This 116+ year old Item is rated Near Mint / Very Fine+. No Creases. No Natural Defects. No Surface Rub. No Tears. No Water Damage.
Wood-Engraved Photographs, or Photoxylographs
Wood-engraved photographs, also known as photoxylographs, are a late-nineteenth century printing process. It is the result of a marriage of wood engraving, originally developed at the end of the eighteenth century by Thomas Bewick, whereby the wood block was cut not on the plank side with the grain, like woodcuts, but instead across the grain on the end-grain of very hard woods, and the burgeoning photographic processes of the mid-nineteenth century.
The process was an attempt to capture the new and uniquely authentic reality of photography. Though earnest experimentation began in the 1850s, the process of reproducing the gradual tonal ranges of photography, absent the interpretive hand of an artist on a printer's block, plate, or stone, was mechanically unachievable for decades. The seemingly simple task of converting a photograph to a reproducible medium is fraught with complication by the simple, immutable fact that printer's ink lacks tonal gradation; black is always black. Thus, the only contemporaneously suitable solution was to laboriously recreate by hand the appearance of a photograph through incredibly refined line engraving. This method is characteristic of various historic printing processes, all of which employed various methods of breaking an image into smaller particles to emulate tone. The unique attribute of wood-engraved photographs is that they employed the photographic process as the first step of their creation.
The process of creating a photoxlographs for publication, their main form of dissemination, was complex. First, a photograph was taken, likely using an early dry plate (gelatin process), creating a negative. The negative was then printed onto an end-grain wood block prepared with a light-sensitive coating. Once the photographic transfer was set, the engraver undertook the process of methodically engraving the block by hand with a burin, a traditional engraving tool, with the photograph acting as a guide. The finished block was then often locked-up in a chase with text and this composite was then used to create a thin metal replica called a stereotype, which was shaped to fit the printing cylinder of a rotary press. This process of conversion allowed the press to operate at high speed, and the metal stereotype allowed for the printing of larger editions than would be achievable with a wooden block alone.
The images created with this process are exceptional to behold; they exemplify both expert craftsmanship and amazing artistry. To be fully appreciated wood-engraved photographs are best viewed up-close and preferably under magnification; only then can one come to fully grasp the skill, attention, and vast amount of labor involved in their production. Sadly the process was short-lived as a production printing process for the publishing industry, being quickly rendered obsolete by the development of mechanical halftone processes at the turn of the twentieth century. Copyright Period Paper 2012.
This piece was illustrated by Cole, Timothy. Artist signature in print - bottom right of image.
Timothy Cole (1852 - 1931) was one of the most successful and talented wood engravers of the late nineteenth century, and was one of the last great American wood engraving masters working in an increasingly rare and obsolete art form. His work was highly regarded for its meticulous detail, exactness, and range of subject matter, making Cole one of the most sought after wood engravers in the publishing industry at the time. His work exemplifies absolute fidelity to the form, texture, massing, and light apparent in the originals from which he worked, yet captures an insight, spirit, and meaning that would simply go unnoticed by a less talented and insightful engraver. Born in 1852 in London, Cole immigrated to the United States at the age of five. At sixteen years of age, he was apprenticed to Bond & Chandler, a Chicago, Illinois engraving firm. At the age of eighteen, Cole abandoned engraving, pursuing a career in music. However, following the Chicago Fire in 1871, Cole and his family found themselves possessionless and homeless, forcing Cole to return to engraving. He found employment in New York City as a technical engraver for periodicals, including Scientific American.
In 1874 Cole joined the staff of Scribner's Monthly, a predecessor to Century Magazine (The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine). In 1883, Cole was sent to Europe to engrave a set of blocks after old masters' work throughout Europe. This initial foray was immensely popular with readers and proved successful for Century. Cole would remain in Europe for the next 28 years expanding upon Century's collection of great European masters' work. He worked for Century for three decades; his technical and artistic virtuosity allowing him to produce work well into the twentieth century, long after the art of wood engraving suffered a death at the hands of the mechanical halftone process for production printing.
Cole was at once a craftsman and an artist who employed his keen eye and precise, yet interpretive, engraving style to achieve tone, texture, and light representative of the original, yet sympathetic in its handling and translation of the less apparent atmospheric and emotive intent of the original artist. Cole's work garnered him a medal of first class at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 and the only grand prize awarded for a wood engraving at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904. Cole died in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1931. Copyright Period Paper 2012.