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pick of the pack after hardy
'Pick of the Pack'

Over 5,000 hand printed and coloured etchings and engravings from original, mostly antique, intaglio printing plates.

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Information - Printing Methods


A fairly simple process dating back to at least medieval times. The design is drawn onto a block of smooth seasoned softwood and then with a knife the cutter removes the unwanted areas of block, leaving just the design to be reproduced as raised areas. This is then inked by hand or roller and paper applied with light pressure in a press. This method was used for most early book illustrations during the fifteenth and into the sixteenth centuries.
Usually woodcut prints and maps were fairly simple and crude looking compared to images from copper plates, although the work of Albrecht Durer illustrated the sophistication that could be achieved.
Woodcuts can normally be detected by this crude appearance and the flat feel of the printed areas when touched. Sometimes there is a slight indentation of the paper where printed, pressed in by the raised image.

Due to a shortage of good copper plates and a lack of skilled engravers woodcuts were also used for some early maps, such as those by Munster and some of the editions of 'Ptolomy's Geographia'. Often, hybrid woodblocks would be used, with metal type set in holes in the the woodblock for areas of text.

old woodcut map

This is an enlarged section (about 1 inch across) showing the Gloucester and Hereford area of Sebastian Munster's "Beschreibung Engellandts und Schottlandts", 1578.


Developed during the eighteenth century, this method used a block of hardwood instead of softwood as the base, boxwood being the most popular. The wood was engraved on the hard end-grain with tools similar to those used for line engraving on metal, with hardwood far more delicate detail could be produced and the block was longer lasting. Often wood engravings can be detected by the way the printed lines are impressed into the paper.

thomas berwick wood engravingThomas Berwick was the first great master of wood engraving during the late 18th century in Britain and is credited with founding the English school of wood engraving. This is a detail from one of his more elaborate cuts.

Wood engraver's tools after an illustration in T. H. Feilding's Art of Engraving are shown on the right. Thay are (a) square lozenge, (b) extreme lozenge, (c) tint tool, (d) flat, or blocking out tools, or chisels.
wood engraved printIn the mid nineteenth century wood engraving was used extensively for book and magazine illustration. The speed and ease with which wood engravings could be produced was put to good effect in the 'Illustrated London News', which often carried quickly executed illustrations of very recent events.
Although these magazine and newspaper illustrations were often fairly crude and hurried, they did open up a new field of interesting cheap illustrations of everyday events, in contrast to the more 'set piece' and expensive copper or steel engravings. The illustration on the left shows an enlarged section of a wood engraving depicting a flood in Gloucestershire during November 1852, the illustration appeared in print within days of the event. To see the context this enlargement is from click here, this shows a flooded toll-gate on the Gloucester to Hereford road.

birket foster wood engravingIn contrast to these hurried, but interesting, journalistic images there were some very attractive wood engravings of high quality produced during the mid 19th century. This is a print (about actual size) from Birket Foster's 'Pictures of English Landscape', engraved by the very competent Dalziel brothers, published in 1863. Below is a highly enlarged portion of the sky, showing the wood engraver's free technique of handling sky.
wood engraving

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Steve Bartrick Antique Prints and Maps