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Facsimiles & Identification
We have seen that various techniques are easily capable of imitating both other mediums and various surface textures such as wood or marble, but sometimes it was not always enough for a retoucher to make an exact copy of what lay before him. Optical illusions often needed to take on more elaborate forms to create a ruse. This often went beyond the capabilities of one individual, requiring knowledge beyond mere rendering.
Facsimile Silk: On this German postcard from 1903 four color tints and a black halftone were printed over silver ink, supposedly meant to imitate the sheen of silk. This illusion is further aided by the presence of a woven-like texture, but its application is more complex than first realized. On closer examination we can see that rows of parallel dashed lines have been embossed across the entire surface of the card.
Facsimile Silk: On this detail from the postcard further above we can see the embossed texture has been enhanced by the heavy application of silver ink that does not fill in all the recessed lines, making it look like the texture of fabric. In the detail below from a non-image area we can see that parallel golden yellow lines have been printed at a diagonal to the embossed lines. This not only creates a warm tint, they more importantly disguise the embossing by interfering with its pattern to create a better fabric effect in the silver areas by contrast.
The way that ink lays upon a postcard’s surface is often an important factor in determining technique but this is not always an easy judgement to make. When paper is squeezed against the ink on a relief plate, whether it be from a woodblock or line block, the pressure causes the ink to migrate outwards toward the points of least resistance, which are the cut edges of the image. As ink gathers there in greater quantity, a ridge line is formed around the printed shapes known as ink squash. The presence of ink squash on a card is the easiest way to identify a relief print but conclusions should not be rushed. If a woodblock is printed by hand, lighter pressure can eliminate a noticeable squash mark. This can also occur if the ink is applied to the plate very thinly. On the other hand the tendency of suspended granules to accumulate around the edges of puddled liquid can create the illusion of ink squash. This is a common feature of watercolor, which is often used in the hand coloring of postcards. This effect however is most often found when liquid tusche is employed on lithographs. When used as a wash the separation of granules and liquid can create a uniquely identifiable look, but it is much less evident in the type of line work drawn with a pen that is so common on chromolithographs.
Ink Squash: The presence of ink squash is very evident in the detail above from a postcard printed in line block. The effect has been enhanced by the hard almost glossy paper it was printed on that absorbed little ink causing more to spread outwards. Even the ink on the interior surface looks smeary because there was little absorption into the paper.
Fascimile Ink Squash: While the black and red lines from the detail of a lithograph above are fairly flat and grainy, they still show hints of ink migration toward their edges. On the detail from another chromolithograph below we can see that some of the dots drawn in with tusche have pooled together. This has caused the greasy particles within the liquid suspension to migrate exaggerating its edges. The visual effect is derived from the way the tusche has dried on the plate, not the movement of the ink.
The type of paper a postcard is printed on can greatly effect ones ability to determine technique. A line block dot typically has a hard edge while the edge of a lithographic dot is typically soft, but when printed on uncoated paper all dots tend to look a bit fuzzy as they soak into the paper’s fibers. This same effect is applicable to ink squash for ink has less tendency to spread on porous paper and where it does hard edges may not appear.
Chromolithograph: This embossed postcard is drawn with all the characteristics of a chromolithograph but as seen in the detail below all markings large and small are accompanied by very noticeable ink squash. If printing style was discounted and a judgement made on physical evidence alone, one would have to say this is a line block print. In this case there is unexpected help from text printed on the card stating that this is a chromolithograph. The ink squash is obviously caused by the non-absorbent glossy paper it is printed on.
The randomly drawn dots found on a typical chromolithograph are fairy easy to distinguish from the uneven blots and grain of a typical photo-chromolithograph but problems may ensue when examining an untypical print. So much secrecy revolved around photo-chromolithography that no two printers produced a printed surface that looked exactly alike. While all such images produced through this medium share common characteristics, they were all retouched to such varying degrees and in various ways that they are not all easy to immediately identify. In some cases what is produced by a quirky hand and what is produced by a photomechanical process becomes a judgement call.
Photo-Chromolithography vs Photogravure: The postcard above was printed in photogravure and the one below made from the same photograph is a photochrom. While photogravure produces deep rich tones in a more organic form, its natural tendency to look soft can be enhanced when printed with multiple plates in color rendering poor details and dull colors. The larger random patterns of photochoms with their well defined sharp edges were able to render much brighter hues but they have a flatter appearance. These differences, which are more of a matter of personal preference than of quality, can be seen more clearly in the two details further below.
Photo-Chromolithography vs Collotype: The tinted collotype above and the photo-chromolithograph below were made from different negatives but both share a near identical composition. While both of these photomechanical processes share many features the outcomes are dramatically different. The evenness of the collotype grain in the key plate manages to capture detail and subtle tonal shifts quite well as demonstrated in the detail further below but this evenness also grays out the overall composition. The photo-chromolithograph does not use a key plate as all colors are printed in the same manner. Tonal shifts are created by the addition of plates that carry different values of the same hue. This card required six more colors to be printed than found in the tinted collotype. While the larger palette helps to create a more vibrant image, it cannot capture the same amount of nuance as a collotype as seen in the last detail at the bottom.
Photo-Chromolithograph: This postcard published by New England News might be mistaken for a chromolithograph especially since there are hand drawn yellow dots across most of its surface. While most of its small markings could pass for spatter, the subtle nuances captured even in the small figures leaves little doubt that this image has photographic origins.
Photo-Chromolithograph: There is a certain style of photo-chromolithography, most often used in Switzerland, where the image is printed on unsized paper and without a final coat of varnish. The resulting image is rich but very matt in a way that closely resembles the effect of color photogravure. The finely printed lithographic markings can be extremely difficult to discern on unsized paper as they can be overwhelmed by the fibers when observed under magnification. Careful study however will reveal a slightly blotchy texture typical of the bitumen used in photo-chromolithography rather than the more continuous tones from gelatin as used in photogravure.
Chromolithograph: The image on this old Gruss aus card was made with such a variety of blots, dots, and spatter as seen in the detail below that the technique becomes difficult to decipher.
If one has a good eye, the differences between a sharp edged line block dot, often accompanied by ink squash can be distinguished from the soft edged lithographic dot and even the softer and larger dots produced through offset lithography. Unfortunately the most discerning eye can often run into trouble when shading mediums are encountered. When a single pattern is used to fill in an otherwise blank area it can be easy to spot, but when patterns overlap and are mixed with halftone dots the situation can become confusing. Adding to this problem are the many different types of shading mediums used, which created different looks even when all appear as dots. Some marks took the form of paper grains on which an original drawing would be made. This could then be directly transferred to a litho-stone or photographed and then transferred photomechanically. Benday dots could also be used, burnished onto the stone by the hand of a retoucher or added to a negative for photomechanical transfer. While the dots these mediums create are usually more irregular than those created through halftone, there is sometimes an intermediate look where they can go either way. Benday will never form the mid-tone optical bump caused by a halftone line screen, but the spaces between the dots drawn on paper grains can be made to fill in by the pressure of the retouchers hand. In most cases one can decipher how dot patterns are laid, but sometimes their are so many shared characteristics that a final judgement is difficult to make. If one examines the high fidelity by which craftsmen reproduced images on chromolithographs by only drawing small dots, then it should not be hard to assume that retouchers could reproduce a photo like image through the employment of shading mediums. Just because the image on a card may have a photographic countenance and have dots similar to a halftone, it does not exclude it from being hand drawn.
Poly-Chrome: This lithographic postcard published by Gut & Steers bares the Poly-Chrome name but it is not printed in photo-chromolithography; instead flat color blotches seem to be overlaid with black dots. While these dots form the regimented pattern expected from a halftone screen there is an irregularity about them at the same time similar to applying benday. It is difficult to tell what parts of this image are photo based and what is the result of the retoucher’s hand.
Lithograph: The subtle gestures of the figures and the clear reading of space in this difficult composition indicate that at least part of this postcard is photo based. The detail below however displays none of the nuances one would expect from an image reproduced by photomechanical means. It looks similar to a tinted halftone but the imprecise patterning looks closer to one formed by a shading medium than by a line screen.
Lithograph: In this postcard detail it is difficult to tell the difference between halftone dots and those produced by a shading medium. Are the broken lines the result of a drawing made on paper grain or are they the result of chain dots formed by an elliptical line screen? There zigzag shape seems to indicate they are drawn in but the darker areas look more like the optical bump created by a halftone.
Rotogravure: This postcard is a modern rotogravure reprint of an early lithograph drawn with paper tints to simulate crayon texture. Its multiple translations have left it with a very peculiar dot structure that lacks much of the expected regimented patterning of a halftone or rotogravure screen. The printing technique on such cards are difficult to identify and determinations cannot always be made with certainty.