‘Madeline A Story of the Early Spring-Time’ by Jacob Abbott (500/119) and published in 1869 is one of the earliest children’s books in our collection. The illustrations are beautifully intricate wood engravings.
During the Victorian period, wood engraving became the preferred medium for graphic reproductions. To make a wood engraving, a craftsman would copy the original drawing onto the face of the end grain of a block of boxwood. An engraver would cut into the block with a v-shaped tool, excising the areas that would not be printed. Ink would be applied to the block, settling on the raised areas.
This process, like steel engraving, allows for highly-detailed images with delicate lines, but wood engravings did not wear down as quickly as did steel. Wood engravings could be printed on conventional presses alongside moveable type, another advantage which advanced their popularity. Illustrations could also be photographically reproduced directly onto the wood and then cut into the block. This process was most common in the 1880s and 1890s.
Wood engravings could also be used for color printing by cutting separate wood blocks for each individual color of ink. Each block would then be printed one after the other to create a single image.
NOTE: Use the ZOOM function by hovering your cursor over the pictures. Zooming is particularly effective when looking at facial expressions or the fine lines that make up the engraving.
Further examples of wood engraving from our collection