’s also possible that separate interlocking blocks were somehow easier for McLoughlin to store and manage, and perhaps also to re-purpose individual blocks for other illustrations, as the firm often did.  (For large illustrations, of course several — sometimes, many — wood-engraved blocks would have to be used; how many trees do you see with smooth straight 11″ x 17″ — or larger — sections from which a smoothed block that size could have been made?  Large planks were in high demand in the hand-press era for things like ship-building for the navy and trade vessels too.)  And for wood-engraving blocks, which run across the grain, we’re looking for trees with that size as a usable circumference, not counting the bark, outer ring, and core.

This particular composite block was presumably originally comprised of six separate pieces — the seventh small one (on the left side) must have been a correction of a mistake, an unsatisfactorily-rendered detail, or a “quick fix” for a block damaged in printing, handling, or storage.  If you look closely, you can also see what looks like a crack in the upper center block, running into the smaller child’s head, reinforcing the idea that the block was damaged after being rendered, not due to an error during the original wood-engraving.  (Wood blocks can be repaired, or have small pieces added like this, while correcting pieces of missing or badly-damaged metal plates can be all but impossible.)

There’s a trace of the small block’s line in the black background area, but it doesn’t seem visible in the child’s face.  Either the touch-up was very good, or this further damage occurred some time after the wood-engraving was used to print the accompanying book that now accompanies it.  If damage to hand-rendered printing resources seems careless to you, remember that McLoughlin had literally thousands of these blocks to store and keep track of, and that they were often reused for later printing.  Proof-copies of many of the blocks were printed on sheets in large tome-like scrapbooks in the firm’s publisher’s archive — document and object management before the digital era!  (Cotsen has ten of these unique, publisher’s archives scrapbooks in its collection, which we hope to digitize in order to provide better access.)

Metal engraved plate: Note the residue of black ink in the grooves and incised lines made by a graver; these printed out as black lines in trial prints, with the unworked “surface” part of the plate not printing.

I may have been using the term “wood engraving” without really defining it or distinguishing it from “woodcut.”  What’s the difference?  Both wood-engraving and woodcuts are “relief processes” — that is, both print the surface area of a block, leaving the area unprinted (and usually white) where the wood has been cut away by a knife or burin. Woodcuts, the earlier-devised process, use smoothed blocks cut lengthwise along the grain like a plank, often softer wood that can be cut relatively easily with a sharp knives or similar cutting tools.  Wood engravings use blocks of hard wood (frequently boxwood) cut across the grain, using burins to chisel into the harder wood.  Wood engravings are generally more durable than woodcuts, as you’d expect, and can pick up a lot of contrast-adding texture from the inherent grain of the wood, at least when done by a master like Bewick. (By the way, the Tempest connection was based on an woodcut I seem to recall seeing some time ago in a fairly early edition of the play, with a similar scene, but the ship on the tempest-tossed sea.  “Full fathoms five” is part of Ariel’s song to the shipwrecked crew.)

As relief processes, both woodcuts and wood engravings are distinct from “intaglio”  processes, such as copper and steel engraving — or etching, mezzotint, or aquatint, for that matter (which use acid and chemicals instead of tools to render the illustrations), but we won’t get that far today.  (And, yes, the reuse of the term “engraving” for both relief wood engravings and intaglio metal engraving is confusing!)

In intaglio processes, the lines cut into the plate by the engraving tools are where the ink gathers during the printing process — these lines print black (in contrast to relief processes, where the incised, or cut away, sections remain unpainted). Tremendous pressure is needed to actually squeeze the dampened paper slightly into the grooves, where the paper picks up the inked impression. A roller-press is usually needed to achieve this level of pressure on a relatively think metal plate, and that’s what we used at Rare Book School to make our proof prints. (“Hands on” experience, to be sure!)

However our sub-journeyman engraver here (i.e. me) forgot a basic fact of printing when adding the text, didn’t he?  Take a look below!  The image prints in reverse of the plate!  So his “JB” monogram initials and and his brief quote, from the Tempest, are also printed in reverse.  Oops!  What to do?  Scratch out the text and try to doctor the plate somehow?  Weep in frustration?

Engraved metal plate (right), with inked outlines visible in the grooves, and a proof printing (left), which reverses the plate’s orientation of both illustration and text — making the latter illegible. Back to the drawing board!

Mercifully, the course instructor and Grand Maester of Printing Processes, Terry Belanger, immediately had a solution — a “counterproof” print. We removed the plate and used-the newly-inked print (whose ink was still damp) to print another version of the illustration — in reverse of the print– on a new sheet of paper, which resulted in a correctly douple-reversed orientation of the engraved text.

“Original” print (right) and counterproofed, second version , reversing the illustration and text a second time — now the text is legible!

As you can see in the “print-counterproof” print comparison above, the counterproof reversed the engraved test’s orientation a second time, so now it’s legible.  This served the bill perfectly here, although it would probably not have been a viable tactic in a commercial printing establishment, even one with a limited printing run of 500-1000 copies. (And the sub-apprentice engraver avoided having his ears boxed by his master for executing poorly thought-out work!)  Not surprisingly, the counterproof printing is lighter than the first version, since it relied on wet ink from the print proof, and some of the toning from ink on the surface of the plate (visible below the sun in the first proof) is similarly missing.  But disaster was averted!  And the lesson also indubitably imprinted in my mind too.

The “reverse” aspect of letterpress type and relief and intaglio printing (like almost all illustration processes) is one of the aspects we always stress for students or others to whom we present rare printed books.  Imagine setting all the type, using thousands of individual pieces of individual metal type letters, set in reverse, and also set from the end of the lines to the beginning, in the First Folio or Gutenberg Bible!  And don’t forget about spacing or justifying type in the center of a page or column; this required flat (non-printing) metal spacers, a good eye, and sometimes adjustment of the spacers after an initial proof print was made. (Of course, large books requiring as much type and paper as the First Folio, were generally not all set in type at the same time — few, if any, printers had that much type on hand to use, even with borrowed type or in syndicated print jobs, nor could they afford to tie it all up in a single time-consuming book project like the First Folio; printers needed some type readily available for job printing, handbills, and broadsides in order to keep paying their bills!

“Drypoint” is another intaglio process we looked at closely in “Book Illustration Processes” and one at which we also tried our hands. In drypoint, a steel needle replaces the rougher  engraver’s tool and allows an illustrator to draw directly on a metal plate, with something vaguely like the experience of drawing on paper. Unlike graver or burin, which scoop the shaved metal bits out of the incised lines, the thin needle throws up a “burr” on both sides; sometimes this burr is removed and sometimes left intact “adding richness of line to the design when printed” (John Harthan: History of the Illustrated Book, p. 282).

For class purposes, we used thin, clear acrylic sheets for our drypoints — softer and easier to work than metal, easier to proof in a preliminary way, using very lightly inked paper run across the engraved surface to reveal details (or lack thereof!), and most important of all, the clear sheets allowed us to place a printed master image to copy right underneath the acrylic sheet and essentially use the needle to “trace” lines on the sheet — or attempt to.  A real illustrator wouldn’t need such a guide to follow and would probably also prefer the flexibility of drawing freely, which is one of process’s main points of attraction to artists.  No need for a “mediating” engraver with a drypoint.

Drypoint intalglio as executed on clear acrylic sheet (right), with proof print (left). Note the visible outline of the plate-mark on the print. Plate-marks are one of the tell-tale signs of intaglio illustration processes — if you’re lucky! Sometimes, they can be faint or virtually invisible.

But what’s “wrong” with the picture above?  Remember the reverse image of the engraved metal plate and wood engraved illustration?  Why should drypoint be any different?  Well, it isn’t!  Since the acrylic sheet is transparent, I was able to photograph it “upside down” with the incised lines underneath, in the interests of facilitating comparison between the incised sheet and the print.  (The unmarked surface of the underside of the sheet also just seemed to photograph better too — something to do with quick-and-dirty digital photography, though, not the illustration process itself!)

I hope I’ve shared some of what I learned about illustration processes with you, and in a way that clarifies what can be murky abstract concepts with differences that can also be hard to explain without showing actual examples — good, bad, or indifferent in artistic terms.  Wood-engraving, intaglio metal cuts using both copper and steel plates, and drypoints were all important illustration processes in children’s books from the early- to mid-eighteenth century through the early twentieth century.  There were other processes too, such as mezzotints and aquatints, but all of these were non-colored processes, except where hand-coloring or stencil-coloring was used.

For color illustrations, we have to look at color-tinted wood blocks or wood-engravings, color lithography, chromolithography, chromoxylography (colored wood-engravings), and color processes like the Baxter and Nelson Processes.  And this leaves out process-printing, photolithographic processes, and others besides.  I hope to cover that in a later posting here on the Cotsen blog.  For now, perhaps I should put my “artistic” endeavors in illustration processes up on the mantle-piece with some woodblocks, color lino blocks, and prints of these that my daughter made a number of years ago, and see which ones people like more?  I have a bad feeling about that contest, though…