A wonderful resource for LeBlond prints enthusiasts is The Le Blond Book by C.T. Courtney Lewis, which was published in 1920 by Sampson Low, Marston & Company, Limited, in London and Edinburgh. Lewis catalogs and lists all the LeBlond prints he could find, providing us with a useful reference. Here I’ll share my scan of the LeBlond book, in pdf format, and my typed transcription of the book.
THE LE BLOND BOOK
Being a History & detailed Catalogue of the Work of Le Blond & Co. by the Baxter Process, with a Glance at the other Licensees
C. T. Courtney Lewis
“The Picture Printer of the Nineteenth Century”
“The Baxter Book, 1919,” etc.
London and Edinburgh
Sampson Low, Marston & Company
The daily fear that this little, yet wonderfully great, country of ours was in danger, the anxious and continuous perusal of newspapers relating to the march of events in the Great War, the call to arms of those near and dear, and upon whom in my daily life I relied for help, as well as the necessity of undertaking other duties, so sapped my energy and further reduced the time at my disposal, that the completion of this volume—which some time before the outbreak of hostilities I contemplated and began—had inevitable to be postponed to a more favourable occasion. But now gladly do I turn from the carnage and horrors—but, withal, the heroism—of that great conflagration to the peaceable and pleasant communion with my friends and readers about more civilised and civilising things.
It has always been obvious to me that as the prints of George Baxter became more and more established in favour, so those of his licensees would follow in public estimation. And, inasmuch as in my judgment Le Blond & Co. are, after the inventor, by far the best of the printers by this method of producing coloured pictures, and in addition are also the most popular, and as there is no catalogue of their prints in existence, it occurred to me to remedy this long-standing omission by the publication of this guide.
I am conscious of many shortcomings in my book: and perhaps I may say that only those who have set forth on a similar undertaking can realize the immense and continous labour and attention to detail involved, even in so small an effort as this, and the constant alterations to be made even to the moment of going to final press. My publishers sternly refuse to allow me—at present, at all events—to put forth a more elaborate work or anything approaching the size of my ‘Picture Printer of the Nineteenth Century’; so my readers, I fear, like myself, must rest content with this modest beginning.
I know I have yet a good deal to learn upon the subject on which I write; but possibly the publication of this volume may bring to me on this matter, as it has done on previous occasions with ‘George Baxter,’ additional information from interested readers. If that should prove to be the case, I shall carefully store up the knowledge thus gained with the idea and hope of some day turning it to useful account; but ‘ars longa, vita brevis est.’
The fact that through all this long drawn out agony, when men’s minds have had so much to disturb and distract them, Baxter and Le Blond prints have never ceased their hold on public estimation or popular demand, makes me feel confident that now this devastating war is done, our people, who have endured so patiently that frightful calamity, will turn with redoubled zest to those subjects of refinement and culture which interested them of yore.
C.T. COURTNEY LEWIS.
29 Martin’s Lane,
London, E.C. 4.
CHAPTER I. THE BAXTER PROCESS EXPLAINED
Methods of producing coloured prints before the Baxter process—Printing in intaglio and in cameo—Wood-block printing in simple colours, in fifteenth century—In chiaroscuro, in next century—John Baptist Jackson and his pictures in natural and proper colours, in 1754—William Savage and his ‘Hints on Decorative Printing,’ in 1825—The Baxter patent, 1836—His woodblock prints in natural and proper colours—Genesis of printing from plates—Johannes Teyler—James Christopher Le Blon, 1720, and his ‘Printing Paintings’—Three-colour process—Mezzotint plates—Plate printing in eighteenth century—Baxter’s method combined both plate and block printing—His materials—Care for detail—His artistic eye—Steel plates—Great period of Ryland, Bartolozzi, Val Green, J.R. Smith, and others, ended—Baxter revives colour printing in 1834—His methods still studied—Coming of the chromo-lithograph, which destroyed his art—Le Blond & Co. last to print by Baxter’s methods.
Chapter II – Le Blond & Co., Baxter Licensees: Who They Were and What They Did
Little known of Le Blond & Co. —Firm established about 1840—Robert and Abraham Le Blond—Robert goes to America—Abraham stays in England—Death of Robert in 1863—Marriage of Abraham in 1842—Firm removes to Carron House, Thames Street, with works at Kingston, in 1881—Death of Abraham in 1894, after insolvency of firm and sale of its assets—Death of Mrs. Abraham Le Blond—Incident with Louis Philippe related—Baxter’s petition for renewal of patent in 1849—George Cargill Leighton opposes Lord Brougham’s advice to grant licences—Le Blond & Co. first licensees—Their prints as licensees—The ‘ Le Blond-Baxters’—Mr. F. Mockler buys the plates—His folio of reprints—Elliot & Co. Exhibition of prints at Birmingham, 1895—Sale there in 1896—Signature of prints—Letter from Robert E. Le Blond in Inland Printer.
Chapter III – The Le Blond Catalogue in the Volume Explained
Chapter IV – Chronological List of All the Prints in the Baxter Process Produced by Le Blond
Chapter V – Small Figure and Fancy Subjects
Chapter VI – The Small Landscapes
Chapter VII – Prints Relating to Royalty – Regal Series
Chapter VIII – Needle-Box Prints
Chapter IX – The Raphael Cartoons
Chapter X – The Exhibitions
Chapter XI – The ‘Ovals’
Chapter XII – Prints of a Large Size
Chapter XIII – Book Illustrations
Chapter XIV – The Le Blond-Baxters
Chapter XV – Baxter Licensees
THE BAXTER PROCESS EXPLAINED
Although in these days, when the Baxter print is found on the walls of, and in port-folios at, so many dwellings, and is otherwise so well known, the majority of our readers no doubt will be well acquainted with the art that produced these beautiful pictures, yet there may be some to whom the process is an enigma: therefore, for their benefit, we will try to explain in a few sentences exactly what it is; but for the full story of the life and labours of the interesting personality who was the originator and patentee of this method of printing in colour, we must refer our readers to our ‘The Picture Printer of the Nineteenth Century.’
Prior to the time of George Baxter, who was born in 1804 at Lewes, and who began his experiments about 1827, neither chromo-lithography nor any of the modern processes of producing coloured prints by means of photography were known, and the only methods that had at any time before then been employed for mechanically rendering a picture in its natural and proper colours were impressions from either (a) metal plates or (b) from wood blocks. By the former means you either cut out or in some other way make such an impression on the surface of the metal plate as will enable it to hold ink, with which you then fill it and press the paper into it; and by the latter you cut away all the parts of a wood block except the ridges which are to convey the design, rub the tops of them with ink, and stamp them on the paper. The former is called printing in ‘intaglio,’ the latter in ‘cameo.’ Wood-block printing in simple colours was introduced shortly after the invention of printing, in the fifteenth century. When we say simple colours, we mean that on a portion of the paper will appear a red or blue or perhaps some other colour or colours by way of embellishment; but there is no attempt to produce a real picture in colours by superimposing one colour on another, which is called printing in compound colours. In the next century and after, there were many who obtained light and shade, or what was called chiaroscuro, by putting colour on colour by means of blocks. But they confined themselves to dark or light shades of one colour; and there was no one who produced by this method what we should to-day call a picture in its proper colours, as seen in Nature, until John Baptist Jackson managed to publish some specimens about 1754; but even then his work led to nothing, and he had no imitators until William Savage about 1825 gave forth a few in a book he called ‘Hints on Decorative Printing.’ But he, too, had no followers, and nothing effective was done until George Baxter took up the subject of wood-block printing in colours in the years immediately pre-ceding the patent he obtained in 1836 for his well-known Baxter process. Baxter in these few years prior to 1836 was the first to turn wood-block printing in proper colours to any real artistic and commercial use for pictures. But block printing was on the minds of men, and patents were obtained about this time for its use for calico printing and wall papers. Printing by the use of blocks was not even then sufficiently new for pictures for anyone to secure a patent without the addition of some other aid; but Baxter was the first to obtain one for its use in any form for pictures. Much as he may be admired for the beautiful prints he has left behind by his later patent process, to be presently explained, he is equally entitled to commendation for the originality and merit of his pictures from wood blocks; for there is no picture printer by this method who preceded him whose work will compare with his, and very few, if any, since. But we will continue our preliminary remarks; for it is necessary to do so in order adequately to explain his patent or ‘Baxter’ process. Although coloured prints produced from wood blocks are of greater antiquity than those from metal plates, yet pictures in their natural and proper colours from metal plates are older than those from wood. There were a few who experimented in producing pictures from metal in the seventeenth century, particularly Johannes Teyler, who did so in line engraving-a method never practised by any one before him or since. Yet the true genesis of real pictures by metal plates lays with James Christopher Le Blon (not to be confused with Le Blond, although said to be an ancestor), who invented what he called ‘printing paintings, about 1720. And he also may be said to be the originator of the three-colour process, for he pointed out that all visible objects could be represented with three colours-yellow, red, and blue; and acting on this principle he resolved each portion of his picture into these parts, making three plates, i.e. one for each colour, to be impressed in register over a mezzotinted key or foundation plate engraved in black. Now mezzotint, which came into use some half-century or more prior to James. Christopher Le Blon, is an admirable method of plate engraving on which to impose colour. James Christopher Le Blon’s plan was followed by his pupils; and other modes of engraving from plates in colour, more or less similar-such as aqua-tint and stipple, which are other methods of acting on the surface of the plate so that it will hold ink- came into use in the years following, both in France and England. As picture printing from plates came more and more into vogue, and although aquatint in two or three colours continued for some years into the nineteenth century, the great bulk of colour printing from plates ceased shortly after the French Revolution; for wars and revolutions are inimical to art. When Baxter began his experiments there was in being practically no form of printing artistic pictures in colours whatever; and although the period was ripe after the peace of 1815, time necessarily had to elapse, because whatever method was to be the one used, it had to be reinvented, which needed much experiment. George Baxter was the man to do this, for his skill was considerable and his aptitude great.
He had been brought up as an engraver on wood in black and white; and as he apparently knew very little of the history or methods of any of the men who preceded him in colour work from wood blocks, much less from metal plates, it is not surprising that he favoured block printing at first. But as he proceeded, he found that neither the block nor the plate by itself gave him the finished results to which he aspired, and he sought other means; and, being a man of great perseverance, ultimately he produced, after infinite labour, what is in effect a printed oil painting, but which he called ‘picture printing in oil colours.’ And he did this by a combination of plate and block—that is to say, by the two methods of John Baptist Jackson and James Christopher Le Blon; for he imitated Le Blon to the extent that he used an engraved plate for the foundation of his print in black or mono-chrome; but then, like Jackson, he imposed the colours by means of wood blocks and not by other plates, thus the two methods heretofore separated became in Baxter united. From this description our readers will gather that three things are essential to constitute a Baxter patent process print : (1) a metal plate for the foundation; (2) wood blocks for the colours; (3) oil inks. Mezzotint he sometimes employed for his foundation plates, but more commonly it was aquatint with a little stipple in places to get better effects. But he was no believer in the three-colour process expounded by James Christopher Le Blon, even if he knew anything about it, which he probably did not; for whilst Le Blon only used his three plates for his three colours, Baxter, in some cases, used as many as thirty blocks for imposing his various tints. The labour involved was very great; for each colour or shade of colour had to have its special block cut and be passed as many times through the press. But add to this painstaking building up of a picture his artistic eye, fine materials of paper and pigments (for he only used the best of both), immense care for detail, and the beautiful bloom he placed by some unknown method over the colours, which gave to them a greatly added lustre, and which none of his licensees ever succeeded in imitating, and you get a harmonious whole which makes his pictures unique in the annals of colour printing. And by utilising steel plates, invented in 1820 and therefore not open to James Christopher Le Blon, he was able to obtain greater durability, and to produce large numbers, which in their day undoubtedly were a great means of originating a taste for the beautiful among many classes of society whose means debarred them from purchasing the original painting, to which these prints bore so close a resemblance that in some cases artists would not allow him to copy their works, as far as they could help it. From what we have said, it will be seen that Baxter stands for an epoch as well as an art. The great period of the end of the eighteenth century, which produced among so many other beautiful things the fine coloured prints in France and England of Ryland, Bartolozzi, Val Green, J. R. Smith, the Wards, Alix, Janinet, Descourtis, and others, and which began with James Christopher Le Blon, ended with the French Revolution and the wars that followed; and colour printing then nearly ceased and did not reappear until Baxter revived it in a new era some twenty years later; but from his beginnings about 1834 to this hour it has been continuous. In our own day, with all the new methods and advanced science, his ways of mixing colours and other details of his labours are still much studied, so clever and varied were they. From 1836 to 1854 his process was protected by a patent, and was paramount. But with the incoming of the chromo-lithograph it lost its position; and the firm to whose memory this volume is a memoir, Le Blond & Co., were practically the last, but not the least, of those to give to the world their best efforts by the Baxter process. The men of this age could not shake off the effects of their environment; but that they enriched the world by some specimens of beautiful colour work, who will deny? And it may be that the demand that has sprung up of late years for their prints will proclaim them to be the pioneers to make popular a revival of the best things of the Victorian era.
LE BLOND AND Co., BAXTER LICENSEES: WHO THEY WERE AND WHAT THEY DID
REMEMBERING that when a man has passed beyond and left behind him things that are pleasant to see, to understand, and to possess, and which enhance the refinement of our existence here, that posterity likes to know something of his history, we propose to set forth in this chapter such scanty particulars as we have been able to gather of the firm who were not only the first, but who were the best, of all the colour printers who held licences from George Baxter, the talented inventor and patentee, to work his well-known process; but if we know little of the master, our knowledge is still less of his pupils the subjects of this memoir. The firm of Le Blond & -Co. was established somewhere about 1840, in Walbrook, London, their description in the directory being ‘steel and copper-plate engravers and printers.’ The actual man or men who started the business is not clear, but probably the two whose names we shall presently mention; and there they continued until about the year 1847, when we find them at 24 Budge Row and Walbrook; but this may have been only an enlargement of their premises. Robert and Abraham Le Blond brothers, the two partners who constituted the firm, were descended from an old aristocratic Huguenot stock, whose property in France being confiscated, the family came to London: indeed, it was said to be an ancestor of these two who set up in Spitalfields the first silk-weaving machine; they also claimed to be descended from that James Christopher Le Blon, the well-known figure who in the time of Hogarth was the first to print pictures in their natural and proper colours from a series of metal plates, which was the real origin of printing in colours by the three-colour process. of whom we had something to relate in the first chapter. So altogether the name of Le Blond or Le Blon, as it seems to have originally been, was one of some distinction in colour printing.
Robert Le Blond, the elder of the two, was born on August 4, 1816; he learned his trade of a copper-plate printer with one Thomas Brooker, of 13 Walbrook, whose sister Sarah he married on November 17, 1837. He was not, we fear, at any time a very successful man of business; but we find him three years after his marriage, viz. in 1840, going to America-probably to see what prospects might present themselves to a young man in that country; but he only stopped there a few months, and then he returned to England. In March 1856, admittedly for pecuniary causes, he departed again for the United States, and gave up all his interest in the firm of Le Blond & Co. in London. At first he only took his eldest son with him, the rest of the family following in the autumn of the same year. This eldest son is, we are glad to know, now carrying on a flourishing business under the title of the ‘R. K. Le Blond Machine Tool Company,’ at Cincinnati, and presently we shall give our readers a very interesting letter from this gentleman, published in the Inland Printer, and dated January 12, 1909. But to return to the father: he almost as soon as he reached the American shores, searched about for a means of livelihood, and procured at once a situation as book-keeper and proof-reader with the firm of Wrightson & Co. of Cincinnati; then he was appointed American agent for Blackie & Son of Glasgow, and one or two others who carried on similar businesses. At one time he started in the United States, in conjunction with his sons, a small printing office; but it was soon closed up, and in June of the year 1863 he returned to England, and died on October i8 of that year, of dropsy, at the home of his sister Jane, at No.13 Walbrook, at the early age of forty-seven. From this slight biography of the elder of the two brothers it is not difficult to draw the conclusion that in ability and stability the younger must have been the dominant personality, and as will be gathered from what we have said, he alone carried on the business of the firm from 1856 to its final end.
Abraham Le Blond was born on February 11, 1819; where he learned his trade we do not know, but probably at the same source as his brother Robert. He married in 1842 a lady of the same patronymic as his own. In 1881 the business of Le Blond & Co. was moved to Carron House, 14 Upper Thames Street, London, with works at Kingston, Surrey, in which latter town Abraham Le Blond also lived, and where in 1894 he died, aged seventy-five. Unfortunately, the firm, which at some time was turned into a company (probably about the year 1881, when it moved), borrowed money on debentures, under which, in 1894, a receiver was appointed, who sold off all the assets, the business itself being ultimately purchased, we believe, by Messrs. Fry and Barclay, and then for the first time—since 1842 at least—no Le Blond & Co. appeared in the London directory. Abraham Le Blond had always ardently desired that his two sons should possess the business after him; and when it met with financial disaster it was a great grief to him, and undoubtedly hastened the end not only of his own useful life, but of his wife who predeceased him by only a few months. But his was a kindly, patient, and uncomplaining nature, and he was never known to utter a word of reproach about those who he conceived had done him a great injury, and to some of whom he had shown many kindnesses in days gone by. About the year 1848, when Louis Philippe and his Queen had to fly from France, and, as so many other fallen monarchs have done, came to this country, Abraham Le Blond is said to have saved the life of Her ex-Majesty. All the facts are not within our knowledge, but he certainly received from her a fine bowl and a letter in token of her gratitude. He was a man of a simple mind, and passionately fond of his garden and of all nature, as it is not difficult to perceive from the subjects of most of his prints; but he was a reticent being and difficult to understand, and it is doubtful whether even his wife ever fully did so. As to their colour prints by the Baxter process, readers of the ‘Picture Printer’ will remember that in the year 1849, when Baxter successfully petitioned the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for an extension of the time of the patent granted to him in 1836, and was so actively opposed by George Cargill Leighton, and others of his former pupils) on the ground that Baxter taught them as his pupils only oil-colour printing, and that now they were out of their apprenticeship he would not let them earn a living because he refused to permit any one to practise the process; that Lord Brougham, who presided over the tribunal that heard the application, in giving judgment remarked: ‘I hope the petitioner will have the benefit of the opinions expressed to-day, which will help him in his further proceeding, and my advice is that he by past experience should take the benefit of his patent quâ patent by selling licences, and not injure himself by speculations as a printseller….That is my advice, and the advice which I always gave to my clients when I was at the Bar, viz. to sell licences.’ Whether Baxter at any future time speculated as a printseller, as he had in the past, we cannot say; but we do know from notices on the mounts of his prints, produced at this time, that he immediately set to work to follow this advice, and advertised his willingness to grant licences, and Le Blond & Co. became in November 1849 the first of his licensees, and continued from that date at intervals to produce prints under their licence up to the time of the expiry of the patent in 1854 (when the process was open to anyone), and after then, up to about 1867, by the same method—these prints during all this time being from designs of their own—and later, they reproduced about 1868 the ‘Le Blond-Baxters,’ particulars of which are given in Chapter XIII. After obtaining their licence, their first attempt was in the year 1850; they then produced the ‘Royal Family at Windsor’ (No.71 of our Catalogue), which, as might be expected, is somewhat crude; and as if to mark the event they dated it, as will be seen on referring to our list of prints of the Regal series, and this was, we believe (unlike Baxter in this respect), the only print they did date; and then came two or three other subjects relating to Royalty-such as ‘Queen Victoria’ and ‘Prince Albert ‘respectively, standing on a balcony, and the ‘Royal Family at Buckingham Palace,’ a few landscapes for pocket-books (four to be exact), and a print of the Great Exhibition of 1851; and these seem to have constituted their whole output by this method prior to numbering their productions. But in 1851, doubtless owing to the impetus given by the Great Exhibition of that year, they started a regular series, and from this date they placed on their mounts, and, later, on the blue label at the back of them, a distinctive number for each print; and this plan was continued to the end, covering a period of some seventeen years. Like Baxter, they obtained orders for their work at first for music title-pages, for the bands for tying up dress and other materials, for pocket-books and other ephemeral objects; and for some years they published only small subjects-fancy designs interspersed with small landscapes and portraits of Royalty-and it was not until about 1865 that any print appears of really considerable dimensions. The production of the ‘Le Blond-Baxters’ in 1868 (more fully described in Chapter XIII) was not a success: cheap German and other chromo-lithographs, then getting more prevalent, preventing any profit accruing by the sale. And then Le Blond & Co put away all the plates and blocks in their cupboards, and they never again saw the light until Mr. Möckler, a gentleman who was such an enthusiast of Baxter’s art, that as soon as he heard of the existence of the Le Blond and ‘Le Blond-Baxter plates at Le Blond’s premises, came straightway to London on June 6, 1893, and purchased the whole of them there and then. Later on, Mr. Möckler published his folio of reprints in sepia, on thick paper, from these plates. But the reproduction is defective, inasmuch as the producer was not able to discriminate the plates produced by Baxter from those of Le Blond & Co.; and so, although the folio purports to be reprints from Baxter’s plates, it contains many of Le Blond & Co. as well. There was included in the sale to Mr. Möckler, as stated in the contract, the following items. Firstly, the plates and blocks of Baxter’s productions, as purchased by Le Blond & Co., with a stock of reprints, for £3oo; and secondly, all the plates LeBlond & Co. had made of their own subjects, together with all the blocks for the same, and half the stock of printed subjects on hand, for £500. It is interesting to note in this connection that Abraham Le Blond says in a letter, dated June 2, 1893, addressed to Mr. Möckler: ‘I purchased Mr. Baxter’s stock of plates and prints about forty years since, and still am printing his and our own subjects from them.’ What he meant exactly—if anything—by saying he was then printing in the Baxter process, we do not know; but he was getting on in years—it was not long before his death—and he was breaking up, and his memory was defective, and this accounts probably for his error in saying he purchased the Baxter plates and stock about forty years since, when he ought to have said twenty-five years. With this sale Le Blond & Co.’s connection with Baxter’s plates ceased.
We should like to be able to tell our readers how it is, and why it is, that on so many of Le Blond & Co.’s prints the names of ‘’L. A. Elliot & Co., Boston, U.S.’ appear, as well as their own firm; but at present there is no precise evidence of the reason. It will be observed, however, that none of the early productions seem ever to be found bearing the name of ‘Elliot & Co.’; but nearly all the later ones sometimes or always do, including, we believe, all the ‘Le Blond-Baxters.’ It has been rumoured that tile prints bearing the joint names were never actually placed on the market by Le Blond & Co., and that it was not until after the exhibition of Baxter process prints, held by Mr. Möckler, under the presidentship of Lord Leighton, in Birmingham in 1895, that they first made their appearance; We cannot vouch for this, but it may be correct. If Abraham Le Blond’’s letter, which we have quoted, is accurate when it says the firm was on June 2, 1893, still printing Baxter’s and their own subjects,’ then it may well be that the two firms of Le Blond & Co. and Elliot & Co. contemplated, some time before that date, a joint issue of prints, either in America or England, or both, and that only the later ones, as being the best, were selected for reproduction, and as part of the arrangement Elliot & Co.’s name was to appear on the prints; but that by some error, or possibly by the insolvency of Le Blond & Co.’s firm, the scheme never fully materialised, and the stock, or part of it, was left on hand, and was later on disposed of by the Receiver after he had entered on the premises of the firm to realise the assets for the debenture-holders; and in this way the rumour may be about accurate, as that would be after the Möckler exhibition. In a letter in our possession, dated January 5, 1895, the stock of oil prints, of which the Receiver took possession, was then still in his hands, and was very large indeed, consisting, amongst other items, of: 1500 ‘Galway Peasants’; 880 ‘Virginia Water’; 725 ‘In the North of Scotland’; 440 ‘The Heather’; 525 ‘Forget-me-nots’; 1175 ‘Crucifixion’; 1270 ‘Gardener’s Shed’; 1350 ‘Hollyhocks’; 1330 ‘Lucerne’; 20 ‘Highland Lake’; 1060 ‘Descent from the Cross’; 770 ‘Reconciliation’; 1300 ‘Saviour Blessing Bread’; 1270 ‘Ninth Hour’; 1530 ‘Italy’; 200 ‘Ramsgate’; 200 ‘Brighton’; 5800 ‘Cartoons of Raphael’; 44,000 square subjects (assorted); 12,500 needle subjects and 6o,ooo small subjects (assorted);–and the total was open for sale by private treaty at £900. What ultimately became of it we cannot say; but in the year 1896 there was put up for sale by auction at Birmingham, by direction of Mr. Möckler, a great quantity of Baxter and Le Blond prints; whether this included only those he purchased from Le Blond & Co., or whether he bought the remainder from the Receiver as well—as he was at one time, we know, inclined to do—we cannot say. From what we have indicated it follows that if the names of the two firms were not placed on the plates until 1893, then all Le Blond & Co.’s stock printed before then would bear, if any name at all, only the name of Le Blond & Co. We know that the ‘ovals’ are found sometimes with the name of ‘Le Blond & Co., London,’ and at others with the names of the two firms; and probably this may also be the case with the other late prints, including the ‘Le Blond-Baxters.’ One observes, however, that Le Blond & Co. do not on the prints use the word ‘Limited.’ The date when they were made into a company, and which was, we believe, a limited company, and which would necessitate the use of this word in general, was about 1881; but the receipt given to Mr. Möckler on June 6, 1893, was also without it, although signed by Le Blond & Co., as was also the printed bill-head. The question of the signatures on the prints, in the case of both Baxter and Le Blond & Co., we shall probably never quite understand. Baxter did not sign his for many years; and when he began there was no method in it, for he would sign some and not others, even of prints in pairs like ‘News from Australia’ and ‘News from Home,’ or the ‘Coronation’ and ‘Opening of Parliament.’ And Le Blond & Co. seem to have been almost as erratic.
The following letter from the son of Robert Le Blond, before mentioned, has in it points of interest.
How “OIL PRINTS” WERE MADE.
To the Editor: CINCINNATI, OHIO, January 12, 1909.
I have been much interested in the article in The Inland Printer, by Charles E. Dawson, on “Baxtertype,” particularly as I worked in the office of Le Blond & Co., 24 Budge Row, London, who were licensees of Baxter; this was in 1854 and 1855. The firm of Le Blond & Co. was composed of my father Robert and his brother Abram. My father came to America in 1856, leaving his brother Abram in charge of the business.
The actual printing of the “oil prints,” as they were designated by us, was carried on in the workshops at No. 4 Walbrook, a small street leading out of Budge Row and coming out on Cheapside by the Mansion House. This work, as Dawson says, was all done on hand presses; in fact, outside of the newspaper and large book offices, there were no power presses then. We had over twenty hand presses at Walbrook, and at Budge Row half a dozen lithograph presses and as many copper-plate presses. I pulled a hand press in the room just outside of the one where the oil prints were printed. I was then fourteen years old. As a rule, the other employees were not allowed in there, and, of course, strangers visiting any workshop in the old country was, and is, entirely out of the question.
According to my recollection, these prints were first engraved on a steel plate, as Dawson says, a key-plate, or, as I should call, a master-plate. From transfers from this the different color-blocks were engraved, mostly on boxwood, some on copper. In printing, each from contained two blocks, each of a different color, two colors being used at a time on the ink table. The roller had about two inches cut out of the center, so that the colors would not mix. When the top sheet on the tympan was printed, it was taken off the points and put on the lower set of points and a new sheet put on above. At times, the pressman touched up a certain part that needed it, with a little pad of composition carrying a different tint to what was on the roller. This, as you may imagine, was slow work; I should say that nine hundred a day was the maximum. In your article you say that nine hundred or one thousand five hundred was a fair day’s work for a pressman or helper, I think this should read and helper; there were almost invariably two to a press–one journeyman and one apprentice–except with the more advanced apprentices, who had charge of a press with a younger apprentice to help them.
The sheets were printed on dry stock. I am sure I never saw any dampening of sheets in that department, but in most other work done there the paper was wet down first, and kept about the same degree of dampness until the job was finished. The color was furnished us dry and was ground and mixed as it was needed, mostly by the apprentice, while the journeyman made the form ready. This was generally the rule all over the shop. All colors came dry, except Chinese blue and black, and perhaps a few others.
A man was employed to grind most of the ink, where comparatively large quantities were needed, but on smaller and more particular jobs, each pressman had his own stone muller and ground and mixed his own ink. In the oil-print department they had certain standard tints, of which they kept a little stock on hand, carefully protected from drying, and replenished them by fresh grinding when needed.
Most of these forms were kept locked up all the time. When a run was finished, the chase with tympan frame attached, containing all the make-ready, was lifted off the press and carefully stood aside, and the chase with the next two colors put on. This, while involving quite an outlay for chases, etc., effected a considerable saving of time in making ready. A different point hole was used for each impression, as can be seen by some of the prints I have sent you; fifteen or more point holes are on some, showing that the number of colors have been used. It would take quite an expert to pick out and number the different colors.
As far as the work of the licensees not equaling that of Baxter, I never saw any of his, but think you will find on examining specimens I have sent you, that they are very nearly perfect. These prints are nearly, if not quite, fifty years old, and to my eye show no deterioration. The smaller prints were sold at about i8 pence each, and I believe were originally designed to use as labels on cotton goods, but gradually got to be used as pictures. They were generally trimmed close and mounted on the embossed card, showing the title, etc. These prints were, as you say, each subjected to careful inspection, and none allowed to go out unless perfect.
When our firm moved their shops from London to Kingston-on-Thames, about 186o, several of our men left and were employed by Kronheim Company, who were endeavoring to do that class of work, but I never saw any of their work to equal ours.
In reference to the tympans used by Baxter being of sheet metal, ours were simply of calico stretched tight on the frame, enclosing the necessary additional paper sheets and overlays. I never heard of sheet metal being used for that purpose.
‘ROBERT E. LE BLOND.’
To Baxter must be assigned the merit not only of being the inventor and patentee of the oil- print process, but also of having revived with much added beauty the ancient art of block printing. Le Blond & Co. cannot claim such merits; they were always copyists of Baxter methods, and never much of pioneers in the art of colour printing. Baxter laboured from 1834 to 1860—a period of twenty-six years—and produced some 350 original colour prints, including book illustrations; Le Blond & Co., from 1856 to 1868, or thereabouts; and there are some 126 of their original colour prints, including the only book illustration which we know, as well as their ‘Le Blond-Baxters’; but if there are respects in which Le Blond & Co., as colour printers, are not equal to the inventor, we can at least say that their small landscapes are delightful, their Regal series interesting, their larger and later prints attractive, and their set of ovals charming; and the collection of their prints, whether for a portfolio or to adorn a room, is an occupation attended with great interest and has much to recommend it.