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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Lithography

( Originally Published 1917 )



LITHOGRAPHY (writing on stone) is a method of reproduction by which a drawing is printed from the surface of a slab of limestone. Aluminum or zinc plates are sometimes used. The process was invented by Aloys Senefelder in 1796. Senefelder was born at Prague, Bohemia, on November 6, 1771. It was while living in Munich, making a precarious livelihood by writing plays, that he stumbled upon this method of getting impressions from stone. The great cost of printing his plays led him to try reproducing the copy, written in reverse, on copper by the etching process. He could not afford a separate copper for every page, and so was compelled to repolish the plate after each printing. The great amount of labour involved in this caused him to experiment with a fine-grained limestone much used in Munich for floor-paving. His first trials were not very successful. The necessity for quickly jotting down the items of a washing list forced him one day to use a stone and some ink made of soap, wax and lampblack. As he was about to erase this the idea came to him to try to get an impression on dampened paper, first treating the surface of the stone with acid. From his success in making prints of this washing list, he worked out the whole process of lithography as used today.

The fact that grease and water repel each other is taken advantage of in lithographic printing. The calcareous limestone employed has an equal affinity for water and grease. A drawing is made on this stone with a greased chalk and chemically fixed with a weak solution of nitric acid. After this the surface is moistened and gone over with a roller charged with greasy ink which will adhere only where the lines have been drawn.

A print can then be made from the stone by using dampened paper. The artist nowadays seldom works directly on the stone, but makes his drawing on transfer paper. This drawing is transferred to the stone by the printer and reproduced in the usual way. It is generally conceded that this method is as legitimate as working directly on the stone, and it is naturally much more convenient. However, some artists in the medium prefer the stone. Lithographic ink is sometimes employed in place of greased chalk. The stone should have a smooth surface for ink work. The combination of ink and chalk gives an effect that might be compared to Turner's mezzotints for the Liber Studiorum, the ink corresponding to the etched line. Ink may also be used as a wash and stumping may be employed in the same manner as in a charcoal drawing. Owing to the facility with which reproductions can be made, lithography is extensively used in commercial work. In recent years this art has been brought back to its legitimate sphere, chiefly through the work of Whistler and of Way the printer. The best traditions of the art are being conserved by the Senefelder Club of London-a club formed for "the advancement of artistic lithography." The first president of the club, Mr. Joseph J. Pennell, is a distinguished exponent of this fascinating art. Almost all of the world's supply of lithographic stone comes from the Solenhofen quarries in Bavaria. There are some good French stones on the market also. The chalk used in drawing is composed of beeswax, tallow, castile soap, shellac and Paris black. More wax and tallow are used than soap and shellac. The black is added that the work may show. It is put up in convenient sticks and pencils of several grades of hardness by Korn, of Cedar Street, New York. The ink for drawing on the stone is composed of equal portions of the same materials as the chalk. It comes in the form of sticks, like India ink, and is ground in the same manner, using distilled water. It is put on with a pen or brush. The ink used in printing is composed of Frankfort black and linseed varnish. A lithographic press is quite unlike any other form of printing press. The impression is obtained by carrying the stone on which a dampened paper has been placed on a movable bed under a bar known as a scraper. This scraping motion is entirely different from the roller motion of an etching press. The possibilities of artistic printing of lithographs are being much developed of late, and many methods are employed to vary the result. The number of prints possible is much greater than from an etched plate. The work fails by becoming blacker until it finally clogs up instead of becoming weaker as in etching.

As compared with etchings, lithographs lack relief, as all lines show equally black. It is an autographic art and this is its chief merit. In looking at a lithograph you may note white lines running through it. These are made by scraping the surface of the stone with the point of a sharp knife. Some artists employ the knife much more than others. Of late colour lithography is coming into favour, especially in Germany. In this method there is a separate stone for each colour.



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