Chromoxylography | Sheaff : ephemera


SnodgressMurrayTC150SnodgressMurray(detail)150( detail )

Chromoxylography is just the fancy word for color printing from woodblocks. Color woodblock printing has been used for centuries for all sorts of things, including Japanese woodblock prints, sophisticated art reproduction prints, natural history books and children's book illustrations. The finer works in chromoxylography might utilize a dozen or more separate engraved woodblocks. George Baxter in England produced chomoxylographs in the 1830s, using the technique of starting with an aquatint intaglio keyline, which he then colored with oil-based inks printed from wood (and other) blocks.

Printing blocks on wood were engraved in the end grain of hard woods, in relief: area that were not to print were carved away. Some areas were simply printed as solid colors. More subtle tonality and color mixing could be modulated by carving parallel lines of various thicknesses and with controlled cross-hatching, both horizontal and diagonal. As in chromolithography, accomplished artists needed to think and plan ahead, envisioning and working out the effects to be created by overlaying different color blocks in different areas. Bamber Gascione (How To Identify Prints, Thames & Hudson 1986) says that the "blockmaker would know whether to engrave thin white lines (for an almost solid tone), medium white lines (a mid-tone) or crosshatchings [lighter tints]". As in all multi-color overprinting, registration was critical. In color woodblock printing, many colors were produced by overlaying two colors to make a third (for example, combining blue and yellow to create green). 

Well-done chromoxylographs . . . though often rather simple and spare . . . were used to reproduce work by noted illustrators Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane.

Cheaper items . . . dime pulp novels ("yellow backs"), low-end children's books, penny dreadful covers, and similar items were produced by color woodblock printing, but generally in cruder renditions, often simply using many areas of solid color. 

My primary interest here is in the chromoxylographic printing of trade cards and other mid- to late-nineteenth items of ephemera. Though some have said that the printing of woodblock trade cards was fairly uncommon, I find that once one starts looking, there are many to be seen. Most . . . but certainly not all . . . are somewhat crude. Some are handsomely done. Even the crude ones often, I think, have a naive folk art charm to them. 

In that era, many woodblock printings in color were created with a combination of impressions from woodblocks, metal blocks, metal stereotypes (perhaps taken from woodblock engravings), areas of stippling or texture which can look like photolithography at a glance, and other mixed  media. It can get complex.


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card, 1863 ( Collection of William Phillips )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card, detail ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Collection of George K. Fox )


( Collection of Joe Freedman )


( Pacific Book Auctions, Sale #439, 10/21/2010, Alex Schwed Clipper Cards, Lot 329 )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


( not in Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Stock trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card. A well-executed custom wood engraving of a specific building (and likely specific employees), 
engraved by Philip Herberich of Akron, Ohio. Herberich was born in Germany in 1857, listed in Akron beginning
in 1883. He worked first for Werner Printing, then on his own, then (beginning 1889) as a foreman at
the Akron Engraving Company. ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( not in Sheaff collection )


( Collection of Jonathan Bulkley )


Sample Label, 1868 ( not in Sheaff collection )


( Collection of George Fox )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


( not in Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


( Collection of Joe Freedman )


( Collection of Jonathan Bulkley )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )


Booklet cover ( Sheaff collection )


Trade card for a poultry incubator, done by the Hallock-Chandler Company.
Victorians often came up with wild and or bizarre imagery 
( Sheaff collection )


Trade card ( Sheaff collection )

Clicking on a thumbnail image opens a larger image . . .

            All images not otherwise indicated are copyrighted by Richard D. Sheaff and not to be used for any purpose without written permission.