4.1.5: 1830 - 1910 - Illustrations and decoration

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a major new technique was added to the range of facilities available for the illustration of books and periodicals: lithography. This technique, invented by Alois Senefelder in Munich at the end of the eighteenth century, was to grow over a period of about thirty years into one of the most versatile printing techniques. The great advantage of lithography compared to existing techniques was the possibility for the illustrator to draw directly onto the stone. Illustrators such as Alexander Ver Huell (1822-1897) and Charles Rochussen (1814-1894) took full advantage of this new freedom and were freed from the interpretation of the reproductive engraver. The technique also turned out to be exceptionally suitable for colour printing which had been a fairly unwieldy technique until then, often resulting in hand colouring of illustrations.

As the printing of lithographs was faster and easier than the printing of etchings or engravings, the engraved title page disappeared as well and was initially replaced by a lithographic title page. Type foundries responded by producing such a wide range of ornamental letters that a separate print run for the decorated title page was no longer necessary.

Wood engraving was also introduced into the Netherlands around 1820. This technique, a major improvement on the woodcut, made much more detailed illustrations possible. When the precision of the illustration of books and periodicals mattered, wood engravings certainly played a major role. Engravers such as Alexander Cranendoncq (1799-1869) and Willem Bal (1808-1897) produced a steady flow of high-quality illustrations and publishers such as Fuhri and Sijthoff made an important contribution to the development of this technique.

There were two other major inventions besides lithography and wood engraving in the first half of the nineteenth century which were to have a large influence on the development of illustrative techniques: electrotype and photography, both in 1839. Electrotype was the predecessor of 'clip-art', the ready-made plate that could be used by anyone. The possibility of reproducing wood engravings by way of electrotyping also provided a great stimulus for the international trade in illustrations. 'Galvanos' were used as a cheap solution, particularly in illustrated periodicals.

Before photography could be used on a large scale for book illustrations, it first had to be made suitable for the production of plates. Processes were established in turn for photolithography (1855), collotype (1868), photo engraving (around 1870) and heliogravure (1879), which brought about a major improvement in the quality of reproductions. An acceptable solution to the initial difficulties with the reproduction of grey tones in book illustrations came with the invention of the halftone block (1882).

In addition to illustrations, the publisher had another method to make his products more attractive: the de luxe edition. Alongside the 'popular edition' he published an edition on better paper, in a larger size, with gold edging and sometimes with an exceptionally luxurious binding for the wealthier buyer.

author: J. de Zoete

Illustrations and decoration