Mixing, Matching, Overlapping!

An exciting part of reading magazines published in the 1890s is looking for different types of photomechanical reproduction technologies that are used to create single issues or volumes, and it is especially exciting when you find more than one technique used on a single page. The two clusters of images on this page look similar, but are actually quite different on closer inspection. While both appear to be a collage of reproduced photographs and hand-illustrated decorations, the cluster on the left is actually an engraving. For savvy readers, there might have been some easy giveaways that the cluster on the left is an engraving, such as the beauties’ noticeably textured hair, but when looking at their skin, the soft gradients of shadow and light that are created by carefully arranging black dots together make it difficult to tell (with the naked eye) whether the image is a line engraving or a halftone reproduction. This is because of the similar outcomes of these two techniques. Looking closely at the illustrated reproduction on the bottom left, it becomes clear that the dots are created by what is left over after intersecting lines are engraved by the artist. The lines follow the contour of the face to help create shape and shadow at the same time, whereas in the halftone reproductions on the bottom right, the dots are placed (by a screen) in an evenly spaced grid in varying boldness and softness. As a result, the halftone-reproduced photograph has a foggier, greyer appearance than the engraving. While halftone-reproduced photographs might have been more exciting to find than engravings for some nineteenth-century readers, the new technology had its limits. The cluster on the left, for example, shows how seamlessly the floral decorations, which are more obviously engraved, can be blended with the more photographic looking images of the beauties. The cluster on the right, however, shows a starker contrast between the beauties and the decorative elements. The white border separating the reproduced photographs and the illustrated decoration is not unique to this example. The difficult and time-consuming task of blending photographic reproductions and illustrations seamlessly was possible (Giorgio Sommer’s Napoli Tarantella is a good example), but the labour required to produce the effect likely did not suite the fast-paced environment of periodical publishing.

close up images

See a high-defintion version of this magazine page.

Pages Mentioned and Further Reading

“Beauties.” The Strand Magazine, Aug. 1893 (vol. 6, no. 32), pp. 178. The Internet Archive, archive.org/stream/StrandMagazine32/Strand32#page/n69/mode/2up. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.

Sommer, Giorgio. Napoli Tarantella. ca. 1870. The Metropolitan Museum, New York. The Metropolitan Museum, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/305832. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.

“Types of English Beauty.” The Strand Magazine, Oct. 1892 (vol. 4, no. 22), pp. 406. The Internet Archive, archive.org/stream/StrandMagazine22/Strand22#page/n77/mode/2up. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.