Catching up on a few small mailings I’ve received in the past couple weeks. I do try and blog everything but most PWEs work better in post with other PWEs.
First off, a Juan Marichal numbered parallel from Tim. Apparently someone had sent him this and since he doesn’t collect Giants cards, he figured it would be better of in my collection. This purple parallel is from 2020 Archives and is numbered 48/175. Since this is the kind of thing I don’t chase, it means there’s definitely a place for it in my collection.
I’m not a fan of colored border parallels unless they end u[ being team-color related. However, 2002’s base border color is so bad as it is that going purple is more of a lateral move. The 2002 design itself is strong but with the colored borders you lose track of how good it is.
Absolutely no complaints about that Marichal photo though.
Gio over at When Topps Had Balls is one of the best customs card guys on Twitter. He’s helped me with some photosourcing for my Stanford customs on a few guys from the 1970s who I was having problems finding photos for* and while I haven’t been able to really reciprocate material wise, I did mention something that turned out to be a great customs idea.
*Don Rose, Bob Gallagher, Bob Reece.
Gio’s collecting miscuts and I suggested online that I’d love to see a miscut card that functioned as a traded card. There are a lot of 1970s designs where this approach would work well with* and I could see the lightbulb go off and gears start turning over Twitter. This Nolan Ryan is the first of his miscuts series and it’s awesome. Looks exactly like I’d want it to look and it’s going to be great to see people’s heads explode when they see this.
*Primarily 1975 but 1972 and 1974 also have the right sort of design to be able to split the team name from the rest of the card.
Also, this post was embargoed until Gio gave the go-ahead since I didn’t want to scoop his own release. So all the other trades on here happened weeks ago. It was great to get in on the ground floor and talk to him about these. And I love that he had to triple check with his printer to confirm hat this was intentional.
Very cool stuff and my brain won’t stop thinking about other possibilities. Since I like the 1975 design for this, it’s fixating on Catfish Hunter, Bobby Bonds, and Bobby Murcer.
Pretty sure I’ve said this before one of the largest draws of pre-war cards is the actual craft that goes into the artwork and printing. They’re not all great but every once in a while I’ll see a set that takes my breath away.* Recently I became aware of the 1936 United Tobacco Sports and Pastimes of South Africa set and had a similar reaction.
Oftentimes I see such a set and when I check out the price, am able to quickly convince myself to walk away. Other times though these cards are pretty reasonable or I get lucky on ebay and find a lot that’s priced to move.
This case is the latter. As I understand things this set isn’t particularly easy to come by since it’s a South African release but I found a good partial set of 36 (out of 52) cards with domestic shipping even.
To the cards. I love the way that the artwork almost exclusively relies on solid inks in the design. The only screens show up in some of the dark browns and their use is restricted to fabrics that could very well be tweed. Everything else is solid and the resulting image just feels different than any of my other cards.
There’s a richness in having a print which is all ink and doesn’t rely on balancing the screens or even registering too tightly. The result reminds me of other 1930s work like the WPA posters and makes me want to get a silkscreen rig set up for custom cardmaking.
There’s also a richness in the amount of inks that are being used. I can’t fully tell how many are involved since I can’t quite wrap my head around how some of them interact but there’s got to be at least six. What’s awesome though is that not all colors are present on all cards. Some, like the fishing card, are super colorful while others, like wrestling, are completely missing a couple colors.
The backs are nowhere near as lush as the fronts but they manage to fit a decent amount of information in considering they’re bilingual English/Afrikaans. I also appreciate the variety of approaches. The golf card lists a series of champions and almost makes me think it depicts Lawson Little.* Rugby contains South Africa’s cumulative record against England, Australia, and New Zealand. River fishing is about how the rivers have been stocked with trout. And wrestling provides a snapshot of the current athletes in the sport.
*Not conclusive enough for me to move it to my Stanford album though.
The cards are also a mix of horizontal and vertical orientations with the horizontal cards being particularly beautiful. The Horse racing card is amazing in its sketchy detail and the way the crowd is rendered. The swimming card somehow manages to create water texture and movement without a lot of fine detail. The automobile racing has awesome speedlines which are a combination of black ink and paper left inkless. And the hurdler looks to be leaping out of the card.
I’m amazed at how different and distinct each card here is while they still manage to be graphically consistent with each other. Also it really weirds me out to see horse racing on a clockwise track.
I don’t have much more to comment on the backs except to note that I was caught by the reference to Robben island on the swimming card and how it captures the beginning of when swimming to the island became a thing and how that it’s now an event which marks the end of Apartheid.
A few more cards of note. The baseball card is neat in that it shows the worldwide spread of the game. I also like comparing it to the more dynamic batsman pose on the cricket card. I really dig the framing of the long jump card where the athlete is just hanging in the air. Cross country meanwhile is like the fishing and automobile racing cards in terms of being set in much more colorful landscapes. The red and white stripes are also a great look for the artwork.
Two comments on the backs here. first off, it appears that the cross country card features Paavo Nurmi. Second, the long jump card mentions “Jesse Owens, a young American negro.” As beautiful as these cards are, I can’t help but see them as being part of a deeply racist culture that was in the process of adopting measures which would officially become Apartheid in a dozen years.
It’s not lost on me that all the athletes depicted on the cards are white* and, from what I can tell, Jesse Owens is the only one mentioned on the backs whose race is included. I also have to point out here that these cards clearly pre-date the 1936 Berlin Olympics since none of them mention the results of those games.
*The Garbatys, while coming from Nazi Germany, are a pretty international group though I’m not sure they feature any Black or Jewish actresses.
Definitely a fun set and I could’ve scanned all 36. I feel no desire to complete things and am perfectly content with four pages worth to enjoy. It also takes me to having trading cards from eight different countries (USA, Canada, Japan, UK, Germany, France, South Africa, and Australia) which is pretty cool too.
Continuing my trend of posting pre-war cards on Mondays, today I’m going to look at a pile of cards I found at my parents’ house last summer. We’d saved a bag of ephemera from my grandparents’ house but I’d never properly looked through it. Last summer, as I was finally clearing my stuff out of my parents’ I took a moment to look through the bag.
It was pretty cool. Lots of valentines and postcards but what caught my eye was a stack of over 50 Sunday school Bible lesson cards. The oldest of the cards are from 1902—older than both of my grandparents actually. I’m not going to scan the entire stack but this one shows off why they caught my eye. Most of them are printed in wonderful chromolithography with lush bright colors and really intricate artwork.
The more I look a old cards like these the more I appreciate the stipple patterns and the way they were designed for specific inks rather than being a generic CMYK process screen like I’m used to. Yes I love looking at my halftone rosettes too but there’s a world of difference in looking at an image being reproduced in process colors and one which is using each ink for a specific purpose.
Despite starting in 1902, there’s a decade gap in years before a good run of cards starts in 1912. These 1912 cards are printed just as nicely and the dark cards are especially nice with the amount of contrast they can hold.
What caught my eye the most with these though is that while they’re produced in the United states, the text is all in German. This fits with family history since my great-grandparents immigrated from what would eventually become Germany* and so attending a German-language church makes complete sense.
*Family lore, the timing of the immigration, and where my ancestors came from all point to them trying to escape the Prussian Army in the 1870s. All of which makes it difficult for me to say that my ancestors come from Germany.
The thing about printing these in German though is that it’s a reminder of how there have always been multiple languages in the United States. There’s a lot of ahistoric “speak American” rubbish that comes from the racist wing of our society and it’s important to remember how not only has the US always been multilingual, that there have been large institutions set up to support those languages.
This isn’t a single German church in California printing its own Sunday school lessons in the basement. This is a printing company in Rhode Island which is supplying these cards to churches across the country.
I have German-language cards from 1912 through 1915. Again not scanning everything but I’ve selected a few examples where the artwork really pops. I especially love the card of The Deluge (Die Sintflut) and how the stippling changes so much between the swirling water, solid boat, and sleeting rain. It’s kind of the perfect example of what chromolithography does best.
1915 though is the last year of German language cards. The last card I have from that year is from the 4th quarter so my family appeared to attend that church through most of the year. I have no idea if they moved or if this is related to the changing political climate.
Anyway, starting in 1916 the cards are in English. More disappointingly, they’re now printed with a standard halftone screen. The art doesn’t glow the same way and they’re nowhere near as fun to look at. They’re still pretty cool though for being over a century old. As my kids are going through their catechism it’s interesting to compare their lessons and the worksheets they get in church to these cards.
Of the 50 or so cards I have from 1912 to 1917, it’s worth noting that none of them appear to duplicate the same story. Yes these are from different manufacturers but I have about a year’s worth of Sundays over enough time to cover two full liturgical cycles.
Definitely fun to look through in an album (these are roughly 3″×4″ so they‘re in 4-pocket pages). They’re currently in order chronologically but it might be fun to reorder them by the order events happen in the Bible.
It’s been busy whatwith the move and everything. I haven’t had a chance to write any letters since Spring but I finally got back on the horse and sent a few out before Thanksgiving. This is the first batch which includes some of the latest round of customs I designed and printed. It’s especially fun—in some cases even more fun than expected—to get those back.
Roy Face came back in 8 days. It’s always nice to see the generosity of some of these players. Face is not a Giant but I pretty much had to make a custom with this photo. This template is my adjustment to the 1956 Topps design so it can also work with vertical images. I like it a lot and really enjoy just making a card here or there as I come across a cool photo.
Face though is an interesting player in his own right since he’s sort of the first reliever who we can point to as starting us on the path toward the way modern baseball uses bullpens. It’s kind of wild for me to read the back of his 1968 card and see it gush about his saves and consecutive games played as being new and notable accomplishments. And yes they are but in 1968 no one knew what would happen with the game 50 years later.
Another custom so I have no one to blame but myself. How embarrassing. Oh well. Kaline still has a wonderful signature and something like this makes it pretty clear that he’s signing things. Also I can’t kick myself too hard since I double checked Getty’s records before making my card.
Heck this kicked of a decent discussion on Twitter (as well as a lot of people laughing at/with me) and a bunch of Tigers fans confirmed that they’d always thought this was Kaline too. Suggestions for who it might be instead? Don Demeter appears to be the Twitter hive-mind consensus. Right-handed. Similar build. Correct playing years.
Anyway it’s always nice to add a Hall of Famer and the fact that this came back in 10 days was very nice. Even with the wrong image it’s a fun piece to have. I only ever saw cards and photos of the older Kaline when I was a kid so I very much like having one of him in his youth. Maybe I’ll re-make this with a correct photo and try again.
Another 10-day return, this time from John Cumberland. He had a fantastic 1971 season with the Giants so I’m very happy to have his 1972 card signed. As a Giants fan I’ve most enjoyed learning about one-season wonders like Cumberland. I remember how important those were to my enjoyment as a fan and it’s players like this who symbolize a particular place and time in the team’s history.
And yet another 10-day return. John D’Acquisto won the Sporting News National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year award in 1974. I did not ask for the inscription but I like that it’s there. D’Acquisto was a fireballer but could never quite put it all together to become dominant. He was formidable enough though that I became aware of him while I was a Giants fan over a dozen years later.
I sort of wonder what would’ve happened if someone with his skill set had come up now and only had to throw for an inning at a time. That he stayed around in the Majors for a dozen years suggests he had the stuff.
Outfielder Frank Johnson came back in 11 days. I always wonder what stories guys like Johnson could tell. He was stuck trying to break into a pretty crowded outfield but still got to play with Willie Mays. He’s a got a great signature which looks fantastic on that 1969 card too.
Kong! This is a fun one. Dave Kingman also came back in 11 days. I don’t particularly picture him as a Giant despite the team-specific rookie records and achievements he racked up. But I did grow up hearing about his prowess as a power hitter and his penchant for hitting balls into suspended elements of domed stadiums. It’s one thing to be known as a slugger. It’s quite another to be the guy who got a ball stuck in the Metrodome roof.
Dave Rader came back in 13 days. Rader started off his career with the Giants in impressive fashion as both the runner up to the Rookie of the Year and the winner of the Sporting News Rookie of the Year. This 1973 card reflects that rookie season and features one of those photos that could only come from this set.
Steve Dunning also came back in 13 days. Most of his cards have astonishingly awful photographs. Thankfully his 1972 is a nice classic pitchers’ pose at Yankee stadium. It’s the only good photo of Dunning I found s0 I had to scan this card for my custom.
I modified the 1978 manager template to reflect Amateur/Professional status and have been digging through Stanford Daily and Stanford Quad archives to pull photos of guys when they played at Stanford. I’ve been enjoying sending these out and this is the first one that returned.
Frank Linzy came back in 20 days. This was a fun request to send out at the same time as Roy Face since both are part of the first generation of dedicated relief aces. As with John D’Acquisto I can’t help wondering how these sort of players both feel about today’s game and how their careers would’ve been different if they’d played during an age of bullpen reliance.
Lots of players can kind of be compared across time but the bullpen guys are different since bullpen usage has changed so much. I’m not one of those guys who professes to say that one era was better than another. Yes I miss longer starts but I also don’t miss seeing managers leave pitchers in too long. hat does excite me is that bullpen usage is one of those things where it’s clear that managers and teams haven’t settled on a by-the-book strategy and are still trying different approaches.
Bruce Robinson is the first repeat send for me. He had an awesome return the first time and I’ve owed him a response letter ever since. Between my moving and trying to put together customs it took me a long time to write back. But I finally did and sent him a bunch of customs.
He was apparently away for a bit and took 20 days to get back to me. Another nice letter and it’s especially gratifying to be thanked for the customs. It’s cool when guys keep some but getting a thank you letter back is even better.
As much as sending out these requests and doing the research to write nice letters is fun, putting together customs and pulling the stats and everything is even more enjoyable. I love adding them to the binder (yes even that Kaline).
Jim Lonborg is another repeat request. I sent him versions of both my 1956ish design and 1978ish design. He kept one of each and sent the rest back in 6 days. I really like how both of these came out and it’s fantastic to start off with so many of these customs getting signed out the gate.
Time for a break until next year. I know I’ve got at least one return waiting for me at my parents’ house still and there are a decent number just out there in general. But it’s too close to holiday season to send anything.
I’ve got more customs to try though but until then I’m just going to put all the signed one at the bottom of this post since I’m so happy about how they turned out.
Like my Pier 24 post, this is another summer visit that got caught in the backlog of move-related business.
I was sort of obligated to check out the Museum of Craft and Design’s show, Dead Nuts. Buiding a show around the concept of “The ultimate machined object”? Super up my alley and a great intellectual exercise. Do you go with something basic or complex? Beautiful or functional? I was looking forward to seeing how the museum presented the possibilities.
It was a good show with a lot of good choices I recognized such as the Curta calculator, original Bridgeport mill, Harrison‘s Marine Chronometer, and even a simple quarter-20 machine screw. And there were a lot of of cool new products I had never heard of such as a planimeter or Newbould indexer.
At it’s best this was a celebration of machining and the ability to produce highly exacting and complicated mechanisms using relatively simple machines.
Just the flourish of being able to mill a hole in a human hair and the minuscule tolerances some of the mechanisms require is a reminder to celebrate the craft of machining parts in the same we we appreciate the craft of painting or sculpting.
At the same time the exhibition also betrayed its origins in an internet forum. So many of the nominated devices were military, weapons, cars, etc. Yes I appreciate how these items are frequently the driving force of technical innovation but it’s a depressing thing to see a significant number of men insist that the pinnacle of machining is enabling us to kill people more efficiently.
Still, that the curation involved putting the forum discussions on the wall was good. For every post that ran down the path of war there were others pulling things back and focusing on small technical innovations rather than the entire mechanism. And there were other posts that intentionally went in other directions to call out more-common items like the sewing machine or typewriter that existed in everyone’s home.
It’s not just that those devices are technically fascinating from a machinist’s point of view, they also impacted everyone in a much more personal way. Are they the “ultimate” object? Who’s to say. But the reminder to appreciate the craft of things you have at your fingertips rather than gushing over technical marvels you’ll never see in person is a good one.
As a parent and a bit of a gearhead I’d much rather get my hands dirty with my kids and look into mechanical things that are more familiar. Take some old toys apart. Look at an old typewriter. Find a geared clock and see how an escapement actually works. That the show never lost this aspect is what saved it from getting fully derailed by the internet.
A surprise envelope from Mark Hoyle arrived late last week. When I opened it up I found a couple non-card items that, on the heels of the Jay Publishing mailday, suggest that my collection is crossing from being just cards and is instead getting into card-adjacent areas.
The first item is a 4×6 print of Jim Lonborg being interviewed after the Red Sox won the 1967 American League Pennant. I always like these kind of post-celebration photos* where athletes are still happy but the reality is setting in too.
This one is also a great look at how interviews worked before today’s much-more organized media room press conference table. One interviewer with a microphone plus another mic on a stand and two more being held by disembodied hands belies the relative calmness of the photo.
Mark’s a Lonborg supercollector. While I have a much more casual Lonborg collection due to him being just a part of my Stanford Alumni project, because I’m making customs and things* for my own usage I’m able to send Mark some Lonborg items he doesn’t have.
*This will be a post of its own someday.
This Gypsy Oak custom is an example of other Lonborg customs that Mark has acquired over the years. It’s also a 4×6 print even though it looks like it should be a linocut.* If I remember correctly there are versions of these that are more like postcards and evoke vintage Exhibit/Arcade cards instead.
*While I haven’t jumped into the world of 3D printing yet I’m keeping an eye on it for both linocut/letterpress related printing and investment casting.
I’ve kept my eye on Gypsy Oak’s work for a while* but never pulled the trigger since I’ve been a bit scared to jump down the rabbit hole of modern card-related art. As nice as the artwork looks it’s something that I can see getting out of hand. It’s hard enough to limit my scope with just cards. Including other stuff like this? Where do I draw the line?
*Well until I got blocked on Twitter and he closed his BigCartel shop.
It’s some pretty cool stuff though—especially his Helmar Stamp cards. They just don’t quite feel right for my Giants collection but they very much feel more appropriate for the Stanford one. I’m glad my first is a Lonborg since he’s sort of the first noteworthy Stanford baseball star. Thanks Mark!
Rather than going through my notes and highlighting everything that jumped out at me like I did with my previous visit, I’m going to go through the two or three groupings I enjoyed the most both in terms of the parallels they offered as well as the maps they showed. The Rumsey webpage includes links to the excellent catalog and I totally suggest downloading the high-definition PDF.
Baron F.W. von Egloffstein, Geological map and profiles of some of the principal mining districts of Mexico, 1864
Tauba Auerbach, Untitled (Fold), 2010.
We’ll start with two pieces that best demonstrate the spirit of the exhibition in Baron F.W. von Egloffstein’s map of Mexican mining districts and Tauba Auerbach’s Fold series. Von Egloffstein’s shaded relief maps are a great example of how maps make a two-dimensional surface look three-dimensional. This is not the first such map but it’s both an early example and von Egloffstein is apparently somewhat of an inventor in this category.
Tauba Auerbach meanwhile paints a folded canvas with spray paint that mimics raking light so hat the resulting stretched canvas maintains the image of the earlier folds and still looks wrinkled.
Both pieces look three-dimensional and just ask to be touched even though they’re actually flat. And in both cases the intent of the craft is to actually use this shading to take advantage how our eyes can mislead us in how they interpret a two-dimensional image.
American Airlines Inc., Air Map, 1943
Richard Long, A Seven Day Circle of Ground, Seven Days Walking Within and Imaginary Circle 5 ½ Miles Wide, Dartmoor, England, 1984.
My favorite grouping were a selection of maps and artworks that removed maps’ attachment to geography and replaced it with other spatial and temporal relations. Maps aren’t just about seeing where things are in relation to each other, they frequently correspond to travel time and reflect our understanding of when we’ll get someplace.
At one level, these aren’t maps anymore because they no longer feature any geography. At another level, they absolutely are since geography isn’t the point. By removing the geography we’re forced to think about the world in a different way where the specific pathway no longer matters.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, (United States) Weather Map, 1901.
On Kawara, I Went (detail), 1968–79.
I also particularly liked pairing a couple maps that worked as small multiples. Sometimes one map isn’t enough and instead you need to see a series of maps. Pairing a series of weather maps with On Kawara is brilliant. One map is boring. Even two is pretty weak. Four though? We’re starting to see how things can be interesting.
What happened this day? What happened that one? Our brains start to fill in stories and connect dots even with this small of a sample set. The map information itself ceases to be the point and instead becomes the context for the actual data that changes day-to-day. It’s a neat trick.
There are so many other great groups. A Trevor Paglen star timelapse that reveals satellite movements paired with a map of the Apollo 11 mission is fantastic. Photographs of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s Running Fence paired with maps of the US-Mexico border are similarly great. I love that they found a way to work in Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. For such a small little show there’s so much awesome stuff.
Last week I took my annual visit to the Cantor Center. No specific exhibits I was looking forward to but I always enjoy walking through and seeing what’s there.
The special exhibition this time is an installation of Josiah McElheny’s sculptures. These were pretty cool in a mid-century way. All the multiverse drawings are neat to see and the sculptures themselves are a lot of fun to take a good slow look at.
The main interest to me in this gallery though turned out to be seeing the latest evolution of how museums have to deal with photography. I’ve seen “no flash” turn into “no photo” turn into “please photo and hashtag.” This show is the first I’ve been to with designated photo spots.
This isn’t a complaint (even though my favorite view of the room was not from one of the two designated photo sites), just an observation about how something that’s clearly selfie-bait (complete with signs around the museum encouraging posting to social media) is also too dangerous to let people photograph freely. Too easy to blunder into a sculpture either by getting too close or backing up and not being aware of what’s behind you and despite their size these are clearly pretty fragile.
There’s an awesome point where you can see both one sculpture and the entire room reflected in that sculpture. I spent a while there taking everything in and getting the full multiverse experience.
Miriam Schapiro, Docking #1, 1969
Ruth Asawa, Untitled, 1962
The other big exhibition is a hang of modern art under the theme The Medium Is the Message. I love the idea. Much of the art itself didn’t move me* but it’s a great concept for an academic museum to have since it digs right into the concepts of how the medium itself informs abstract art and how much of modern art is explicitly provoking how the medium itself behaves. This was one of Matt Kahn’s design prompts and it’s great to see that legacy still at Stanford.
*It is however always nice to see Ruth Asawa.
Two of the sections cover abstraction and the idea of artwork being more than the sum of its parts—often literally when considering assemblage. I viewed these two sections as being very similar since the artwork was always about what it was made of and the disconnect between our expectations of that medium and the way it actually behaves in the piece.
Roger Shimomura, Lush Life #2, 2008
Roger Shimomura, Business Man, 2008
Titus Kaphar, 2018
I especially liked the third section though which focused on portraits. While the portraits are all paintings, recognizing portraiture as a medium of its own and then interrogating the concept of what a portrait actually is is great to see. In this specific case the museum calls out who is traditionally depicted in portraiture and the disconnect that results when non-traditional subjects enter the frame.
I found myself thinking of how audience comfort works in to this equation as well since very often what people count as a “good” portrait is one which looks comfortably like a traditional rich white person’s portrait. I also found myself thinking about the way photography’s extension of portraiture to almost anyone is as similarly disruptive to our concept of what a formal portrait should look like.
Yinka Shonibare MBE, Cowboy Angel V, 2017
Jeffrey Gibson, Breakdown, 2018
Much of the other galleries were the same and I’ve covered them in previousposts.* However there are a few standouts. The corner of Yinka Shonibare prints was a lot of fun. I like combining his prints with the paintings of St. Michael. I always like seeing Vlisco turn up although I wish there was more of an explanation given for the fabric since it features prominently in each of the prints.
*Specifically the non-white galleries.
I also liked the small gallery dedicated to providing context to their new Jeffrey Gibson acquisition in that it included samples of items from Sol LeWitt to artisan beading to explain the myriad influences and references that the piece was making.
And I was happy to get a chance to walk through Sequence again. I much much prefer it outside with strong shadows and the clear blue skies which photograph so white in black and white. It’s great to walk through and let my camera’s restrictions guide what I see. This time I let my iphone direct my eye.
Being sort of the resident printexpert over at SABR Baseball Cards has resulted in me getting tagged into other print-related discussions online. It also meant that people like Jason have started to alert me about non-baseball-related sets that I should be interested in from a printing point of view.
The most-interesting of those sets was manufactured in 1906 by Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company. Liebig was a massive producer of trade cards around the turn of the 19th century. Most of these appear to have been printed through chromolithography. There were enough sets produced by Liebig and its ilk that in some parts of the world it appears that trading cards are still known as chromos.*
*Where trading cards are known as “barajitas” in Latin America, they’re known as “cromos” in Spain.
Liebig sets are wonderfully printed and fantastically varied in subject much in the same way that American and British Tobacco cards depict subject matter that runs the gamut from sports to geography to history to anthropology to science and nature. The key difference is that the Liebig cards are huge—much larger than the traditional baseball card size and close to four times the size of a tobacco card. As a result the artwork can be much more detailed and informative.
Jason had specifically informed me about a set which details the production of the cards themselves both through illustration and print progressives which demonstrate how the image looks as each ink is added. This set immediately became something I’d occasionally search for on ebay. It’s there but not cheap. While some pre-war cards are affordable, this did not look to be such a case. Jason however suggested he had a source where it was way cheaper and offered a trade where I’d help out with some fast graphic design expertise in exchange for him sending me the set. So I did. And he did.
The cards arrived last weekend and they’re wonderful. I received the French issue* which, while I can’t read French, I have enough experience doing tech support and QA on non-English computers that I can sort of muddle my way through a lot of romance and germanic languages now.
*There are Italian and German versions as well.
They’re in remarkably good shape for being the oldest cards in my collection* and the depth of the printing is indeed fantastic. Chromolithography looks so much different than modern offset printing. No halftone line screens although there are dot patterns in the different inks. Also there are 14 different inks used on these cards and the resulting images have much different tones than anything you’ll get with modern four-color offset printing.
Anyway, because these cards themselves describe how they’re made I’ll take each card one by one.
Card number one is titled, “The artist composes the subject.” The back, rather than going into the detail of this step chooses to offer a brief description of lithography itself. It was invented in 1796 by Alois Senefelder. It’s useful in reproducing signs, designs, colors, etc. from an original artwork. Liebig works with many artists to create all kinds of chromos.
The front shows an artist whose work gives a hint at the diverse nature of Liebig’s subjects. The progressive though is what’s most interesting to me since it shows the first three inks (two colors and gold) that get printed.
I’m intrigued that the gold goes down first. Metallic inks are opaque so the order they get printed can make a big difference in how things look. In modern printing they usually go down first because they’re denser but sometimes they get thrown on last because they cover up everything else.*
*I always had to check with the pressman on how he wanted things to be trapped.
With this century-old printing, the ink order appears to generally be reversed. Where on modern multi-ink printing presses the dark colors go down first for density reasons, back when colors were printed one at a time you printed the lightest colors first so you could register them while you could still see them on the press sheet. Starting with the yellows and light tans produces a faint image but one where you can still distinguish the inks from each other.
Card two, “Extraction of the lithographic stones.” Lithography requires a specific kind of fine-grained limestone.* As this card specifies, the stones are from a Jurassic deposit found in Solnhofen, Bavaria** but can also be found in France in Le Vigan, Gard. They can also be found in America and England albeit of a lesser quality than the Solnhofen stone. The stones are cut to be 5 to 10 centimeters thick and ground flat. They’re colored yellow-grey and on occasion blue-grey—which indicates a stone that’s especially suited for printing fine details.
*Hence the “lith” portion of the name of the medium. This is literally writing with stones.
**Non-printing nerds may know of this deposit and quarry as the location where Archaeopteryx was discovered and as the single source of all Archaeopteryx fossils. And yes this is why one Archaeopteryx species’s scientific name is Archaeopteryx lithographica.
The image on the front presumably shows a picture of the Solnhofen quarry and shows how the limestone in the quarry guides the thickness of the slabs that get cut. To print these cards you’d need fourteen different slabs.
The progressive has added light cyan and a darker tan. Already Mr Liebig’s face is starting to look real with the blue providing a decent amount of shadow detail. The gold is no longer showing up on the list but we’re at five inks used now.
Card three, “Lithographic reproduction,” contains a bunch of details about how lithography actually works. A reversed image has to be drawn using special oils on a polished stone. With colored subjects, the design has to be drawn on multiple stones, one stone for each color although when inks overlap even more colors can be produced. Nothing I can make sense of as for how the different color components are determined though.
This description finally starts to get into the actual process of how lithography actually works. At it’s heart it’s just the oil and water principle. The design gets drawn on the stone in oil or grease. The stone is wetted. Water doesn’t stick to the design. The stone is then inked. Ink is oil based, sticks to the design, but doesn’t stick to the water. Then the paper is pressed against the stone and takes the ink.
The image shows a room with multiple artisans each drawing on a lithographic stone. Note that everyone’s working on a large-scale lithograph rather than something card sized.
The progressive meanwhile has added a brown and a light magenta ink, taking our total to 7 inks used and giving Mr. Liebig a little flush in his cheeks.
Card 4, “Printing proofs.” After the stones have the grease drawing on them they’re cleaned with Nitric Acid.* This cleaning allows the non-oily parts of the stone to accept and hold water so only the oily parts attract the ink. Before the final printing, progressive color proofs (which will look very much like the progressive portraits of Mr. Liebig) are run beginning with the lightest colors and ending with the darkest.
*Diluted since limestone aka Calcium Carbonate and concentrated acid will react.
It’s nice to see my observation about the progressive proofs being explicitly mentioned. We’ve now got a pair of darker cyan and magenta inks added to the mix as well.
And the image shows a number of printers all working single sheet hand presses that squeeze the paper against the stone in order to produce the print. This is a pretty labor-intensive process where the wetting, inking and paper pressing is all done by hand.
Card 5, “Final printing.” When the proofs are sufficiently close to the original artwork, the rotary pressman can follow them. The original artwork is transferred multiple times to a new, larger stone which undergoes the same polishing, drawing, and acid wash as before only this time it’s wetted, inked, and printed via automated cylinders.
I wish this described how the images are transferred from the small stones to be printed multiple times on the large ones. It’s very interesting however to see a depiction of the automatic press. I’ve only seen lithography done as art prints now so hand-presses are the only surviving production method.
The automatic press shows why offset printing is a commercially more viable process. Instead of a stone which has to be inked by rollers moving across the entire surface, modern offset lithography uses metal plates that have the same oil/water surface but can also be wrapped around a cylinder. The water can get applied via rollers. Same with the ink. A rubber blanket cylinder transfers* the ink from the plate to the paper (also on a cylinder) and, since it’s softer than stone allows for a more-even print while also protecting the stone image from being degraded by paper.
*Hence the term “offset” being used since there’s no longer a direct contact between the plate and the paper.
The printing industry just needed photography to catch up to its needs. We used photography to convert images to halftone screens. We used it to expose plates. And we used to create multiples of a single piece of artwork.
Also I can’t help but point out that a woman makes her first appearance on the cards as the press operator.
Meanwhile Mr Liebig now features dark brown and dark cyan inks and is looking nearly human in his 10 inks plus gold frame.
Card 6, “Cutting and packing.” The sheets are cut mechanically. They’re then counted and packaged for shipping. The rest of the text describes the progressive proofs in twelve colors plus gold and calls out the new colors that result in the completed image.
The bindery is a basic hand bindery with a mechanical paper cutter and lots of desk space for people to count and sort and package everything. This is still a pretty common thing. While super-advanced automated systems do exist, for small jobs doing it all by hand is the way to go. Cutters are safer and counting is usually done by weighing the finished product but otherwise yeah, lots of hand work at this point.
Also, while the progressives specific 12 colors plus gold, the last two inks added on the list are dark magenta and medium grey. Black never gets mentioned despite being clearly in the image not only as his name plate but also the final detail work in Mr. Liebig’s irises.
This isn’t an oversight but instead reflects how Black doesn’t show up much in the images. Black objects usually get there because of mixing the other inks. You only need to generate the black component to save ink or prevent too much getting put on the paper. Black typically only shows up on its own Key* plate and is used for text and border colors and so.
*Why it’s assigned K in the CMYK model.
So yeah. Where modern printing would print this in five inks (CMYK plus metallic gold) in 1906 this used fourteen. Lots more work. Lots more effort. All for something that was being given away. Still, super duper cool and I love having these in my collection both as a explanation of how chromolithography works and as a demonstration of what they actually look like. Thanks Jason!
*Lord of the Rings is on the short list of books my wife had to read when when we got together and I’m in the process of reading them now with my eldest.
**Specifically the Ballantine editions that published in the 1970s.
I don’t have much to say about the book illustrations aside from how great it is to see them in person. It’s always nice to see how he envisioned Middle Earth and being able to see the actual brush strokes is especially wonderful.
The best part of the exhibition though is all the ephemera related to how he developed the books. His working maps with multiple layers of revised geography. His lettering sketches where he’s working out how the fire writing or other illustrations will look. Notes about units and how Hobbits will measure distance or volume. Timelines so he can keep the multiple storylines synchronized.
Much of this information didn’t make it into the Lord of the Rings Appendices. Instead I’ve seen people reassemble and compile it after the fact. It’s fantastic to see that he considered it all during development.
Related to this, I love the production notes and how his desires for the artwork printing was more than the printer was able to do at the time. From the red sun and dragon on the classic Hobbit cover to the silver on black desire for printing the Doors of Durin* it’s nice to imagine what things could have looked like. I can’t help but wonder why no one’s printed a copy of Lord of the Rings which follows Tolkien’s desired artwork reproduction.
*So as to mimic the look of Mithril on rock.
Finally, there were a lot of items that didn’t relate to Middle Earth but which demonstrated Tolkien’s development as a graphic artist. I kind of loved these too. His sketches and doodles are wonderful. You get a sense of his esthetics and his love of lettering and it was great of to see these with my kids so they could see how doodling is a way of practicing skills.
There’s also an amazing letter from his mom—who has the same hand lettering that he uses throughout his books. I’d always thought that his lettering was something he practiced and created himself. It turns out that he owes much of it to his mom. And that’s pretty cool.