Etchings as a fine art form may have had their origins in the medieval process of armor-making. Scholars believe that etching likely began in Germany, with a number of Renaissance artists trying their hands at creating these works of art. The original etchings created by these artists were subject to the same process used to etch armor. First, a copper surface was covered with a substance (a ground) that is impervious to the etching acid. Then, a tool was used to scratch out an image. The copper sheet was dipped into an acid that dissolved the uncovered parts of the surface to create the image. The image was then coated with ink and pressed onto paper. Modern techniques are similar to this, but different types of materials may be used to create a finished print.
While the vintage etchings of some artists are incredibly rare, enthusiasts can easily find their work in collections such as The Complete Etchings of Rembrandt (edited by G. D. Schwartz) or Landscape Etchings by the Dutch Masters of the Seventeenth Century (I. M. De Groot). Enthusiasts who would like to buy etchings may be surprised at the variety available. For example, collectors can still find Picasso prints for sale. When searching for etchings, collectors should ask about what techniques were used to create the image, the size of the edition (how many prints there are in that collection), and the background of the artist.
Learning how to make etchings can provide a stronger appreciation for their beauty and value. Etching: Modern Methods of Intaglio Printmaking by Julian Trevelyan offers insights into modern approaches to this art. A. Smith's Etching: A Guide to Traditional Techniques takes the reader on a historical tour of the etching process.
Etchings are a unique art form that serve to highlight the skill of the artist. Developing a collection and studying the history of this art can provide many hours of pleasure.