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The Complete Engraver

Book Review

bookcover Written by stationer and graphic designer Nancy Sharon Collins, The Complete Engraver offers a history of engraving's uses -- particularly in the realm of social stationery -- as well as technical information about the process itself.  I had the opportunity to see Collins speak last fall in Chicago at the conference for the American Printing History Association (you heard me), and this book has been sitting rather impatiently on my reading list since. Engraving is an intaglio printing process as opposed to a relief process, as in letterpress printing.  With relief printing, a form (made up of metal type, photopolymer, or various kinds of blocks for imagemaking) makes an impression into the paper, so the ink sits slightly below the surrounding surface of the paper.  With intaglio processes, a design is etched into a copper, steel, or wood surface, the plate is covered with ink and then the surface wiped clean (so the only ink remaining is that sitting inside the lines of the etching), and then the paper is pressed against the plate, forcing paper into the grooves.  This means that the ink sits on top of the surrounding surface of the paper, and the back bears what's called a "bruise" -- an indentation where the paper has been raised on the opposite side.  I have never once done an engraving or even witnessed the process, so although I get the basics, I am itching to see engraving in action. Engraving has historically had multiple applications ranging from fine art and art reproductions to portraits, book illustrations, political commentary, and business and social correspondence.  The book offers a fast-paced introduction to most of these uses, settling in, then, to discuss the etiquette governing social correspondence in the nineteenth century, the distinction between ciphers and monograms, business correspondence, and the different technical approaches to engraving.  It's such a fascinating process -- and one so little understood today -- that I do wish the chapters were more in-depth, but the book boasts an impressive gallery of images.  And if Collins's goal in writing The Complete Engraver was to persuade people to learn more about the process and to possibly even give it a try, then she very much succeeded with me.  Long live outmoded technologies! One of the especially fun things about this book is that Collins worked with typographers to digitize two of the options for pantograph engraving available through the Cronite Company, and these fonts are free to download.  Below is a sample of JMC Feldman (the slightly more text-friendly font, though still quite stylized), text courtesy of one of my literary heroes. You can find out more about Nancy Sharon Collins and the book right here. woolfletter


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