Paper, wood, and copper

Owning Institution: Santa Clara University

About this Collection

This collection features illustrated books from the original Mission Library and from the early Santa Clara College collection, with books dating from 1518 to 1803. The earliest printed books in Europe took their style from manuscripts. The letters resembled the common handwriting of the time, and the ornamentation was done by hand. As printing became accepted as an art form in its own right, printers sought for ways to add decorations – ornamental capitals and illustrations – on their own. The woodcut, which was already in use to print holy images to sell to pilgrims, suited perfectly. Both movable type and woodcut were relief printing, so text and image could be printed in a single twist of the press. There were limitations, though. The process of carving the block was tedious, and the material did not take well to detailed work. Copper engraving, and the related art of etching, solved the problems of woodcuts. Production was less labor-intensive, and it allowed fine lines and shading. Where the white areas are cut away in woodcuts, in copper plate printing, only the black areas are cut into the sheet of copper, and by controlling the depth, the artist could adjust the darkness of the line. The new method posed its own problems, however: copper was more expensive than wood, and because the image was recessed, these plates had to be printed separately from the text. The chosen illustrations fall into four types: Printer’s Devices, Witnessing, Armchair Travelers, and Classical Education View this collection on the contributor's website.

Type of Item