A steel-faced etched plate, ‘From the inventor’

Posted on 24th May 2019 by simonbeattie

Printing and illustration processes never fail to interest us, so it should be no surprise that we will be bringing a printing plate to Firsts.

This particular plate was presented ‘from the Inventor’ to Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey (1781-1841), one of the most prominent sculptors of the day, noted for his sterling reputation and ‘penetrating study of character’ (Grove Art Online). 

From what we can surmise (i.e. several hours consulting nineteenth-century patents at the BL), this is an etched steel (i.e. iron)-faced brass plate. It has been signed unobtrusively within the image (‘Poole, Patent’), which we believe refers to Moses Poole of Chancery Lane, ‘one of the most prominent patent agents in the unreformed period’, who ‘had almost a monopoly on the patent agent business’ and is responsible for numerous printing patents (Dutton, The Patent System and Inventive Activity During the Industrial Revolution, p. 87).  Records show he filed numerous printing-related patents, including one in 1839 ‘for improvements in casting for printing purposes’; maddeningly, the actual patent, as filed, does not give the name of the inventor.

The plate serves as a snapshot of the rapid development of illustration processes in the early- to- mid-nineteenth century.  The technique of steel-facing was a process ‘in which a thin layer of iron (not steel) was deposited by electroplating on the surface of a copper plate, after engraving and before printing.  The resulting surface [of steel-faced plates] was not so hard-wearing as a steel plate, but as soon as it showed signs of deterioration it could be chemically removed and a new layer deposited on the copper.  The copper plate itself remained therefore in pristine condition, and engravers returned to working on the more friendly metal, confident that an indefinite run of impressions could be produced without danger of the more delicate lines beginning to vanish’ (Gascoigne 13b).

Come visit us at Stand G09 at FIRSTS to have a closer look at this plate and all of our other fabulous offerings this year. We hope to see you there!

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