“How Engravings Are Made” (from The Little Corporal, August 1866; pp. 29-30); and “The Cherubs” (p. 30)
All little folks love pictures. So do most big folks. But there are not many folks, little or big, that know how pictures are made. “What is a woodcut?” says little Carry Curious; and “What do you mean by a steel-plate?” says Ira Inquisitive; and then Robert Read-everything wants to know the difference between a mezzotint and a line engraving. Now put on your hats and bonnets, all of you, and let’s peep in on the engravers at their work.
Here we are, at the corner of Randolph and Clark. Climb this pair of stairs, and now another. Don’t go into that door at the left; that is an ivory-turner’s shop. In this busy city of Chicago, almost everything is made, and in there you will see elephants’ tusks that are being cut up to make tips to parasol handles, cane heads, paper-cutters, and a multitude of such tings. But, let us enter this door to the right. This is where most of the pictures are made for The Little Corporal. Here, by the front window, sits a man, with a shade over his eyes, and a pencil in his hand, drawing. He is drawing on a piece of wood. When the drawing is done, it will be given to one of the workmen, that you see at that bench. He will engrave it, by cutting out those parts of the picture that are to be light. See! the draughtsman, by the front window is just finishing the picture of the heads of two mosquitos, that are to go into the September number of The Little Corporal. Don’t you think that those two musquitos would have felt flattered if they had known that thirty-five or forty thousand portraits of them would be circulated among the readers of The Little Corporal, from Constantinople to the Sandwich Islands?
This establishment does nothing but wood-engraving. “What kind of wood do they use for engraving?” asks a country boy, who knows the name of every family of tree in the forest. Well, if they want to make an engraving for a hand-bill, such as you see for a circus or menagerie, they would, perhaps, use pine, or, at best, mahogany. Such engravings are very coarse, and do not need fine lines. If they want to make a better picture, for a newspaper or magazine, they generally use box-wood, sometimes pear, and, occasionally, apple and beech woods.
They cut out the parts meant to be light, as I said above. Here is a wood-cut. You will see
that the letters are light, and the rest of it dark. These letters are cut into the wood, so that when the ink is rolled on it, for printing, the smooth surface is inked, while the lower part—that which is cut out—does not touch the roller, and, consequently, does not receive any ink.
All newspaper engravings are wood-cuts, and almost all magazine pictures.
And, now, are you tired, or would you like to look at some engravers on steel and stone.
Well, here we are at the top of a flight of stairs on the corner of Randolph and La Salle streets. This is the office of the Western Engraving Co. Let us speak to the Secretary, a very pleasant gentleman. He doesn’t often show folks through the rooms where the engravers are at work; for their work is so minute and particular, that it will not do to have them interrupted by visitors. But the Secretary is a friend of The Little Corporal, and I think if we show him our letter of introduction, signed by the Corporal himself, he will show us through the rooms. Now up another flight of steps, and through one or two doors, and we are in the room where lithographs, or stone-engravings are made. There are two kinds of stone-engraving. One is engraved in the stone, with a graver, just as steel is engraved, except that a steel-engraver pushes the tool from him, while the lithographer, or stone-engraver, draws the instrument toward him. The other kind of lithograph is not an engraving at all. A picture is drawn on the stone, and then, by the application of a chemical to the surface of the stone, it is so fixed that the ink will “stick” to the part of the stone on which the drawing is, while the other part remains clean. Of course, when the paper is applied to the stone, the part that has ink on will make an impression, while the other will not. Many of the cheap prints, sold in the stores for framing, are made on stone. There are, also, some very fine pictures made in the same way.
Passing out of the lithographing rooms, we are among the steel-engravers. Their heads are down, close to their work. Most of them have a magnifying glass, to enable them to see the fine lines better. They do not notice us, but just keep their eyes close to the steel plates. Here is a man making engravings for bank checks. Others are at other kinds of work.
While you are looking at them, suppose we tell you something about steel-engraving.
You should know that a steel picture is just the opposite to a wood-cut. The parts cut out fill up with ink, and make the impression; while the parts not cut remain white. If the cut that you saw above, had been made on steel, and the letters cut out, as they are in the wood, they would have been black, and the ground would have been white. So that the black parts of a steel-picture are the parts cut out, but the black parts of a wood-cut are the parts not cut at all.
Most pictures on steel are mezzotint, which is an Italian word, meaning “soft shade.” The steel plate is rendered rough by means of a machine called a “rocker,” and then it is scraped down to the form and shading of the picture. Nearly all the steel engravings that you see for sale, and those on steel in magazines, are mezzotints. The picture of Mr. Lincoln, given as a premium to subscribers to The Corporal last year is a mezzotint, and was made in this establishment.
A finer kind of engraving than the mezzotint is the “stipple.” It is made by making little dots or holes on the surface of the steel. The light parts have but few dots, the dark many. You can easily learn to tell a stipple engraving by its appearance.
Passing by several other kinds we come to “line” engraving, which is the finest of all. It is made by lines in the steel, the deeper the lines, the darker the shade. Line engraving is very slow work, and consequently very costly. The finest bank notes are made in this way. In one of these rooms of the Western Engraving Company you will see a desk at which there is no artist at work. Let me tell you about that: Last February, one of the best artists in the country commenced to make a line steel engraving of Raphael’s Cherubs, as a club premium to The Corporal. From that time until a short time ago he worked at that picture. Knowing that it was needed as soon as possible, he even worked at night part of the time, until the first week in July, when the engraving was still
incomplete, and the artist’s health failed so that he must get some rest. From this you can form some idea of the amount of work it takes to make a line engraving, and if you have a copy of this beautiful work in your parlor, remember the many months of day and night work that the artist gave to it in putting in these beautiful shaded lines. Before this paper goes to press he expects to be at his desk again, and by the middle of August the picture will probably be done.
On account of their cost, line engravings are not often published. This one of Raphael’s Cherubs will be almost the only pure line engraving, except bank notes, that has appeared in this country in years.
There are many other curious and interesting things in this establishment that we wanted to speak about, but you are tired, and we will have to wait until some other time.
The Cherubs.—We felt confident that our magnificent line engravings of Raphael’s Cherubs would be ready early in July. But the engraver, one of the best artists in the United States, after working almost day and night for five months, found himself, about the first of July, so utterly worn out in health by his incessant application, that it became necessary for him to take some weeks of rest. He will, after a short rest, resume work, and expects, confidently, to have the plate ready before the middle of August.
It has progressed so far that we have seen the proof of it in its present incomplete state, and there cannot now be the shadow of a doubt that it will equal, if not excel, any engraving of the Cherubs ever published in Europe or America. A more perfect gem we have never seen.
[Transcriber’s note:] The July 1866 issue began with a piece on Raphael, one of the “True Stories About Those Who Have Fought for the Good, the True and the Beautiful,” evidently to accompany the engraving that was still unfinished:
… Only one more [painting] can be mentioned here, and that is said to be the most beautiful picture in the world. It is what is called the Sistine picture of the Madonna, and represents her standing in a very majestic attitude, the Infant Jesus being in her arms as on a throne, and around her head a circle of innumerable cherubs melting into light. Kneeling a little below, and at each side of her, are two saints, and at her feet, two heavenly cherubs gaze up at her with adoring looks. These cherubs are the beautiful prize picture which The Little Corporal offers to clubs, in its second year. Of course, The Corporal does not wish to teach the worship of the Virgin. God only should be worshipped, but the children should love and admire beauty wherever they find it. (p. 3)