In a time before printing presses, copy machines, and computers, graphics such as portraits, maps, and other drawings had to be created by hand on each individual page in each individual book. Talk about time consuming!

Luckily, woodcut engraving, the earliest method of printing, was developed around 1400. In this process, the image was drawn on a wood block. The space between the lines was cut away, so that the lines were able to receive the ink. (The deeper the cut, the more ink reached into the grooves, and the darker the resulting printed image.) The image had to be painstakingly drawn in reverse, so that when the inked block was pressed to a sheet of paper, the print appeared in the intended direction. Still time consuming and labor intensive, but at least the artist only had to do it once!

Wood blocks were replaced by copper plates before the end of the 15th century, which were then replaced by steel plates by the mid 19th century due to greater durability of the material and, hence, more prints able to be made from each plate.

The pages below are original steel-plate engravings taken from college yearbooks. Note the detail in these beautiful pieces of artwork and remember that each image had to be drawn in reverse and then painstakingly carved by hand into plates of steel before these prints could be made!


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