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From woodcut to photograph: techniques of book illustration

Photogravure

Photogravure plate by William Hyde illustrating the port of Dover, seen from the sea, with a windswept and cloudy backdrop. Small boats and birds also visblePhotogravure plate by William Hyde illustrating the port of DoverPhotogravure is a photomechanical intaglio process which essentially combines the techniques of photography and etching. Light is used to expose the image onto a prepared metal plate before etching in acid.

This volume, The Cinque Ports, by the writer Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), includes fourteen photogravure plates of illustrations by the artist William Hyde. Hyde’s atmospheric scenes accompany Ford’s history of the historic five ports of Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich.

The plates were produced by the Swan Electric Engraving Company, founded by Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914) in 1885. Swan, a chemist and inventor largely remembered for his invention of the incandescent electric lamp, was keenly interested in photography and made a number of key contributions to its development.

In 1864 he patented a practical method for making permanent prints using the carbon process, which faithfully reproduced the tonal gradations of the original. Karel Klič later combined the work of Swan and William Henry Fox Talbot when refining his photogravure process. Thanks to Klič’s efforts, photogravure developed commercially and offered a viable means of making high-quality reproductions.

The frontispiece photogravure plate shown here, rich in tone, depicts Hyde’s dramatic view of Dover.

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