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It is not at all uncommon to find postcards with a metallic sheen for they have been manufactured this way since their inception. Metallic paints were not generally used in the fine arts where the appearance of metal was created through illusion rather than substance. There was however a long tradition of applying gold leaf to a painted surface to symbolically glorify specific subjects depicted. There was a resurgence in the use of gold leaf at the end of the 19th century when many artists grew more interested in the painting surface than what paint could represent. This trend carried over into the graphic arts where gilding by hand had been no stranger, and it was now often used in advertising to glorify material goods rather than saints. Postcards used metallic effects as a design element that sometimes was well integrated into a composition and often not, but always as a marketing ploy. Precious metals were not used in these processes, so the prestige that imitations added was all in the consumers mind. These novelties were however more expensive to produce, which gave them some status. Printers found a number of different techniques to render these effects, each with their own characteristics.
Metallic Spot Printing
Metallic Spot Color: Gold line work has been added to the monochrome postcard above to simulate shimmering highlights. Unfortunately in this case the two mediums act so differently that their attributes do not combine either as an illusion nor as a good stylistic design. So much silver has been printed over the color lithograph below that it becomes an integral part of the composition. While the design overpowers any sense of realism that seems to be the point. The intricate silver details are too delicate to have been painted on by hand, indicating that they were printed.
Metallic Spot Color: Not only have the borders on this postcard been covered with a silvery ink but a thin layer has been printed across the sky giving it a strange iridescence. While the blue under printing of the sky barely bleeds through this near opaque silver, the black wires retain strong definition because they were printed over the metallic ink from the key plate.
Metallic Tint: On the postcard above a silvery ink has been first laid down as a solid tint, which was then over printed with red and a black halftones. Metallic ink was always printed first when used as a tint because of its opaqueness. Red, yellow, blue and black have been lithographed over a solid field of silver on the older card below from the 1890’s. The specks of silver that shine through the overprinting make the color inks look as if they are also metallic. Despite the shine, both of these cards look duller than if printed on white paper.
The term bronzing was also used more generically to refer to any application of metallic powder to a card placed in wet ink or varnish. This was sometimes used to highlight lettering or to create pure decoration. This method should not be confused with images that had metallic inks printed over them or metal foil adhered to them. The act of printing imparts sharply defined edges while those from bronzing tend to be rounder and softer. If there was too much oil leftover in the powder from the manufacturing process, it had a tendency to flake off the cardís paper surface. Many health hazards were associated with bronzing, and the dust was explosive, so most printers eventually abandoned this time consuming method in favor metallic inks when they were made easier to work with.
Bronzing: Bronzing was most often used to color in window to give the illusion that light were shining through. On this card it has been placed over the black key plate but the uneven coating has rendered it translucent in some places and opaque in others as seen in the detail below. Normally colors were laid down one at a time but the two different types of metal powders used here were applied at the same time. Simultaneous hand application is obvious because in certain places the two powders have inadvertently mixed. Registration problems were also common with this effect, making it easy to distinguish bronzing from gilding by hand.
Bronzing: The bronzing technique was commonly used to add messages to stock and generic cards. Lettering could be added by first printing varnish on a card or by writing with a glue pencil to create a receptive surface for the metallic dusting. When writing was added in this manner the heavy application of glue often forms a low relief that distinguishes it from the flat surface of printed metallic inks. Raised letters however can be found in traditional gild work.
Dusting: The surface of this German made color lithograph is covered with a consistent layer of metallic dust. It is so fine that it only appears as faint flecks even under very high magnification. The results however are readily visible to the naked eye; the dusting has effectively rendered the appearance of a foggy or misty atmosphere. Like most materials attached to postcards, the bond is weak and the dust will come off on your fingertips if the card is handled.
Foil Stamping: The shimmering colors on this card give the impression that different metallic foils were adhered to this card when only a single blue foil was used. When any ink is printed over nonabsorbent surface such as metal, it tends to curdle and pool. This quality is made even more evident when translucent inks are used as in this case. Thicker areas of ink read as bright colors while thiner areas allow the metallic shine to come through creating the overall illusion that all is metallic foil.
Foil Stamping: At least three different metallic foils were adhered to this postcard before it was overprinted in ink from a black line block. In the detail below the distinct tell tale crackling of the foil’s surface as it bonds to paper under pressure is observable.
Tinseling: Tinseling was usually applied in lines that followed contours within a composition. It was rarely meant to correspond to any natural lighting effects but was used for pure decoration. Since subtlety would defeat its purpose it was often applied in a very heavy handed way. The postcard above is rare for it carries actual silver tinsel that lies flat on its surface. The far more common type of card bellow has glitter applied, which creates a raised surface. Despite its shine, glitter is not as reflective as silver and can go unnoticed at first glance.
Flock Printing: This postcard manages to achieve the same look of a painting on velvet. It was first printed with phosphorescent colors, and once dry it received a final printing of varnish. Before the varnish dried it was dusted with black flocking. If ink were printed on top of the felt there would be ink residue on the fibers, which is not the case here.
Beading: The glass beads placed on this chromolithograph range from clear to dark deep hues. Their extremely small size can be somewhat assessed when compared to the flecks of glitter next to them in the detail below.
Spotting: Above is a real photo postcard that has received some subtle hand coloring. In Small white beads have been carefully painted in on the hat’s ribbons to bring focus to the portrait. These white dots also brings attention to an otherwise quiet card, possibly making it unique enough to attract a customer.
Spotting: This hand colored collotype of a winter scene has been further enhanced by adding white spotting to simulate snowfall. Falling snow was something very difficult to capture through printing, but these opaque dots easily make their presence felt without seeming too unreal. At first glance these dots almost appear to be printed, but the detail below reveals just how much they sit apart from the printed surface. While spatter could be easily applied with speed, there was limited control with this type of application. Results could not just be varied, some could be bad enough to create waste.
Chine Collé (Chine Appliqué)
After better medium weight papers were made available, the utility of using a light and heavy paper disappeared. After the First World War the technique was continued more for the purpose of novelty than for practical reasons. This effect could be enhanced when both papers were of different colors. The most common application was to print on colored paper, which acted like a traditional tinting plate, used in lithography since the 1820’s. While this method eliminated the need for a second plate to print a tone, the cost of additional paper and the time consuming task of registration would have not made this a cheaper alternative.
Chine Collé: Here a gravure plate inked in blue ink was printed on a thin sheet, which is bonded to a heavier stiffer paper. Light grey or tan India paper were the most popular colors chosen for use with chine collé, the same colors traditionally used as tinted backgrounds in lithography.
Cut paper could also be used with this method to create decorative collage elements within an image, but difficulties in registration made this an unappealing practice. The sandwiching of paper through a press became known as chine collé in France where the India paper that was most often used was called China paper. This delicate process was not compatible with mechanized presses but higher end postcards carrying etchings were already being printed by hand in small numbers. The extra materials and labor used with chine collé just about doubled the cost of printing. If the cost to make these cards were higher than normal, a limited number of customers were usually willing to pay more for them.
Paste-on cards could often look like homemade cards, though they were commercially manufactured. They appeared in the 1890’s when the supply of postcards was not yet reliable and the customers for them uncertain. These types of cards were basically printed in letterpress, incorporating a color design or words or both by means of a small photograph or other graphic work printed in a different medium pasted onto it by hand (tipped in). Sometimes only a blind decorative embossing was created around a blank space, creating totally generic stock to hold the material that would be pasted in. These cards could be printed in small numbers on a jobbing platen or even a hand press lessening investment risk.
Tip-Ins: The blind embossing on the postcard above from 1896 is much heaver than what would typically be used with a printed image. The uneven edges around the lithographic portrait indicate that it was not die cut but cut out by hand and then tipped in. The decorative work on postcard below from 1912 was printed in line block, but the picture is a real photograph that has been pasted onto it.
THREE DIMENSIONAL CARDS
It can be argued that creating the illusion of three dimensions from a two dimensional surface has been the pursuit of artists for centuries. This quest however took a new turn after the invention of photography for while the realistic nature of a photograph provides many of the same visual clues need to read space into it that artists sought to create, these same properties open it up to enhancing illusion. All 3D techniques used on postcards would have one thing in common, they are based on the manipulation of two almost identical images that require such precision that nothing less than photography can capture. None of these methods actually created a 3D image because we already see in three dimensions. The idea is only to create a novel way to perceive a two dimensional surface. Whether the eye receives reflected light off of objects at varying distances or a flat plane it is all the same; it is the mind that interprets this stimulus as space. Of course there are important nuances affecting spatial interpretation created between monocular and binocular vision, but these are just different ways in which space can be read, there are other clues we interpret. Without the minds ability to extrapolate on data received, all postcards would be nothing more than ink on paper.
Stereo postcard: Stereoscopy usually took the form of two photographs taken from slightly different viewpoints mounted side by side on a stiff sheet of cardboard. Very early postcards like the collotype above were also printed as stereo-views but in far smaller numbers. They, unlike typical photographic stereo-views could be printed in color.
Anaglyph: This anaglyph was printed as a lithographic postcard with red and light blue halftones. While it is postcard size it still has a blank back suggesting that it may have been sold as a novelty item rather than to mail.
Parallax Stereogram: This postcard from 1906 does not create a 3D image but uses the parallax stereogram technique to present two completely different scenes on the same picture plane. Viewed from head on the picture is a ghostly jumble of both photos, but when viewed from the left the raised opaque lenticules hide the strips that make up the photo of the street while only revealing the strips of the other photo to form a coherent image of a facade. When viewed from the right the lenticules hide and reveal the opposite pair of images.
Gabriel M. Lippmann overcame the obstacle of the single viewing angle required to make Parallax Stereograms work by developing the fly’s-eye lens, a sheet of small round globules through which the photograph would be taken and then viewed. Frederick Ives’ son Hubert refined this idea in the 1920’s by replacing the fly’s-eye with a linear array. Photographs were first shot through a parallax barrier but later directly onto a lenticulating sheet of plastic with a photo sensitized back. When the image is viewed through another thin layer of lenticulating plastic, each linear lenticule acts as an individual lens and reflects light back to the eye at the same angle as the image was exposed. As the light fractures at various angles it appears differently to each eye creating the illusion of seeing the objects in the image from a different perspective.
This principal was applied to early movie production and by 1964 it was developed further by Cowles Communications and Eastman Chemical Products in Tennessee. Visual Panographics in New York were the first to manufacture these 3D images for use as magazine illustrations, baseball cards, and postcards under the name Xograph. Many other companies followed them into production but rather than becoming the wave of the future, Xographs proved only to be a fad and by the early 1980’s the public had tired of them and the process largely disappeared from commercial use. Today as the plastic coating on the oldest cards ages, many have begun to seriously curl. Though Xographs remain an acquired taste they were the only type of 3D cards to be printed in large numbers, and a few better quality cards continue to be produced.
Xograph: This continental sized Xograph postcard dating from 1974 is very typical of the technique. In the detail below we can see how the plastic lenticules act as a lens isolating each bit of color information.