Index Illustration
Aspects of the Victorian Book
  Production   Publishing

As printing developed from a hand craft to a technology during the Victorian era, so book illustration also changed to satisfy the demands of a growing readership eager for 'thousands of copies to be multiplied without any deterioration'.

The traditional relief process of wood engraving, with the 'white line' tonal effect pioneered by Thomas Bewick at the end of the eighteenth century, had been eagerly revived in England in the early years of the nineteenth century. As the century went on it continued to be used extensively, especially at the cheaper end of the market and for magazine illustration, where the development of stereotyping and electrotyping made it possible to produce casts of the original wood block for use in long print runs. From the 1860s wood engraving, and particularly colour printing in relief, reached a height of popularity in book illustration, as artists such as Walter Crane found it to be a simple and efficient means of reproduction.

At the same time, advances in technology permitted a greater degree of experimentation in the arts. Steel could provide a stronger printing plate than copper so that a greater number of prints could be made; it also allowed etched and engraved lines to be finer, and more closely cut, to give a more subtle tonal impression. Such an outline was ideal for hand colouring, although this was an expensive method of applying colour. In the 1830s George Baxter experimented with the commercial reproduction of prints in colours to meet the particular demands of a limited market still prepared to pay high prices for aesthetically appealing books, while Charles Knight, and later Thomas Nelson, investigated the possibilities of cheap colour printing. Lithography proved a versatile and increasingly popular process from the 1830s, used for expensive, lavishly illustrated, albums as well as mass-produced promotional material. By the 1890s the application of photography to the printing process had not only eliminated the need for any reinterpretation of an artist's design in order for it to be printed, but now allowed an image to be both directly and mechanically transferred to the printing surface. This encouraged artists such as Beardsley to work specifically with photomechanical processes in mind.

The following illustrations, although they are by leading artists, have been chosen primarily because they are good examples of the various methods employed at the time. They emphasise the enormous variety of Victorian illustrated books, from periodicals to fiction, to natural history and travel, art books and children's books, from expensive limited editions to cheap books for the mass market

Helen Peden

production Introduction Printng technology Illustration Lithography 1860s wood engraving Photographically illustrated books Binding John Leighton bindings Publishing Introduction The Novel Yellowbacks Penny dreadfuls Children's books Magazines