Walters, W. T., Stephen W. Bushell, and William M. Laffan. Oriental Ceramic Art. New York: D. Appleton and Co, 1897.
Folio. Yellow pictorial boards with silk spine. Each pair of volumes laid into a cloth oriental-style folder with ties.
I almost hate to say it, but this will be the last of the regular Neat Things I Have Cataloged. I have been working on getting the remainder of the rare or special items cataloged over the past few months, and that has provided great material for this series. As that project is winding down, I might post more, but not on a regular basis as I have for the past few months.
So it seems natural to conclude with the finished product of the item that started this series in the first place. Chromolithography was the penultimate “artisanal” printing method, and at the end of the 19th century, there were two experts in this method: Louis Prang and Julius Bien.
After the Civil War, lithography was the most widely used method for creating color images in books. This popularity stems largely from the adaptability of lithographic printing to some form of automation and mechanization. To create a lithograph, an artist prepares the surface typically using what can be described as a greasy pencil to block out areas to repel ink. After applying the pencil, the stone is “fixed” and then inked and printed. This fundamental process went through many iterations in the United States, from hand colored lithographs, to tinted lithographs, and finally to chromolithography. The images produced by these lithographic processes improved in quality over time, as is true of other color printing processes.
The advent of high quality chromolithography in the 1850s created images that were comparable in quality to hand-colored plates at less cost. Chromolithography typically used twelve plates to create a finished color plate. Black would be the first color, but after that, sequencing the colors, choice of specific colors, and registration of the paper on the plate were the purview of craftspeople called chromistes. Even at this late stage with less manual work needed, there was still a significant requirement for professionals trained in the sequencing, coloring, and registration of the lithographic stones. According to Suzanne Low, with just a glance at a color plate, the chromistes could tell how many and which colors were used in the creation of a finished color image. Their expertise, combined with the knowledge of a skilled printer, such as Julius Bien or Louis Prang, could create truly remarkable images.
It was in this arena of high-quality chromolithography that W.T. Walters worked to produce the remarkable book illustrated above. Aware of the high quality of the printing of American and European chromolithographic printers and desiring a catalog of his collection of “Oriental” porcelain and ceramics, Walters set out to choose the best of these printers, and held a competition to see which printing firm was the “best,” as detailed in the introduction to the work (page is illustrated in the fifth image above):
The plates in color with which this work is illustrated were made by Louis Prang, of Boston. The work of every European house of importance was examined before Mr. Prang was asked to make lithographs of three pieces of porcelain of different colors. His immediate success determined the question, and when two years later some twenty of the plates were shown to French lithographers in Paris, their criticism was that the impressions had been fortified by color from the brush; they could not believe that work of such excellence could be produced by simple lithography. This very satisfactory opinion has since been confirmed by many lithographers, and it is conceded that these plates represent the highest type of work that has been reproduced in that branch of art.
The title was printed in an edition of 500 copies, each copy comprised of 5 portfolios of 2 sections in each portfolio. The set are folio sized, and have fabric outer covers, and the sections have yellow pictorial boards, as mentioned and illustrated above.
Considered to be among the finest examples of chromolithographic printing in existence, Louis Prang’s Oriental Ceramic Art, Collection of W.T. Walters… is a breathtaking work to see. Indeed, if you ever have the opportunity to compare the images in the book with the collection photography of the Walters museum, you will see how incredible Prang’s work in this title was, as it rivals digital photography today. While most chromolithographic printers used twelve stones for a completed image, in order to meet Walters’ requirement for color images of the highest quality, the plates in this book used from twenty to forty-four separate stones for each image. Perhaps understanding that this work was the apex of this type of printing and that new methods for printing color were coming into common use in the United States, Prang merged his business with the Taber Art Company in 1897 and retired.
- McClinton, Katerine. The Chromolithographs of Louis Prang. New York: C. N. Potter; distributed by Crown Publishers, 1973.
- Reese, William S. Stamped with a National Character: Nineteenth Century American Color Plate Books : an Exhibition. New York: Grolier Club, 1999, 107.
- Slautterback, Catharina. Chromo-mania!: The Art of Chromolithography in Boston, 1840 –1910, Boston: Boston Athenæum, 2012.
- Dean, Jason W. “In Living Color: Crystal Bridges and its American Color Plate Book Collection;” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Spring 2013).
- Freeman, Larry. Louis Prang; Color Lithographer; Giant of a Man. Watkins Glen, N.Y.: Century House, 1971.
- L. Prang & Co. [Progressive Proof Book for Walters’ Oriental Ceramic Art]. Boston: L. Prang & Co, 1897.