Sunday, October 15, 2017

My favorite things 42


As a professor of graphic arts, my father was an inveterate collector of all things related to printing, an enthusiasm that washed down to my own generation.  Our favorite method was letterpress -- where the letters or images are raised above the surface of the printing plate to accept ink rolled or pounced over the top, like a rubber stamp.  But just to make the collection comprehensive, Dad acquired some lithographic stones.

Lithography works in a non-intuitive manner: the image and the printing plate are perfectly flat.  The ink adheres to the image and not to the rest of the plate through basic chemistry -- because oil and water don't mix.  Start with a porous stone, perfectly flat.  Draw on it with a greasy crayon or paint.  Slosh water over the entire stone; it will be repelled by the crayon but absorbed into the background areas.  Roll greasy ink over the entire stone; it will be deposited onto the greasy area of the image but repelled by the water-wet background.  Now you can print the image onto a piece of paper.

Commercial printers were apparently quite frugal with their raw material, the heavy and painstakingly milled stones.  Both of these stones have several letterheads and documents crammed as closely together as possible.  Apparently the cost of making a separate stone would far outweigh the extra care it would take to print just the one you want.

One of the stones was from Georgia, blank checks from banks in Wrightsville, Savannah, Maysville, Senola, Colquette and Fitzgerald.  (I flipped and lightened the images in photoshop so you can read the type.)

The printer must have had to do a lot of tricky masking to make sure just the right one got printed!  In those days, financial papers typically included a blank space for the date, printed like this:  _______________ 190__.     Maybe a clever way for the printer to insure that people came back and had new letterheads printed at least once per decade.


The other stone came from Paris; it has letterheads for a dressmaker, an electrician, and a stockbroker, if my bad French is correct.  It was a decade later, 191__.

I was reminded when I pulled the stones out for photography just how heavy they are!!  My brother, who lives in Australia, reminded me the last time he visited that one of the stones actually belongs to him.  I told him he was welcome to take it home with him, but since he's always just a nanogram this side of the weight limit, he declined.  So I think both stones are going to stay with me forever.

2 comments:

  1. Can these stones then be altered if there is a change - a new date for example - or would they have to create a new one?

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  2. I think not -- the way you re-use a stone is to mill off the old parts and start over, but if you tried to grind off only one bit, it would be deeper than the rest and would not print properly, because the ink and impression rollers wouldn't get to it firmly.

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