This 142+ year old Item is rated Very Fine +++. No creases. There is light bleedthrough on this piece from the verso. 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.
Keywords specific to this image: Sculpture, Tomb, Monument