Woodcuts and Wood-Engravings
from the Lloyd's Collection

Welcome to this Exhibit featuring works of Art and Science
at the Lloyd Library and Museum

This exhibit features books from the Lloyd Library collection which are chiefly illustrated by either woodcuts or wood engravings. This was one of the earliest form of illustration in books, especially when there was to be more than one copy of the book (see a brief history of printing just below). The Lloyd Library holds hundreds of volumes illustrated in this fashion. The exhibit here runs in chronological order, according to publication date of the featured book, the better to see the progression of the art form. We begin with Phillipus Ulstadius' Coelum Philosophorum in 1544 and end with Henry Beston's 1935 Herbs and the Earth.

History of Printing – Woodcuts and Wood-engraving

Printing, as a method of conveying written words and thought, is believed to have existed as early as the middle to late Minoan Bronze Age (ca 1850-1400 BCE), when it is thought that the first instance of movable type to create a “document” occurred. Since that time, printing has evolved and moved through a variety of stages.  Selections of woodblock printing, or woodcuts, and wood-engraving are the focus of this exhibit of images from Lloyd Library’s numerous volumes.  Woodblock printing got its start around 200 CE in Asia, specifically China, where they were first used to print text and images onto cloth, and later paper.  Such woodblocks were frequently used as seals on documents, if nothing else. And, until more recent times, with the advent of photography and, even more recently, the digital age, this was one of the primary methods for reproducing images within a text.

Woodcut printing is a method of printing text and images whereby an image, or line(s) of text, was carved onto a piece of wood (of varying sizes) with a knife, the relief could then be inked (in one or more colors) and then pressed onto the surface to which the content was to be printed – either cloth or paper.   The parts that were to remain white on the printed surface all had to be cut away with a knife, a very painstaking process.  The block is cut along the grain of the wood (unlike wood engraving where the block is cut in the end-grain).  Different colors can be added to the image, but a different block must be used for each color.

an engraved feather from Bewick's British BirdsWood engraving is a relief printing technique, where the end grain of wood is used as a medium for engraving, thus differing from the older technique of woodcut, where the softer side grain is used.  Wood engraving got its start in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the work of Thomas Bewick, well known in naturalist circles for his History of British Birds.  His burin gouge tool introduced by Bewickinnovations in this field, including engraving on the ends of a woodblock, rather than the sides, and his use of a burin (see right) rather than a knife, forever changed how wood-engraving was done.

By and large, these methods of printing art have been surpassed technologically, though a few artists have continued on with these art forms.  Generally, however, woodcut and wood-engraving are considered too slow and painstaking processes to be effective in our fast-paced world.  However, take a few moments now to enjoy the works of art you’ll find here at the Lloyd.

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