The Essentials of Book Collecting

An Essay in Parts

by Robert F. Lucas

Part   1 - Introduction
Part   2 - Importance of priority relative to book collecting
Part   3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description
Part   4 - Jargon - Condition and its importance
Part   5 - Bibliographies and other useful references
Part   6 - Rarity & scarcity and supply & demand
Part   7 - Ephemera - what is it and is it part of book collecting
Part   8 - Understanding book values & pricing
Part   9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper
Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators
Part 11 - Investing in Antiquarian Books

Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators

When considering a book whether in a bookshop, catalogue or on-line, always check to see if it is illustrated and determine the name of the illustrator. Even a later edition of a book, particularly a "classic", may be very collectible and of significant monetary value as well, when it has been illustrated by one of many avidly sought-after illustrators. In this section of the essay we will provide you with brief details of some collectible book illustrators and a list of other well-known illustrators. We will also introduce you to many of the different types of book illustrations from woodcuts to copperplate engravings to lithographs to albumen prints to halftones, etc.

The earliest form of book illustration to be used in America is the woodcut which is made by cutting the flat surface of wood along the grain with a knife or knife-like cutting tool. The cut is made on both sides of the line to be printed, leaving a ridge which becomes a black line when printed. The first book illustrator in America was John Foster, a printer of Boston, Massachusetts — according to Hamilton's "Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers" there is some confusion over exactly which of Foster's early illustrations was the first American book illustration. Foster's 1670 portrait of Richard Mather occurs as a frontispiece illustration in one copy of a biography — thus it may not have been issued as an illustration — however Foster has several other woodcut illustrations in other books during the 1670's, one of which must be the first American book illustration.

For the remainder of the 17th century and most of the 18th century, the woodcut and an occasional small cut (illustration) done on type metal, are the only type of illustration in American books. During the 1700's another form of illustration begins to appear — the copperplate engraving — an engraving is accomplished with a tool called a burin or graver, a sharp, pointed tool used to "plow" or gouge a line in the copper. One of America's earliest and also best known copperplate engraver was the Boston silversmith and patriot, Paul Revere. He engraved plates for colonial paper money, bookplates, almanac illustrations, newspaper mastheads, book and magazine illustrations, prints, etc.

In the 1790's another form of engraving became popular for production of book illustrations — the wood engraving. Alexander Anderson was one of America's earliest and best known wood engraver. The graver or burin is used on the endgrain of a block of dense wood such as boxwood to leave a line which does not print — a white line rather than a black line such as the woodcut produces. If the engraver removes enough wood, he can produce black lines rather than white lines — most wood engravings show the use of both types of lines. The quality of a wood engraving, when done by a professional such as Anderson, was far superior to a woodcut or even some copperplate engraving.

A process called lithography was developed in France in the late 18th century and was revolutionary for book illustrations — this process was an efficient way of making many prints of high quality from the same "plate". Lithography literally means "stone writing" — the stone being a block of specially prepared, very smooth limestone on which the artist or lithographer drew an image with an oil-based, greasy crayon. The stone was then flooded with solution of gum arabic to "fix" the crayon grease and next the stone was moistened with water and then oil-based ink was applied — the ink would adhere only to the crayon lines and not to the wet stone between the lines — a paper would be applied to the stone and a print or illustration would be "pulled" from the stone. America's first lithographer was an artist named Bass Otis who successfully made a lithograph of a mill scene for an American periodical in 1819. Lithographs soon supplanted wood engravings & copperplate engravings as the most popular form of book illustration. America's best known lithographers were Currier & Ives who produced mostly prints, some advertising cards & sheet music, but few if any book illustrations.

In the early part of the 19th century, two other forms of engraving which used acid to cut into the metal plate were used for some book illustrations, but the use was only occasional. The aquatint was formed by spreading a thin layer of resin over a metal plate and then the artist would engrave or "scratch" through the resin and the design on the resin was transferred to the metal plate when acid was applied — the acid would "eat" through the resin in the engraved areas and subsequently into the metal. This would produce a plate from which softer, almost stipple-like prints could be pulled as opposed to the harshness of copperplate engravings.

The other method using acid was etching which always has been used much more for production of prints rather than book illustrations. Etching is accomplished in much the same manner as aquatints with the substitution of a layer of wax for the resin. The acid "eats" through the wax faster where the engraving has been done and then cuts into the metal plate. In both etchings and aquatints the ink fills the channels cut into the metal and the surplus ink is wiped from the plate and pressure is applied to the paper (often moistened paper) during the printing process to press the paper into the channels containing the ink — this general process is referred to as intaglio printing.

In the 1840's chromolithography was developed and colored book illustrations and prints and all types of ephemera were produced in vast quantities — color and reproductions of fine art were now readily available. Previously most color book illustrations were produced by hand water-coloring of black and white illustrations — one could purchase the same books either colored or plain. Now, with chromolithography, it became easy for publishers to illustrate their books with full color plates. The chromolithograph was produced in much the same manner as a black & white lithography, but a series of stones was used for the application of many colors — a separate stone for each color used — and perfect "registration" during the printing process was essential — the paper must be placed at exactly the same registration point on each stone or subsequent colors would be misapplied. Louis Prang, although not the earliest American chromolithographer, developed the chromolithograph and the business of chromolithography more than any other publisher/printer in this country. By the late 1850's chromolithographs became common as book illustrations and they really flourished in the 1880's and 1890's. Today's modern offset printing methods are similar to lithography (both are planographic techniques not relying on cutting or engraving a relief design), but use a paper or thin metal plate instead of a stone.

The next revolutionary type of book illustration came from the invention of photography. The earliest American book to have an actual photograph for an illustration is "Homes of American Statesmen" published with a 1854 title page date and contains a photograph of "The Hancock House" taken by Whipple of Boston. Although there were quite a few books illustrated with actual photographs pasted-in, it was difficult to print huge numbers of photo prints, thus these books tended to be issued in small editions of 100 to 500 copies. Books of the 19th century with actual photographs as illustrations tend to be very collectible and sought-after. Most of the early photographs were either "salt-prints" (early — mostly 1850's) or albumen prints (made glossy with an initial coating of an egg white mixture).

In the mid to late 1860's two processes were invented which would allow thousands of prints of a photograph to be made: the woodburytype and the heliotype. In this country the woodburytype was extensively used by publishers from 1870 to 1900 — the process produced prints of very high quality with very sharp detail and with a slight purplish tint. The process involved applying a negative to a gelatinous layer from which thousands of prints could be made. Books illustrated with heliotypes or woodburytypes occur in larger editions than the salt-print or albumen-print books and although in demand are usually not as rare.

Two inventions allowed the production of practically limit-less numbers of copies of a photographic image. The photogravure is a method of making an intaglio metal plate from a photographic image and then printing from the plate as many copies as desired. the photogravure can provide very high quality images, but tends to be more expensive than the other process which is a photomechanical process called a halftone. The halftone is formed by breaking a photo image into a series of dots of different density allowing for the different tones in the original photograph. A halftone when examined with a magnifying glass looks like a mass of tiny dots.

The halftone, although invented in the 1850's, was not used extensively until the 20th century and it became one of the most used methods of illustrating a book — and it allowed for photo illustrations in newspapers and magazines.

The following is a brief chronology of the development of book illustrations providing approximate decade of first use in America instead of an exact year:


Part   1 - Introduction
Part   2 - Importance of priority relative to book collecting
Part   3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description
Part   4 - Jargon - Condition and its importance
Part   5 - Bibliographies and other useful references
Part   6 - Rarity & scarcity and supply & demand
Part   7 - Ephemera - what is it and is it part of book collecting
Part   8 - Understanding book values & pricing
Part   9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper
Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators
Part 11 - Investing in Antiquarian Books

Books and Book Collecting