Antiques column: There’s more to printing than newspapers!

A Th�ophile Steinlen print illustrating the queue for food during the Grande Guerre.
A Th�ophile Steinlen print illustrating the queue for food during the Grande Guerre.

The development of printing has made it possible for books and newspapers, to be produced in great numbers, allowing for the spread of ideas, greater educational opportunities and at a more basic level, playing an important role in promoting literacy among the masses.

It is not surprising then that when we think of printing, we automatically think of reading matter but there’s more to printing than producing the likes of this newspaper, as excellent as the Pocklington Post is.

Indeed the very first examples that survive of basic printing technique, the duplication of images by means of a stamp, date from around 3,000 BC. The use of round seals for rolling an impression into clay tablets goes back to early Mesopotamian civilization and printing developed, particularly in Egypt and China, with stamps and carved woodblocks used to transfer detailed and beautiful designs on to cloth.

Intaglio printmaking emerged in Europe well after the woodblock print. This is where the image or character is engraved into a metal plate, usually of copper or zinc. Most commonly known as etchings or engravings, the incised line or sunken area holds the ink, the direct opposite of a relief print (such as woodblock) where ink is applied to the raised surfaces. In the 18th century a new method of printing, called lithography, was invented by the German, Alois Senefelder. Lithography uses simple chemical processes to create an image from a flat surface and was used not only for printing books and newspapers but for maps, posters and artwork.

Whilst lithographs by the likes of Chagall, Matisse and Picasso will be beyond the budgets of most readers, in our 16 May Melbourne sale we will have a wide selection of lithographs, etchings and examples of work from other more affordable 20th century artists. From the time of the First World War we have ‘The Dover Patrol’ by Nelson Ethelred Dawson depicting H.M.S. Botha much damaged by enemy gunfire, port side boarded up to come home, in convoy led by H.M.S. Attentive, as well as a Théophile Steinlen print illustrating a queue for food in France.

In May 1940, in Belgium and France, millions of civilians fled in front of the invading German army, we have an example of ‘L’exode’ by Abel Renault depicting this flight. The year before, Helmuth Weissenborn, who had studied at the Academy for Graphic Art and Book Design in Leipzig, also fled Nazi Germany but for London. He was briefly interned in the Isle of Man but later became a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service and illicitly sketched the debris and destruction in London during the Blitz. He taught at Ravensbourne and published much of his own work in his own imprint, the Acorn Press. Illustrating the diversity of his output we have two of his original paintings as well as several lino-cut blocks, with his inverted initials, for printing from.

Also from around the time of the Second World War but of a more light-hearted subject than Renault’s, we have some coloured woodcuts by Alexei Sovesky (signed “SKY”). It will be well worth visiting Melbourne Village Hall in May to view all these lots but don’t forget that our next sale is this Saturday (18 April). I look forward to seeing you all then.