Senefelder on Lithography: The Classic 1819 Treatise

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The invention in the late eighteenth century of lithography, or "writing on stone," reshaped the course of graphic arts. Some years later, the father of this world-changing technology, Alois Senefelder, published a description of the process. This English translation of the original German work, Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey, vividly describes Senefelder's struggles to develop and popularize the medium and the lithographic techniques employed in the process.
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Senefelder on Lithography: The Classic 1819 Treatise

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Overview


The invention in the late eighteenth century of lithography, or "writing on stone," reshaped the course of graphic arts. Some years later, the father of this world-changing technology, Alois Senefelder, published a description of the process. This English translation of the original German work, Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey, vividly describes Senefelder's struggles to develop and popularize the medium and the lithographic techniques employed in the process.
The work is divided into two parts: the first presents a history of the invention and its different processes; the second provides practical instructions for its application—the varieties of stone, ink, instruments, paper, and presses used for different tasks, and the pitfalls to be avoided in working with these materials.
An essential reference for graphic artists and students, the classic 1819 treatise remains the definitive work on this topic.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486445571
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 11/21/2005
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 9.14 (w) x 5.94 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Read an Excerpt

SENEFELDER ON LITHOGRAPHY

The Classic 1819 Treatise


By ALOIS SENEFELDER

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-16189-1



CHAPTER 1

A COMPLETE


COURSE OF LITHOGRAPHY,

&c. &c.

HAD I been allowed to follow my own inclinations, I should certainly have embraced the profession of my father, Peter Sennefelder, who was one of the performers of the Theatre Royal at Munich. This, however, being contrary to my father's wishes, I devoted myself to the study of jurisprudence at the University of Ingolstadt; and had no other opportunity of indulging my predilections for the stage, than by occasionally performing at small private theatres, and by employing my leisure in some trifling dramatical productions.


It was in this way that I wrote the little comedy, Die Mœd-chenkenner, in the year 1789, which was received by my numerous friends with such applause, that I was induced to send it to the press; and I had the good fortune to clear fifty florins, after defraying the expenses of the printing.


Soon after this I had the misfortune to lose my father, and, as my reduced circumstances did not allow me to continue my acax-demical studies, I could no longer withstand the desire to devote myself entirely to the dramatic art, as performer and author; for the success of my first essay had inspired me with the most sanguine hopes. Having, however, for the space of two years, suffered a great deal of misery and disappointment at several theatres, at Ratisbon, Erlangen, and other places, my enthusiasm cooled to such a degree, that I resolved to forsake this unpromising profession, and to try my fortune as an author.


But even in this plan I was not very successful, and the very first attempt I made to publish another of my dramatic productions entirely failed, as the piece could not be got ready for the Easter Book-fair at Leipzig: it therefore produced scarcely enough to pay the expenses I had incurred. In order to accelerate the publication of this work, I had passed more than one whole day in the printing-office, and had made myself acquainted with all the particulars of the process of printing. I thought it so easy, that I wished for nothing more than to possess a small printing press, and thus to be the composer, printer, and publisher of my own productions. Had I then possessed sufficient means to gratify this wish, I should never, perhaps, have been the inventor of the Lithographic art; but as this was not the case, I was obliged to have recourse to other projects.


My first idea was to engrave letters in steel, stamp these matrices in forms of hard wood, and thus form a sort of stereotype composition, from which impressions could have been taken in the same manner as from a wooden block. But I was compelled to relinquish this plan, for want of proper tools, and sufficient skill in engraving in steel; but it is my intention to submit this idea, with the subsequent improvements, to the public, on another occasion.


The next plan that occurred to me was, to compose one page of letter-press, in common printing characters, to make a cast of this composition in a soft matter, and, by taking another cast from this cast, to obtain a sort of stereotype frame. This experiment did not wholly disappoint my expectations. I composed a sort of paste, of clay, fine sand, flour, and pulverized charcoal, which, mixed with a little water, and kneaded as stiff as possible, gave a very good impression of the types; and, in a quarter of an hour, became so hard, that I could take a perfect cast from it in melted sealing-wax, by means of a hand-press. I afterwards applied the printer's ink to this stereotyped block, in the usual manner, and thus obtained a perfectly clear impression from it. By mixing a small quantity of pulverized plaster of Paris with the sealing wax, the composition became much harder than the common type-metal of lead and antimony; and, to my invention of thus forming a sort of stereotype tables, nothing was wanting but a few preparatory improvements, and a small stock of types; but even this was too much for my limited finances, and I was therefore obliged to abandon this plan, which I did the more readily, as I just then chanced to hit upon another, still more easy in its execution.


This was no other than to learn to imitate the printed clla-racters, very closely, in an inverted sense; to write these with an elastic steel pen on a copper-plate, covered with etching ground, to bite them in, and thus to take impressions from them. By practice I soon acquired some skill in this mode of writing, and began to make a trial of it. The greatest difficulty that I met with here, was how to correct the mistakes I occasionally made in writing; for I was then utterly unacquainted with the common covering varnish of the engravers. I, therefore, tried to cover the faulty places with melted wax; but the cover I thus obtained was generally so thick, that I could not well work through it. I now called to my assistance the little knowledge of chemistry I had obtained at school; I well remembered that most of the resins, that withstand aqua-fortis, are dissoluble in æther, spirit of wine, or alcali. I tried many experiments with these, but all in vain; I then contrived a mixture of turpentine and wax, but this likewise did not answer any purpose, as I probably made it too thin. Fortunately I did not try more experiments with these substances, for, if I had pursued them, I might never have hit on the invention of the lithographic art. At present I know very well how to prepare a covering varnish, perfectly fit for this purpose, with turpentine, wax and mastic. Another experiment with wax and soap, was at last perfectly successful. A composition of three parts of wax, with one part of common soap, melted together over the fire, mixed with a small quantity of lampblack, and dissolved in rain-water, produced a black ink, with which I could with great ease correct the faults I accidentally made.


Though I had thus overcome my greatest obstacle, yet the want of a sufficient number of copper-plates, the tediousness of grinding and polishing those I had used, and the insufficiency of tin plates, which I tried as a substitute, soon put an end to my experiments in this way.


It was at this period that my attention was accidentally directed to a fine piece of Kellheim stone, which I had purchased for the purpose of grinding my colours. It occurred to me that by covering this plate with my composition ink, I could use it as well as the copper or tin plates, for my exercises in writing backwards. The little trouble that the grinding and polishing of these plates would cost, were my chief inducement to try this experiment. I had, till then, seen only very thin plates of this stone, and therefore I had no conception that I should be able to use them for taking impressions from them, as they would not resist the pressure necessary for this purpose, without breaking; but in regard to writing, I soon discovered that I could do it better and more distinctly on the stone, than on the copper-plates. Being, soon after this, informed by a stone-mason that he could procure these plates from one to eight inches thick, I began to conceive the possibility of using them likewise for the impressions; but before this could be done, it was absolutely necessary first to discover a method to give a higher polish to the stone, or to prepare a colour that could be better wiped off the stone, than the common printer's ink. For the stone never admits that sort of polish which is requisite for the application of the common ink; and this, I suppose, is the very reason why the stone having, not long before, been used by engravers for etching, as a substitute for copper, (for I am well aware that many similar experiments had already been tried,) the attempt did not succeed, and was soon relinquished.


I tried all possible methods of polishing and grinding the stone, but my success was not such as I could have wished. As to the polishing of the stone, I found it the best way to apply to the smoothly-ground surface of it a composition of four or five parts of water, and one part of rectified oil of vitriol. This liquid produces a sudden effervescence on calcareous stone, which, however, almost instantly ceases, so that we might be tempted to believe the vitriol saturated; but this is not the case, for on the same liquid being applied to another part of the stone yet untouched, it produces a similar effervescence; the reason of this is, that the surface of the stone is almost instantly covered with a coat of gypsum, which is impenetrable to the vitriol. When this liquid is wiped off, and the stone dried, it acquires, by a slight rubbing of a rag, a most brilliant polish; this, however, is so thin, that it scarcely allows fifty impressions to be taken from it, without a repetition of the above process, which, however, is attended with some injury to the drawing. But if impressions are taken according to the present chemical method, and the stone has been polished before the drawing is made, several thousands of impressions may be obtained, as will be more fully described in another place.


As to the second difficulty, of discovering a colour that could be easily wiped off the stone, I found, after many experiments, that none was better than a light varnish of oil, mixed with purified lampblack, which could be wiped from the stone by means of a weak solution of potash, and common salt, in water; but if this was not done with sufficient care, it sometimes happened that the drawing or writing on the stone was at the same time effaced, and could not be restored without great trouble. The recollection of this fact, which at that time I was unable to explain, led me, some years afterwards, to the invention of the present chemical lithography.


I have been very minute in describing the process of inventing this ink of wax, soap, and lampblack, as it was principally this invention which opened to me the way to the chemical lithography. It so happened, therefore, that I knew the ink, before I even thought of applying it to the stone; in the first instance, I only used the stone for my exercises in writing; the ease with which this was done, (and which, indeed, is far greater than on metal covered with etching ground,) induced me to use the stone for the printing; but, in order to do this, it was requisite to clear the stone as perfectly as the copper-plate printer does his copper-plate, though the stone will not take so high a polish as the latter.


I was trying some farther experiments for this purpose, when a new and accidental discovery prevented me from pursuing this plan.


In all the experiments I have hitherto described, I could not boast of having invented any thing new, as I had been only applying the theory of printing from copper-plates to stone plates, or rather used the latter as a substitute for the former. Had I not gone farther in my discoveries, it is more than probable that, if my circumstances had improved, I should have returned to copper-plates, as the thickness and size of the stones rendered their use by no means more convenient, and as the novelty of the invention would not have encouraged me to follow this new path.


I was firmly convinced that I was not the inventor of the art of etching or engraving on stone, or of taking impressions from stone; I even knew that etching on stone had been practised several centuries before me. But from the moment that I abandoned the principle of engraving, and directly applied my new invented ink to the stone, of which I am about to treat more amply, I could consider myself as the inventor of anew art, and from that moment I relinquished all other methods, and devoted myself exclusively to this.


As I come now in my narrative to that period, from which the Art of Lithography may be said to have drawn its direct origin, I hope I may crave the indulgence of the reader, if I mention even the most trifling circumstances, to which the new art was indebted for its existence.


I had just succeeded in my little laboratory in polishing a stone plate, which I intended to cover with etching ground, in order to continue my exercises in writing backwards, when my mother entered the room, and desired me to write her a bill for the washer-woman, who was waiting for the linen; I happened not to have even the smallest slip of paper at hand, as my little stock of paper had been entirely exhausted by taking proof impressions from the stones; nor was there even a drop of ink in the inkstand. As the matter would not admit of delay, and we had nobody in the house to send for a supply of the deficient materials, I resolved to write the list with my ink prepared with wax, soap, and lampblack, on the stone which I had just polished, and from which I could copy it at leisure.


Some time after this I was just going to wipe this writing from the stone, when the idea all at once struck me, to try what would be the effect of such a writing with my prepared ink, if I were to bite in the stone with aqua-fortis; and whether, perhaps, it might not be possible to apply printing ink to it, in the same way as to wood engravings, and so take impressions from it. I immediately hastened to put this idea in execution, surrounded the stone with a border of wax, and covered the surface of the stone, to the height of two inches, with a mixture of one part of aqua-fortis, and ten parts of water, which I left standing five minutes on it; and on examining the effect of this experiment, I found the writing, elevated about a 10th part of a line, (or 1120th part of an inch.) Some of the finer, and not sufficiently distinct, lines, had suffered in some measure, but the greater part of the letters had not been damaged at all in their breadth, considering their elevation; so that I confidently hoped to obtain very clear impressions, chiefly from printed characters, in which there are not many fine strokes.


I now proceeded to apply the printing ink to the stone, for which purpose I first used a common printer's ball; but, after some unsuccessful trials, I found that a thin piece of board, covered with fine cloth, answered the purpose perfectly, and communicated the ink in a more equal manner, than any other material I had before used. My farther trials of this method greatly encouraged my perseverance. The application of the printing ink was easier than in the other methods, and I could take impressions with a fourth part of the power that was requisite for an engraving, so that the stones were not at all liable to the danger of breaking; and, what was of the greatest moment to me, this method of printing was an entirely new invention, which had occurred to nobody before me. I could, therefore, hope to obtain a patent for it, or even some assistance from the government, which, in similar instances, had shown the greatest liberality in encouraging and promoting new inventions, which I thought of less importance.


Thus the new art was invented, and I lost no time in making myself a perfect master of it; but, in order to exercise it so as to gain a livelihood by it, a little capital was indispensable to construct a press, purchase stones, paper, and other utensils. But as I could not afford even this trifling expense, I saw myself again on the point of being obliged to relinquish all my fond hopes and prospects of success, unless I could devise an expedient to obtain the necessary money. At length I hit upon one, which was to enlist as a private in the artillery, as a substitute for a friend of mine, who promised me a premium of 200 florins. This sum I thought would be sufficient to establish my first press, to which I intended to devote all my leisure, and the produce of which, I hoped, would soon enable me to procure my discharge from the army; besides my knowledge of mathematics, mechanics, and fortification, might possibly promote my views in this new career.


I was quickly resolved, and, on the third day after forming my resolution, I went to Ingolstadt, with a party of recruits, to join my regiment. It was not without some feelings of mortification and humbled pride, that I entered this city, in which I had formerly led the independent life of a student; but the consciousness of my own dignity, and enthusiasm for my new invention, greatly contributed to restore my spirits. I slept in the barracks, where I was not a little disgusted by the prevailing filth, and the vulgar jests of a corporal. The next morning I was to enlist; but, to my great disappointment, the commander of the regiment discovered that I was not a native of Bavaria, and therefore, according to a recent order of the Elector, could not serve in the army, without obtaining a special license.


Thus my last hope failed me, and I left Ingolstadt in a state of mind bordering on despair. As I passed the great bridge over the Danube, and looked at the majestic river, in which I had been twice nearly drowned while bathing, I could not suppress the wish that I had not been then saved, as misfortune seemed to persecute me with the utmost rigour, and to deny me even the last prospect of gaining an honest subsistence in the military career.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from SENEFELDER ON LITHOGRAPHY by ALOIS SENEFELDER. Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Page,
ADVERTISEMENT,
Dedication,
PREFACE.,
PART FIRST. - HISTORY,
A COMPLETE - COURSE OF LITHOGRAPHY,,
SECOND SECTION.,
THIRD SECTION.,
PART II. - ART OF LITHOGRAPHY,,
ART OF LITHOGRAPHY,,
SECTION I. - GENERAL RULES AND EXPLANATIONS.,
SECTION SECOND. - Of the DIFFERENT MANNERS of LITHOGRAPHY.,
SUPPLEMENT.,
Directions to the Binder for placing the Plates,,
LIST OF MATERIALS,

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