Collecting Delaware Books

Delaware Pictures in Old Magazines

Pictures were not often used in books in the 18th century. When they were, they were either printed from crude woodcuts or expensive and beautiful engravings in metal. There was no middle ground.

Around 1780, Thomas Bewick perfected a process called wood engraving. Instead of cutting lines in a plank of softwood, he worked on the endgrain of hardwoods like box using tiny chisels called burins. Some burins had multiple points to make parallel shading lines. Bewicks artistic contribution was a chiaroscuro style that added realistic roundness and depth.

Woodcuts could not render detail or shading and had limited life in the printing press. Metal engravings required a separate (intaglio) printing process and could not be printed with a books text. But wood engraving could reproduce the finest detail in ordinary printing presses, and the blocks lasted as long as the metal type which printed the text.

By the 1850s, popular magazines and newspapers in England were carrying illustrations for the first time. The practice spread to the United States in the 1860s. A skilled craft of wood engraving developed. The artist's drawing would be transferred to the wood block. The craftsman converted the drawing to a wood engraving using an array of burins as well as machine tools that helped produce uniformly spaced shading lines. Later, photographs were transferred to wood blocks to be engraved by craftsman.

The heyday of magazine wood engraving was 1870 to 1890. In the 1890s, a chemical process for making printing plates from photographs was developed. Photoengraving completely displaced wood engraving within a few years.

Wood engraving had a renaissance in the 1930s at the hands of fine artists like Rockwell Kent, however the method would never again be used for routine illustration.

One of the most prolific artists whose work was converted to wood engravings was Delawares Howard Pyle. Further, many Delaware scenes were illustrated by Pyle and others in 19th century magazines like Harpers Weekly. Just a few are listed below. They are all from Harpers and are about 9' x 14'.

A really nice piece is the article by Howard Pyle in Harpers Weekly for March 31, 1888, telling of the great storm of March 11 and 12, 1888, in Lewes Harbor. The illustrations are wood engravings from photographs, not the work of Pyle.

However, the words are Pyles. He was a competent writer. Apparently he was staying in Lewes during the storm which caused far more damage there than it did on the rest of the East Coast because of the east-west orientation of the shoreline. The article of several thousand words describes the storm and the damage in great detail.

Finding old magazines to search for Delaware pictures is not easy. Bound volumes of Harpers Weekly and others sometimes show up in antiques shops and bookshops. There are also dealers who specialize in illustrations cut from magazines. They can be contacted at paper shows.

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