George Baxter is considered by many to be the inventor of color printing. Born in 1904 in Lewes, Sussex, he apprenticed with a wood engraver in London and then opened his own business specializing in color work in 1827. He improved upon the color process by using a wood block for each color, up to 20 different blocks. Later he licensed his process to others, including the LeBlonds, and also sold his own plates and blocks.
About the Baxter Prints
Dorothy Hoskins was kind enough to share her essay with me and to allow me to share it with others.
By Dorothy M. Hoskins
So little are Baxter prints known in America that it is quite possible to discover one of his delicate frontis-pieces in a pile of old sheet music for sale at some salvage or thrift shop at five or ten cents a copy, or to be offered prints for the price of the frames.
Not so in England, where Baxter prints, like Currier & Ives in this country have for years been assiduously collected, studied, catalogued, written about –even faked.
George Baxter was born at Lewes, in Sussex, in 1804. At twenty he was illustrating books published by his father. At twenty-three, he moved to London, served a short apprenticeship with a wood engraver, and in 1827 set up his own business, specializing in color work. For several years he concentrated on book illustrating. Though his first known print, Butterflies, 1829, now a rarity prized by collectors, has never been found in such use, it may yet turn up in some unexplored volume.
Baxter did not invent color printing, but he combined and improved upon former methods. At first he produced his color prints with wood blocks only. Later he used a steel plate foundation in combination with wood and metal blocks, and it was for this process that he was granted a patent in 1835.
The picture, which may have been drawn by Baxter himself or by artists in his employ, was first engraved in minute detail on the steel plate. From this a print was taken in a neutral tone, on which the colors were printed, one by one, in oil inks with wood or metal blocks. This use of a separate block for each color or color variation was entirely new to the field of printing. Often twenty different blocks, each intricately cut, would be used to lay on as many different colors. Even in less important prints, as many as ten colors might be used.
Recognition as a historian came with his prints The Coronation of Queen Victoria, and Opening of Her First Parliament, both issued in 1841. In each of these 21 by 18 inch prints, more than two hundred portraits of England’s nobility were accurately drawn, the exquisite colors meticulously registered. These prints were never sold cheaply, but they certainly did not cost the patriotic Britishers who bought them to frame in gold frames and hang on their walls, anything like the 125 pounds at which each was listed in 1926.
At the Great Exhibition of 1851, Baxter was the only artist with a stall. More than a half million of his prints were reported sold there. In 1853, he showed at the New York Exhibition, where his print of New York’s Crystal Palace, and his popular prints of children sold by the thousands.
During the 19-year lifetime of his patent, Baxter issued licenses to other printers to use his process and gave instructions to those who purchased them. At least seven firms worked under his license. Eight other printers are known to have produced prints by Baxter’s process after the expiration of his patent.
About 1864, in financial straits, he sold a number of his plates and blocks to Vincent Brooks of London, who republished the prints with the Baxter name. Plates and blocks were later sold to Abraham LeBlond, most successful of all printers of the Baxter process, and who had previously used it under Baxter License. LeBlond erased Baxter’s signature and put his own on every plate he used, usually at the extreme bottom edge. By eliminating some of the color blocks, he cut production costs, and was more successful financially than Baxter had been.
Baxter evolved five different stamps to mark his original productions. They were, in effect, seals bearing a crown and varied phrasings. One reads, “Printed in oil colors by George Baxter, License granted to work the process.” Of prints on plain card mounts, many copies were made.
The Baxter print is always delicate, mounted on creamy-pinkish paper or very thin cardboard. The subject is invariably refined, never coarsely humorous. The registration of the color blocks, or plates, is absolutely perfect with no overlapping of colors in any part. Details of dress, furniture, flowers, or scenery are complete, never sketchy or washed in. Wherever a signature is found, on the mount, the print itself, or on the margin, it will be clearly printed. Stamped mounts have the stamp below the subject.
I have a number of Baxter prints in my possession which I share with you below. (Coming soon…)