David A. Hanson Collection of the History of Photomechanical Reproduction


The David A. Hanson Collection of the History of Photomechanical Reproduction spans the history of photomechanical printing, from the first heliographic etching in 1826 through the perfecting of three-color printing in the early 20th century. The collection focuses on all aspects of photographic images produced in printer's ink and includes examples of all the major printing methods: intaglio (photogravures, heliogravures, photogalvanography, photo-electric engraving, photoglyphic engraving, rotogravure), planotype (photolithography, Albertype, heliotype, artotype, phototype), and relief (half-tone, random dot, line screen half-tone, mezzotype). Examples of images created by different methods and techniques can be seen at right.

Photomechanical reproduction was from its earliest stages used for a fascinating range and variety of purposes and functions that spanned every discipline of study and many areas of exploration and endeavor, from advertising to medicine to travel to industry—to name just a few. Especially well represented in the collection are books and articles on the evolving processes and techniques of photomechanical reproduction itself. Below is a chronological sampling of images created in the service of some of these varied purposes and endeavors. Quotations are taken from David A. Hanson's descriptions of the works in the collection.

The earliest example of photomechanical reproduction in the David A. Hanson collection is a sheet of four bills, uncut, printed in the United States in 1779, in denominations of seventy dollars, five dollars, two dollars, and one dollar. The face is printed in two colors and has separate designs in each medallion. The verso has leaf prints against stretched gauze, produced by embedding leaves and gauze in a material and making stereotypes from them, a process invented by Benjamin Franklin.

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was a French inventor, often credited as the inventor of photography and a pioneer in that field. Niépce developed heliography, a technique he used to create the world's oldest surviving product of a photographic process: the print below, made from a photoengraved printing plate in 1825. David A. Hanson describes this heliographic engraving print as "the most important extant photomechanical print," included in only 20 copies of the 50-copy edition by Blanquart-Evans in 1870.

[Heliograph of the Cardinal D'Amboise from the engraving by Isaac Biot] In: La photographie : ses origines, ses progrès, ses transformations. Blanquart-Evrard. (Lille:  L. Danel, 1870)

"1 facsimile of a photogenic drawing of ferns (done on the block) as a plate, printed in rust to imitate the photogenic drawing... The facsimile of the photogenic drawing done directly from an exposure on the block is the first photographic image published. The finished example is printed directly from the block in a reddish brown to match the color of Talbot's first salt print photograms."

Facsimile of a photogenic drawing.  [Golding Bird]. (London : Printed and published by J. Limbird, 1839)

An early use of photomechanical reproduction, which has remained constant throughout its history, has been to beguile readers with images of famous places and sights. This is one of 25 steel engravings, for which deguerreotypes were used as references, of views in Paris. This publication is referred to in histories of photography, and many writers draw attention to its relationship with the eventual use of silver-based prints for book illustration shortly thereafter.

Collection de vues de Paris prises au daguerréotype: gravures en taille douce sur acier. Chamouin, Jean Baptiste Marie. (Paris: Chamouin [c. 1845])

The 1856 article "On the Application of Photography to Printing" discusses the use of photography in John W. Draper's book Human Physiology, illustrating the article with images from the book. By this point Harper's was using electrotypes to illustrate its monthly magazine, representing the beginning of the use of photography to copy, reduce, or enlarge existing materials for dissemination in the popular press. Harper's was the first publication company to use photographic copying and reproduction on a large scale in the United States.

Illustrations from "On the Application of Photography to Printing." Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. XIII, no. LXXVI (September 1856), pp. 433-442

A book of twelve stereo photolithographs of Scotland, each a base with two colors and varnish. This booklet is one of several issued by Appleton, with A. A. Turner as the photolithographer. The use of color, the varied tonal renditions, and the variety of subject mater make these sets of stereos "the finest examples of photolithography in America."

[A voyage to Europe, the land of Burns]. A. A. Turner. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., [c. 1860])

Heliographic engraving plate with illustrations of cell structure and spinal cord. This is the earliest published example in a book of von Egloffstein's half-tone process. It is the earliest known half-tone in a line screen process. The photographic plate is interesting because of the use of a crossline pattern unique to this book.

Reflex paralysis: its pathological anatomy; and relation to the sympathetic nervous system. M. Gonzalez Echeverria. (New York : Baillière Bros, 1866)

16 Woodburytypes (uncredited) of photographs of locomotives ... [by] American Photo-Relief Printing Co., Philadelphia. John Carbutt Supt. (uncredited). One of a handful of publications that Carbutt did before he closed his Woodburytype business sometime around 1876 due to slow acceptance and enormous problems with the process in Philadelphia, where the climate was not suitable for its working.

Baldwin locomotive works: illustrated catalogue of locomotives. M. Baird and Co., Philadelphia. (Philadelphia : Press of J.B. Lippincott & Co., [1871?])

HISTORICAL EVENTS: The Great Fire of Boston (1872)
Twenty-four Albertypes were made from photographs of the Great Fire of 1872 in Boston, capturing the catastrophic damage done to buildings and infrastructure in a fire that lasted for 12 hours and consumed about 65 acres of downtown Boston, reducing nearly 800 buildings to ruins. Astonishingly, only 13 people died in the conflagration.

[The great Boston fire, a publisher's dummy for a book that was never published]. (Boston : Albert Type Printing Co. [1872])

One of a selection of Albertype plates of photographs taken by William Henry Jackson, put together as an album of views of Yellowstone. The album was to be part IV of the Hayden Survey but the project burned in a fire at Bierstadt's in 1874 and this collection of plates is one of only three known copies. The large, beautiful plates "would have made the single most important collotype book of the 1870s in the United States," at a time when there was much interest in the striking landscapes and fascinating geological formations of the American West.  

[Albertype views from the Hayden Geological Survey, 1870, 1871]. William Henry Jackson, photographer. ([New York]:  E. Bierstadt [1870, 1871])

The six Woodburytype illustrations from photographs taken by F. Mitchell and George White, photographers to the expedition to the Polar Sea, were some of the earliest expedition photographs published and are remarkable images of the high Arctic.

Narrative of a voyage to the Polar Sea during 1875-6 in H.M. ships 'Alert' and 'Discovery'. Capt. Sir G.S. Nares, commander of the expedition ; with notes on the natural history edited by H.W. Feilden, naturalist to the expedition. (London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1878)

Heliotype illustrations of Native American pueblos, from photographs taken by John K. Hillers and Timothy O'Sullivan, published in a work on North American ethology by Lewis H. Morgan, a pioneering American anthropologist and social theorist. "Another example of the Heliotype Company's dominance in government printing."

Houses and house-life of the American Aborigines. Lewis H. Morgan. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1881)

Probably the only photomechanical mug shot book published in the United States, the mug shots and accompanying biographies are a fascinating study of petty crime in nineteenth-century America, full of pickpockets, "bank sneaks," and con men. This image is a tableau of a suspect being held for his picture, though judging from most of the other mug shots, the picture-taking was normally a much more peaceful process.

Professional criminals of America. Thomas Byrnes. (New York: Cassell & company, limited [c. 1886]) 

Japanese photographic trade cards from McLaughlin's Coffee, one card for each of 16 packages of coffee. "These half-tone images with additional tints mimic the colored Japanese albumen print. How many photographic trade cards are out there would be a study in itself." 

McLaughlin's Coffee picture cards, Japanese life series. (New York : Donaldson Bros., [189-])

"Possibly the most exquisite use of tissue photogravure in the United States." The title page and introduction have photo vignettes and the eight pages with photographs of re-enactments of Mother Goose rhymes are hand lettered. The NY Photogravure Company produced the plates.

Mother Goose of '93. Photographic illustrations by Mrs. N. Gray Bartlett. (Boston: Joseph Knight Company, c. 1893)

This magazine designed for children to learn about birds included 120 three-color half-tone illustrations from photographs of stuffed birds, with plates by the Chicago Colortype Company. "This undertaking was the most ambitious three-color work to this date. These plates were also some of the most enduring, still being found in publications into the 1950s."

Nonpareil, Life size. Birds, illustrated by color photography, Vol. I. No. I. January, 1897. Price 15 cents. $1.50 a year. Once a month. (Chicago : Nature study publishing company, 1897)

This sample book, produced by the A. W. Elson company, provides "a very fine example of a photogravure company explaining to its customers the procedures involved in producing a print," with a number of sample prints by way of illustration. This page shows some of the buildings and equipment used by the A. W. Elson company.

A.W. Elson and company, makers of photogravure plates and plate printers. (Boston : A.W. Elson & co., [1904?])

Seventy stunning "Heliogravure" photogravure plates of photographs of astronomical nebulae and star clusters taken between 1898 and 1900. Plates were done by the Photogravure and Color Company, New York for this publication by the Lick Observatory. Photographs were taken by Edward Keeler, Director of the Lick Observatory 1898-1900.

Heliogravure plates in Photographs of nebulae and clusters made with the Crossley reflector, Volume III. (Sacramento : W.W. Shannon, superintendent of state printing, 1908)

For the half-tone illustrations from color photographs of Egypt, Berlin Professor of Photochemistry A. Miethe used a special camera, shooting three negatives through filters. "Miethe took his special camera that exposed successive images on a plate that dropped at the film plane as the three primary filters were placed in front automatically...  This book remains [one of the very few] extensive examples of his special three-color work. The photographs are astounding and the book itself is a work of high art."

Unter der Sonne Oberägyptens : neben den Pfaden der Wissenschaft. A. Miethe ; mit 45 Dreifarbenbildern und 163 Netzätzungen nach photographischen Naturaufnahmen des Verfassers. (Berlin : D. Reimer, 1909)

Explore the Collection

[Screened photolithograph] Color photography.  Sir William J. Herschel. (Washington : [s.n.], 1902), p. 313-316, 3 col. plates ; Smithsonian Report, 1901. Reprinted from the British journal of photography, July 12, 1901, pp. 439-441
[Albertype] In: Revision of the Echini. Plates. Parts I.-II / by Alexander Agassiz. (Cambridge : University Press, 1872)
[Woodburytype of the moon] The chemistry of light and photography. Hermann Vogel. (New York : D. Appleton, 1875)
[Plates of three- and four-color process printing in Pace Press promotional book] (New York : Pace Press Inc. [1927?])
 [Artotype] [Advertising card for the Times Printing Company], artotyped by Wm. J. Baker. (Buffalo, N.Y.: Times Printing Co.)
[Photolithographic plate] In: On composite photography as applied to craniology / by J.S. Billings. And, On measuring the cubic capacity of skulls / by Washington Matthews. And, On a new craniophore for use in making composite photographs of skulls. By J. S. Billings and Washington Matthews. (Washington, D.C. : Government Printing Office, 1886)
[Albertype] White Mountain Views. Forbes Albertype Company. (Boston : Forbes Co., c. 1884)
[Woodburytype, Plate XXXV: fracture of left OS innominatum by a shell fragment] In: The medical and surgical history of the War of the Rebellion. Prepared under the direction of Joseph K. Barnes, Surgeon General of the United States Army.(Washington : Govt. Print. Off., 1876)
[Chromolithograph]  Lithographs produced in the 19th century by American and French firms: [Series I] Advertising cards produced for Loring's. (1876-1886)
[Collotype] [Collotype illustrations of the Yosemite Valley from In the heart of the Sierras] (Oakland, Calif. : Pacific Press Pub. House, 1886)
[Plates of three- and four-color process printing in Pace Press promotional book]. (New York : Pace Press Inc. [1927?])
[Moss halftone] [Photomechanical prints in pictorial advertisements]. (New York : Edward L. Wilson, 1889)
[Halftone]  The race on the plains drawn by Dan Smith. In: Frank Leslie's illustrated weekly. New York : W.J. Arkell, 1892. no. 1895, v. 75, January 9, 1892
[Collotype]  In: Lectures, essays and published articles on scientific and literary subjects and on foreign travel. C.C. Merriman (Rochester, N.Y. : J. J. Withall, 1885)
[Photogravure] Beck Gravure : combines beauty of tone with the lure of texture (specimen brochure for Beck's photogravure business). (Philadelphia ; New York ; Chicago : Beck Engraving Co. [c. 1925])
[Three-color halftone] Japan, the place and the people. G. Waldo Browne; with an introduction by the Hon. Kogoro Takahira. (Boston:  D. Estes, 1904)
[Photogravure of "the giant geyser"] Yellowstone National Park : photogravures from nature. Photographed and published by F. Jay Haynes. (Fargo, North Dakota : Haynes, c. 1887)
[Albumen silver print of the Second National Bank of Scranton] The Wyoming valley: upper waters of the Susquehanna, and the Lackawanna coal-region, including views of the natural scenery of northern Pennsylvania, from the Indian occupancy to the year 1875. Photographically illustrated & edited by J.A. Clark. (Scranton, Pa. : J.A. Clark, 1875)
[Autoglyph print] Streets, public buildings and general views of Pittsfield, Mass. Illustrated with "autoglyph prints" by W.P. Allen.  (Pittsfield, Mass. : O.J. Copeland & Co., 1886)
[Chromotypogravure]  Photography: its history, processes, apparatus, and materials : comprising working details of all the more important methods / by A. Brothers ... with plates by many of the processes described, and illustrations in the text. (London : C. Griffin, 1892)
[Photogravure] Nature studies in Berkshire. John Coleman Adams; with illustrations in photogravure from original photographs by Arthur Scott. (New York ; London : G. P. Putnam's sons, 1899)
[Photoglyphic engraving by Henry Fox Talbot, unpublished] Church of St. Maurice at Vienne in France. H.F. Talbot, photo-sculpsit. July 12, 1866
[Heliotype] Indian domestic architecture. Lockwood de Forest. (Boston : Heliotype Printing Co. [c. 1885])
[Lithogravure engraving] Engravings in line and halftone. J. Manz & Co. (Chicago : J. Manz & Co., [ca. 1896])
[Wood engraving] Engravings in line and halftone. J. Manz & Co. (Chicago : J. Manz & Co. [c. 1896])
[Photo-zinc engraving] Engravings in line and halftone. J. Manz & Co. (Chicago : J. Manz & Co., [c. 1896])
[Chromophotolithograph] Oriental rugs. John Kimberly Mumford. (New York:  C. Scribner's Sons, 1900)
[Halftone Levytype]  [Photomechanical prints in pictorial advertisements]. (New York : Edward L. Wilson, 1889)
[Halftone] Photo-trichromatic printing: in theory and practice. C. G. Zander. (Leicester, Raithby, Lawrence & Co. [1896])
[Photogravure] The vanishing race : the last great Indian Council ... and the Indians' story of the Custer fight. The story is told and the pictures were made by Joseph Kossuth Dixon, the concept of Rodman Wanamaker. 3d. rev. ed. (Philadelphia : National American Indian Memorial Association Press, 1925)