Copper Engraving uses an Intaglio technique, first developed in the
15th century, whereby grooved lines of differing depth were engraved
by hand in reverse, into the surface of a copper plate to create a toned
image, using an instrument called a Burin. Analogous to a ploughshare moving through soil, the burin pushed copper
shavings, or Burrs to either side of the furrowed line. The Burrs were
removed prior to printing. A close inspection of the lines will show
that they are thickest in the middle and taper slightly toward the ends,
but retain a crisp or sharp appearance.
Drypont (where the burr was deliberately left on the plate and the ink
retained thereupon imparted a softer tonal quality to the image) was
frequently combined with Etching on a plate, in order to empathize particular
detail. Once the plate had been cleaned, specially prepared printers
ink was rolled into the lines of the design by means of a Dabber , and
the excess removed.
The plate was then hand wiped to bring up the highlights. Chalk whitening
was applied to the edges in order to remove traces of ink bloom and to
ensure a clean margin beyond the image. The plate was put onto the bed
or Plank of a hand printing press. Dampened paper was laid onto the plate
and felt blankets inserted between the roller and the paper.
As the press was rolled over the bed the image was taken up by the paper
the edges of the copper plate producing an impression called the Plate
Mark. The delicate paper containing the image was removed and laid flat
as it dried.
The plate was then thoroughly cleaned prior to the next impression being
pulled. If coloured, this was added by hand using watercolours and a
detailed colouring pattern.
The drawback of this technique was that due to the softness of the metal
the plate began to wear out after a few hundred impressions. Despite
a multitude of examples of intricate delicacy and considerable artistic
merit, it now seems extraordinary that it was not until 1855 that the
artistic skill of the engraver was officially recognised by Britain's