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Lasting Impressions:
Copper Engraved Plates


Engraving is one of the oldest, and most historically significant methods of illustrating a book and refers to the impression of a pattern, design, text or image into a hard surface. The impressed surface becomes known as a printing plate, and can be used repeatedly to create multiple prints as required, with varying degrees of durability success, depending on the hardness of the material used. Until the early 19th century, one of the materials most often used for engraving was copper. We've included a selection of some of the beautiful copper engravings available on the site, as well as more information about the process for you below. Enjoy.



La Giraffe; Le Chevotin by Denis Diderot 1751

La Giraffe; Le Chevotin
by Denis Diderot 1751

From Diderot's iconic "Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers", this copper plate engraving is a study of a giraffe and a mouse deer.
  Scilla-Maritima by Pierre-Joseph Redoute 1802

Scilla-Maritima
by Pierre-Joseph Redoute 1802

The unequalled botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté had, as pupils or patrons, five queens and empresses of France, from Marie-Antoinette to Empress Josephine and her successor, Marie-Louise.
  Proliferous Mountain Crowfoot and Others by John Hill 1757

Proliferous Mountain Crowfoot and Others
by John Hill 1757

Dr. John Hill's "Eden, or a Complete Body of Gardening", was one of the most beautiful illustrated botanical books of its time.
 

While steel was more durable, copper was softer and more easily engraved, allowing for an image richer in depth and tone. But as tools became more sophisticated, and the importance of mass production increased, durability became the main focus and steel became the popular choice. Known as copper engravings or copper-plate engravings, the pieces engraved on copper were produced with the use of a very hard steel tool called a burin, or graver, or later by machine, engraving the work into a flat plate. While this technique was satisfactory and pleasing for the creation of bold, clean linework, it was lacking in the area of shading and half-tones.



Doorway to Vatican Loggia, by Raffaello Sanzio d'Urbino 1772

Doorway to Vatican Loggia
by Raffaello Sanzio d'Urbino 1772

Copper engraving by Ottaviani after drawings by Savorelli and Camporesi, printed in light brown colored ink with contemporary hand- coloring.
  Plates From Hortus Eystettensis by Basilius Besler 1613

Plates From Hortus Eystettensis
by Basilius Besler 1613

One of many hand-colored copper engravings from one the most important botanical books ever published. The author, Basilius Besler (1562-1629), was a Nuremberg apothecary and botanist.
  A Man of the Sandwich Islands Dancing by C. Grignion 1785

A Man of the Sandwich Islands Dancing
by C. Grignion 1785

This copper plate engraving after John Webber from Cook's Voyages depicts a man performing a ritual dance.
 

These were accomplished through hatching, which consists of very thin lines, close together to give the appearance of shading or fill. For especially color-dense areas, those lines were engraved atop one another vertically and horizontally in a technique known as cross-hatching. Differently textured filled areas could also be accomplished by stippling, an engraving art technique similar to the painting technique of pointillism, involving the use of multiple tiny dots very close together for a dark, blanket effect, and further apart to denote lightening.



Scarlet Ibis by Mark Catesby 1754

Scarlet Ibis
by Mark Catesby 1754

Stunning print of this oft illustrated bird, from Catesby's "The Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands," published in London 1754, 2nd edition.
   Braffica Oleracea Rubra by Pierre Joseph Buchoz 1781

Braffica Oleracea Rubra
by Pierre Joseph Buchoz 1781

From "Collection Coloriée des plus belles variétés de Tulipes" in Pierre Buchoz's supplement to the work Collection des Fleurs de la Chine & de l'Europe, & de tout l'Ouvrage.
   Colombia Prima or South America by James Wyld 1853

Colombia Prima or South America
by James Wyld 1853

Splendid pair of maps of South America. James Wyld was successor to William Faden, one of the luminaries of late 18th century publishing in England.
 

Original and traditional engraving techniques are still in use today in specialized fields, though much less often applied in book printing. Modern engravings may be created through more automated possibilities such as by laser or photoengraving, but engraving by hand, with a burin or other sharp tool, has become largely obscure in terms of practical application, and is now seen almost exclusively as an art form. The engravings here go back centuries and are now highly collectible as the intricate, gorgeous pieces of painstaking art they are.



The Razor-Billed Blackbird of Jamaica by Mark Catesby 1771

The Razor-Billed Blackbird of Jamaica
by Mark Catesby 1771

In the text accompanying this illustration, Catesby describes this beautiful bird as being numerous in Jamaica. It feeds on fruit, grain, grasshoppers and beetles and appears mainly in flocks.
  Pineapple from Nurnberische Hesperides by Johann Volckamer 1708-1714

Pineapple from Nurnberische Hesperides
by Johann Volckamer 1708-1714

These gorgeous, color copper-engraving pineapple plates are from Volckamer's work on exotic citrus fruit, published from 1708 to 1714.
   Finishing and Furniture of the Earl of Derby's House 1777

Finishing and Furniture of the Earl of Derby's House
1777

An elegant engraving depicting a collection of ornate furniture in the Earl of Derby's celebrated house in Grosvenor Square, London.
 
 Confucius from A Compleat History of the Empire of China by Lewis Le Comte 1739

Confucius from A Compleat History of the Empire of China
by Lewis Le Comte 1739

Copper engraving of Confucius. Le Comte was one of a group of six Jesuit missionaries sent to join the French mission in China in 1685.
   Catherine La Victorieuse by Pierre Joseph Buchoz 1781

Catherine La Victorieuse
by Pierre Joseph Buchoz 1781

Buchoz was born in Metz. At the age of 28, he was appointed physician to the King of Poland, but left his post to pursue his interest in botany.
   New Zealand by J. Rapkin 1851

New Zealand
by J. Rapkin 1851

A decorative map of New Zealand with five vignettes including views of Auckland, Mount Egmont from New Plymouth and Wellington.
 
 Rosa Semperflorens by Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin 1797-1804

Rosa Semperflorens
by Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin 1797-1804

A stunning botanical print of a fairy rose, from Jacquin's seminal book on the royal garden at Schonbrunn.
   Aranzo Citrus Fruit Plates by Johann Volckamer 1708

Aranzo Citrus Fruit Plates
by Johann Volckamer 1708

These plates of fruit are enhanced with charming perspective drawings of gardens and views, making them of particular interest to gardeners and garden historians.
   Thebes. Hypogees. Idoles et Fragmens en Bois de Sycomore Peints de Diverses Couleurs. 1820

Thebes. Hypogees. Idoles et Fragmens en Bois de Sycomore Peints de Diverses Couleurs.
1820

This image is a plate from Volume II of the Antiquities section of the monumental publication "Description de L'Egypte."
 
Struthio Casuarius by Simon Charles Miger circa 1800

Struthio Casuarius by Simon Charles Miger circa
1800

A beautiful plate with stunning early color, of a cassowary, from Lacépède's "La Menagerie du Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle".
  Trauben mit Schmetterlingen und Raupen by Maria Sybilla Merian 1705

Trauben mit Schmetterlingen und Raupen
by Maria Sybilla Merian 1705

Copper engraving with moths, caterpillars and grapes from "Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium", a book on insects and plants in Suriname.
  Jacob's Ladder by Raffaello Sanzio d'Urbino 1770

Jacob's Ladder
by Raffaello Sanzio d'Urbino 1770

This stunning plate is one from "Logge di Rafaele nel Vaticano": with contemporary coloring of the highest quality from the golden age of the hand-colored print.
 
Copper Engraving from Twelve Months of Fruit by Robert Furber, 1732

Copper Engraving from Twelve Months of Fruit
by Robert Furber, 1732

Copper engravings by Henry Fletcher after Casteels, with contemporary hand-coloring. Robert Furber was a nurseryman with gardens near Hyde Park gate in Kensington.
  Minerva by Reinier van Persyn, 1650

Minerva
by Reinier van Persyn, 1650

Copper plate engraving, signed in the plate by Dutch Golden Age engraver Reinier van Persijn (or Persyn) who specialized in book plates and portraits.
  Balon del Re di Siam from 'Isolario dell'Atlante Veneto' by Vincenzo Coronelli

Balon del Re di Siam from 'Isolario dell'Atlante Veneto'
by Vincenzo Coronelli

Beautiful depictions of the Ceremonial Royal Barge and State Barge of Siam from one of the most decorative and ornate of all 17th century atlases.
 
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