Notes on Book Illustration

Notes on the History of Book Illustration

This information comes from . A History of Book Publishing in the United States: Volume I The Creation of an Industry by John Tebbel. The earliest known copperplate illustration was a frontispiece to Increase Mather’s Blessed Hope from 1701, done by Thomas Emmes of Boston. It also appeared in Cotton Mather’s Ichabod, published in 1702. The first professional engraver in the colonies was Francis Dewing, who started in 1716. After 1722, copperplate printing was common and Benjamin Franklin was credited with producing the first copperplate press. The first notable engraver is argued to be Peter Pelham, an English mezzotint engraver who worked from 1727-1751.

Woodcuts were also featured in many books of the eighteenth century, notably including a 1740 printing of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Franklin produced “the first attempt printed in America to symbolize a political situation” using an illustration in a pamphlet called Plain Truth in 1747. Children’s books began to be illustrated in the mid-eighteenth century, and magazines featured political cartoons. The most prominent producer of cartoons was Paul Revere— a copperplate line engraver. The illustrated children’s books included Robinson Crusoe, released in its first American edition in 1774. In 1776, Astly released the first American sporting book— The Modern Riding Master but the engravings were crude when compared to the children’s books. The first American Mother Goose was printed in 1785.

Woodcuts became the dominant form, after improvements by Thomas Bewick. The most ambitious illustrated work of the eighteenth century was Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, at 792 pages with 60 illustrations, published between 1792-4. A two volume folio edition of the bible with 50 illustrations was published by Thomas in 1791, and the first American editions of the illustrated Encyclopaedia Britannica were produced from 1790-97, with 542 copperplates. However, Rees’s Encyclopedia, in 18 volumes from 1790-97 illustrated by 543 copperplates produced by American artists is said to be when “American book illustration came of age”(174). Lithography was developed in 1796, but did not appear in America until 1818. It didn’t begin to catch on until 1825, and woodcuts were still popular in the mid-nineteenth century.

* I was also looking at some copies of Survey Graphic from 1930-36 today. Woodcuts feature prominantly in many of them. Photographs appear in innovative layouts in 1935 and 1936 issues.

1 thought on “Notes on Book Illustration”

  1. Studying _La Celestina_ in graduate school, I became fascinated with woodcuts. Did you know that in early days, re-publishers would trace illustrations and use the tracing to create a new woodcut? It’s immediately obvious if you see original and copy together — the copy will be reversed (think about the method and you’ll see why) and its lines will be thicker and less detailed.

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