Fine Rare Prints
An engraving is a print that was made using an engraved printing plate. In printing, to engrave means to carve a pattern in a printing plate.
The earliest known dated engraving is from 1446, so the technique is at least 560 years old.
The basic process is to engrave the image on a metal plate, apply ink to the plate, wipe it so the ink only remains in the engraved lines, then press it onto paper to produce a print of the image.
Using engraving, an artist can make either highly detailed images or images with a sketchy quality, depending on the number and thickness of the engraving lines.
The images below are an engraving from 1693 by Pietro Santi Bartoli, and a portion of it magnified fifty times. Notice the variation in thickness and angle of lines - this engraver was an exceptional artist and craftsman.
Engraving has several variations, but the essence of it is as follows:
1. Choose the material for the printing plate
The most common materials used when antique prints were made were wood, copper and steel:
2. Cut the image into the printing plate
In an engraving, each image is made up of hundreds of engraved lines.
The engraved lines are carved with an engraving tool called a burin. The burin is a very fine chisel with a sharp V-shaped section. The engraver holds the burin almost parallel with the plate then pushes its point into the plate and carefully guides it along, carving out a groove.
Engraved lines tend to pointed at each end. This is caused by the burin being pushed down into the plate at the beginning of the line, and pulled up at the end of the line. This helps us distinguish engravings from etchings.
2. Apply ink to the plate
Ink is spread onto the plate, then the plate is carefully wiped clean leaving only the ink held in the engraved lines. Most ink goes into the deepest lines.
3. Press the printing plate onto paper
The plate is laid on the printing press. Dampened paper is laid over the plate, and padding is laid on top of the paper. The rollers on the press force the paper onto the engraved plate, printing the image onto the paper.
4. Hand color the engraving if desired
Colored engravings were virtually always colored by hand with water colors. This is an art and itself and will be the subject of another article when we have time to write it !
Engraving was a very time consuming and skillful technique and was eventually superceded by the more economical techniques of lithography and photogravure. Nowadays, the technique of engraving is undergoing something of a revival thanks to amazing computer controlled laser engraving machines which have become affordable for the small business market.
If you are interested in engraved antique prints, we highly recommend:
These copper plate engravings are about 200 years old
These copper plate engravings are over 300 years old
These steel plate engravings are about 165 years old.
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