“Wood Engraving” (from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, April 1848, p. 126)
We have so much to do with wood engravings in the Youth’s Cabinet, that perhaps we ought to tell our readers a little about the art of making them. It is a curious circumstance, that among the first attempts at printing by means of wood cuts, was the making of playing-cards for the amusement of Charles VI. king of France. This was in the latter part of the fourteenth century. What a contrast there must be between the rude figures engraved for this prince, and the best of the engravings which adorn the pages of the Cabinet.
Engraving on wood is done very differently from engraving on copper and steel. In wood, the letters or figures are in relief, as the artist says; that is, they are raised higher than that part of the block which leaves a blank on the paper, just like the types used in printing. The very finest and hardest wood is selected. That which is most in use, is box-wood, which is imported for this purpose, mainly from foreign countries. It is cut across the grain, so that the engraving is upon the end of the grain, which is polished very smoothly before the artist commences cutting his picture. If the picture is an original one, it is drawn with a black lead pencil upon the block, which is previously covered with a white substance, and the engraver follows the lines drawn with the pencil. In engraving on steel or copper, the letters or figures are not in relief, but the impressions upon the paper are made from the grooves or hollows in the metal.
Mr. WILLIAM J. HOWLAND is the principal wood engraver employed in making the pictures in the Youth’s Cabinet. He is an excellent artist, as every one who is familiar with his engravings must be aware. Some of those which he has furnished for us within the last year are very elegant specimens of the art. Wood engraving now is carried to much greater perfection than it was only a few years ago. Many of these engravings are scarcely inferior to those on steel, and can hardly be distinguished from them without close inspection.