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The Intaglio Processes for Audubon’s Birds of America

Notes on the intaglio processes of the most expensive book on birds available for sale in the world today.

The Audubon prints in “The Birds of America” were all made from copper plates utilizing four of the so called “intaglio” processes, engraving, etching, aquatint, and drypoint.   Intaglio processes are those by which the design to printed is cut down into the surface of the plate, and will yield an impression in relief.

The design is rendered upon the plate either with a tool or by the action of an acid eating into the copper plate through an acid resistant coating called a “ground.”

The design consists of incised lines, mottled areas used to create “half tones”, and combinations of the two.  After the incised lines or mottled areas have been created, they are filled with a stiff ink and the surface of the plate is wiped clean.  A sheet of damp paper is laid over the plate, and upon being subjected to a great amount of pressure by a press, the paper is forced into the lines and mottled areas, attracting the ink and resulting in a print.  The embossed ridge on the paper which is made be the roller as it passes over the edges of the plate distinguishes hand printed works from other large scale commercial processes.  This ridge is called the platemark.

Each of the four intaglio processes presents its own characteristics.

Engraving is that process where a crisp, sharp line is “slivered” out of the plate by hand with the use of a special tool called a burin.  The burin has an exceedingly sharp triangular tip that will dig into the copper and liver out a line when pushed by the hand.  The resstance of the copper to the tool handicaps extreme flexibility of design.

In etching, the copper plate is cleaned and polished and the surface coated with a wax, while the sides and back of the plate are protected with an acid resistant varnish.  With the use of a steel needle the design is created on the plate by cutting through the wax surface, and the plate is then immersed in a bath of acid and the exposed copper is eaten away, thus leaving an incised line on the plate.

Aquatint, like etching, employs acid to eat the design into the metal.  It differs from etching in that it yields fine shadings in the degree of darkness in the non-lined areas.  In the aquatint process the design is produced by sprinkling the plate with fine dust of a resinous substance (the ground) and affixing the dust particles to the plate with heat.

In this process the depth of the design in the plate is controlled by the extent to which the acid is allowed to bite during a series of aced baths.  The deeper the acid eats, the darker is the resulting area in the print.  Arias that are to print black are given full exposure to the acid, which eats a pit around each of the original dust particles.  Areas that are to print gray are covered to protect them from the acid after one or two immersions. Areas that are to be white in the print are kept permanently covered with an acid-resistant varnish.

A drypoint is that linear design on the copper that has been obtained by the strength of the artist’s stroke with a steel or a diamond needle.  Just as in engraving, the line is controlled by hand.

The softness of the drypoint lines is of particular note.  Just as a plow throws up a ridge of earth beside the furrow , the drypoint instrument leaves a ridge of metal called the “burr” which softens the incised line.

Robert Havell, engraver of “the Birds of America,” employed all these techniques, with utilization of engraving and aquatint being predominant.  Havell’s great control of the buring and his economical use of aquatint producing half tones, to obtain the effects of dark and light (chiaroscuro) are his trademarks of success.  The manner of the flowing water color washes over the aquatint on the final print adds to the illusion of gradated tone.

Another technique that Havell uses is that of “feathering”, a process by which he allowed the acid to bite a granular surface upon the bare copper plate without using and acid-resistant material (ground).  This results in soft gradations.

Some of the small plates are etchings combined with some aquatint; and the larger plates, several with an area of over five square feet, are mostly engravings combined with aquatint and heightened with the use of drypoint and etchings in many cases.

The engraved line that is remarkably pure, the aquatint which is expertly merged with line, and the use of etching and drypoint to create richness an depth are all proof of the skill Havell possessed.  —Robert Bornhuetter – 1966 as published in a soft-cover print book produced by the Louisiana State Museum and Friends of the Cabildo entitled Audubon in Louisiana.

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Quotations

He who despises painting loves neither philosophy or nature.

— Leonardo Da Vinci

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas – from Ghost Stories of M.R. James

I

Verum usque in præsentem diem multa garriunt inter se Canonici de abscondito quodam istius Abbatis Thomæ thesauro, quem sæpe, quanquam adhuc incassum, quæsiverunt Steinfeldenses. Ipsum enim Thomam adhuc florida in ætate existentem ingentem auri massam circa monasterium defodisse perhibent; de quo multoties interrogatus ubi esset, cum risu respondere solitus erat: “Job, [...] Read more →

The Age of Chivalry

CHAPTER 1 – Introduction

KING ARTHUR AND HIS KNIGHTS

On the decline of the Roman power, about five centuries after Christ, the countries of Northern Europe were left almost destitute of a national government. Numerous chiefs, more or less powerful, held local sway, as far as each [...] Read more →

The History of Witchcraft in England – The Beginnings

The Beginnings of English Witchcraft

It has been said by a thoughtful writer that the subject of witchcraft has hardly received that place which it deserves in the history of opinions. There has been, of course, a reason for this neglect—the fact that the belief in witchcraft is no longer [...] Read more →

Penal Methods of the Middle Ages

CHAPTER I

PENAL METHODS OF THE MIDDLE AGES

Prisons as places of detention are very ancient institutions. As soon as men had learned the way to build, in stone, as in Egypt, or with bricks, as in Mesopotamia, when kings had many-towered fortresses, and the great barons castles [...] Read more →

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Country House Essays, the book is now in print. This is an eclectic collection of both original, and historical essays, poems, books, and articles created for our loyal reader hear at CountryHouseEssays.com. It is jam packed with reprints of articles from this website. The cost is $49.95 for this massive [...] Read more →

Clarivoyance by C.W. Leadbeater

Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras, India, 1890

CLAIRVOYANCE

by C. W. Leadbeater

Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Pub. House

[1899]

CHAPTER IX

METHODS OF DEVELOPMENT

When a men becomes convinced of the reality of the valuable [...] Read more →

Westminster Confession of Faith – 1646

CHAPTER I. Of the Holy Scripture.

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Parting Words to Kate from The Sloop of War, Jamestown

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Several years ago, I purchased a small memory book entitled Album of Love from the mid 1800s.

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Historic authenticity of the Spanish SAN FELIPE of 1690

Model of San Felipe

Reprinted from FineModelShips.com with the kind permission of Dr. Michael Czytko

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The Late Rev. H.M. Scarth

H. M. Scarth, Rector of Wrington

By the death of Mr. Scarth on the 5th of April, at Tangier, where he had gone for his health’s sake, the familiar form of an old and much valued Member of the Institute has passed away. Harry Mengden Scarth was bron at Staindrop in Durham, [...] Read more →

Classic Restoration of a Spring Tied Upholstered Chair

This video by AT Restoration is the best hands on video I have run across on the basics of classic upholstery. Watch a master at work. Simply amazing.

Tools:

Round needles: https://amzn.to/2S9IhrP Double pointed hand needle: https://amzn.to/3bDmWPp Hand tools: https://amzn.to/2Rytirc Staple gun (for beginner): https://amzn.to/2JZs3x1 Compressor for pneumatic [...] Read more →

A History of the Use of Arsenicals in Man

The arsenicals (compounds which contain the heavy metal element arsenic, As) have a long history of use in man – with both benevolent and malevolent intent. The name ‘arsenic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘arsenikon’ which means ‘potent'”. As early as 2000 BC, arsenic trioxide, obtained from smelting copper, was used [...] Read more →

Books Condemned to be Burnt

BOOKS CONDEMNED TO BE BURNT.

By

JAMES ANSON FARRER,

LONDON

ELLIOT STOCK, 62, PATERNOSTER ROW

1892

———-

WHEN did books first come to be burnt in England by the common hangman, and what was [...] Read more →

U.S. Plant Variety Protection Act – Full Text

UNITED STATES PLANT VARIETY PROTECTION ACT

TITLE I – PLANT VARIETY PROTECTION OFFICE Chapter Section 1. Organization and Publications . 1 2. Legal Provisions as to the Plant Variety Protection Office . 21 3. Plant Variety Protection Fees . 31

CHAPTER 1.-ORGANIZATION AND PUBLICATIONS Section 1. Establishment.2 There is [...] Read more →

The Master of Hounds

Photo Caption: The Marquis of Zetland, KC, PC – otherwise known as Lawrence Dundas Son of: John Charles Dundas and: Margaret Matilda Talbot born: Friday 16 August 1844 died: Monday 11 March 1929 at Aske Hall Occupation: M.P. for Richmond Viceroy of Ireland Vice Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire Lord – in – Waiting [...] Read more →

Here’s Many a Year to You

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Here’s to the best of you ! You with the blood and the nerve. Here’s to the rest of you ! What of a weak moment’s swerve ? [...] Read more →

The Hunt Saboteur

The Hunt Saboteur is a national disgrace barking out loud, black mask on her face get those dogs off, get them off she did yell until a swift kick from me mare her voice it did quell and sent the Hunt Saboteur scurrying up vale to the full cry of hounds drowning out her [...] Read more →

The Billesden Coplow Run

Smith, Charles Loraine; The Billesdon Coplow Run, Leicestershire

*note – Billesdon and Billesden have both been used to name the hunt.

BILLESDEN COPLOW POEM

[From “Reminiscences of the late Thomas Assheton Smith, Esq”]

The run celebrated in the following verses took place on the 24th of February, 1800, [...] Read more →

The Kalmar War

The Kalmar War

From The Historian’s History of the World (In 25 Volumes) by Henry Smith William L.L.D. – Vol. XVI.(Scandinavia) Pg. 308-310

The northern part of the Scandinavian peninsula, as already noticed, had been peopled from the remotest times by nomadic tribes called Finns or Cwenas by the Norwegians and Lapps [...] Read more →