Woodburytype

14 December 2010 § Leave a comment

Dutch: Woodburytypie

The term Woodburytype comes from the English pioneering photographer W.B. Woodbury (1834-1885). From an early age Walter Bentley was fascinated by the principles of photography. His first camera was home-made, constructed out “of stout millboard, bound together at the joints with strong black tape.”

Woodburytype refers to both the print made in this manner as well as the photomechanical process. It was developed around 1860. It was especially popular between 1875 and 1900. It only lasted a couple of decades since cheaper and easier techniques came into being quickly. The process required much expensive equipment and Woodbury was trying to develop a simpler version called stannotype when he died from an overdose of laudanum in 1885.

Old Furniture, 1877-78 by John Thomson (11 x 9cm)

The process involved exposing a gelatin film that had been fixed on a glassplate. Between the lightsource and the gelatin, a photographic negative was placed. The more transparent the negative, the harder the gelatin would become. After, the gelatin that hadn’t hardened would be washed off. The relief that was left would be pressed into a sheet of soft lead. In turn, coloured gelatin was poured over the metalrelief. A sheet of paper was then pressed against it. The excess gelatin would drip away on the side while the remaining gelatin attached itself onto the paper. The thickness of this layer corresponded to the depth of the relief. This meant that you ended up with differences in the intensity of the colour.

In appearance they are very like carbon prints, having the same high tonal qualities, due to their photo-relief manufacture, and the same disadvantage of having to be pasted in. Woodburytypes had more prominent image relief than carbon prints and were  usually small, never larger than 11 by 14 inches. Most of them were produced as book illustrations. They have a tendency for large cracks to appear in the shadow areas.

As far as the colouring matter goes, commercial operators used various pigments to produce a range of colours, mainly dark blues and dark browns, but occasionally terra cotta. It was most popular in the 1870s. It is fairly simple to distinguish a Woodburytype from a pasted-in photograph, for the latter is more likely to be found in a book published before 1868. The surface is never absolutely smooth, you can sometimes see the variation in thickness. Furthermore, Woodburytypes never faded round the edges as most photographs of this period did. On the print it may say Woodbury or photoglyptie and it has a high gloss surface. You can also look for a grain pattern since they do not have a grain pattern like all other mechanical prints. There might also be ridges where very light areas and shadow come together and there might be loss of surface gloss in extreme hightlights.

No Dutch firm used the Woodburytype technique. Probably because the investment costs were too high. But it has been used in Dutch books. They were, e.g., made by Goupil or Lemercier in Paris. A well-known work containing Woodburytypes is Onze Hedendaagsche Schilders (The Hague, 1881).

Primary Sources:

Wood, Henry Trueman Wright. Modern Methods of Illustrating Books. London: Elliot Stock, 1886.

Secondary Sources:

Berret, Oliver. A History of the Woodburytype. Nevada City: Carl Mautz, 2007.

Gascoigne, B. How to identify prints: a complete guide to manual and mechanical processes from woodcut to inkjet. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Linden, Fons van der. De Grafische Technieken. De Bilt: Cantecleer, 1979.

Reilly, James M. Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints. Rochester: Eastman Kodak Co., 1986.

Stijnman, Ad et al. De Techniek van de Nederlandse Boekillustratie in de 19e Eeuw. Amstelveen: Koninklijk Verbond van Grafische Ondernemingen, 1995.

Wachlin, Steven. Woodbury & Page. Leiden: KITLV Press, 1994.

Wakeman, Geoffrey. Victorian Book Illustration. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1973.

Zoete, Johan de. Zomaar een Plaatje? Arnhem: Coördinatiecommissie Grafische Musea, 1991.

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