A SHORT HISTORY OF ELECTROLYTIC PRINTMAKING
the discovery of galvanism and electrolysis
or chemically produced electricity, was accidentally discovered by Luigi
Galvani in 1789 who was doing experiments on frog's legs and found that
muscles twitched when touched by two different metals in contact, a phenomenon
he attributed to a fluid in organic tissue. Soon after that Alexandre
Volta showed that it was due to a direct electric current, and built a
'galvanic battery' formed by alternating zinc and copper plates separated
by fabric soaked in an acidic solution (5).
1834 Michael Faraday postulated his Laws of Electrolysis
Smee and Daniell invented improved versions of galvanic cells, using zinc
and copper plates suspended in copper sulphate and sulphuric acid, and
Thomas Spencer found
that copper was deposited on the cathode or 'negative metal', and that
the zinc pole was etched. He and John Wilson were granted a patent in
1840 for "Engraving Metals by Voltaic Electricity" (see
Appendix B for text of patent). Spencer continued research into electro-deposition
and reproduction of engraved printing plates (22).
This was also utilized to reproduce seals and plate small objects by the
process that became known as 'Electrotyping'.
It was found that
applying a direct current from a galvanic cell to a separate 'cell' containing
a couple of parallel metal plates in a metallic salt solution (the electrolyte)
dissolved metal from the anode (+ve) and deposited metal on the cathode
(-ve). This is explained by the fact that an electrolyte, consisting of
positive and negative 'ions' will conduct a direct electrical current,
which carries the ions to the plate of the opposite polarity. In a copper
sulphate solution the positive copper ions collect on the negative copper
plate, and negative sulphate ions react with the bare metal of the copper
anode - oxidize or etch it in fact - and create new copper sulphate. Thus
the electrolyte stays at the same concentration, creating the illusion
that copper particles are transferred from one plate to the other - a
Electrotype, Electro-Etching and Galvanography
The process of electrotyping
become very widely used for creating printing plates, plating metal objects,
decorating silverware and marking cutlery. In 1852 Charles V Walker
documented and described all the processes that were currently known in
his book Electrotype Manipulation, which went through 29 editions
by 1859 and was also published in the USA (7)..
Part II included detailed descriptions of Spencer and Wilson's patented
process which he called called 'Electro-Etching', and another called
'Electro-tint' (see Appendix A
for excerpts). In a series of articles in The Photographic News
in 1882, Major J Waterhouse describes "Electric Etching"
briefly. R S Chattock describes the process of electro-etching much
more fully in his book Practical Notes on Etching published in
1886 specifically for artists (8).
The word 'Galvanography' became synonymous with 'Electrotyping', basically
meaning a plate made by depositing metal over a mould, a process which
is called 'galvanoplasty', but other processes of etching or plating,
which used the same electrolytic principles and equipment were included
in the original meaning. The term 'Galvanography' was used to distinguish
the graphic use of the Electrotyping process from the industrial use or
the production of text type plates..
electrolytic methods for printing photographs
the invention of photography in 1839, there was international competition
to find ways of making permanent ink prints of photographs, and many of
the methods used electrolytic processes in one way or another. The earliest
attempts, by Alfred Donne in 1839, and Joseph Berres in 1840 started with
a daguerreotype, which was a photograph on a silvered copper plate, which
was plated and then etched (8).
But the Austrian, Paul Pretsch took a different approach and patented
a process called 'photo-galvanography', in which he began with a photographically
exposed dichromated-gelatine mould which was made to reticulate, from
which he produced a copper intaglio plate by galvanoplasty. He formed
a company in London to produce the first commercially printed photographs
called "Photographic Art Treasures" in 1856 (9).
The indisputable ‘inventor’ of photography, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, like many extraordinary men of that period, was interested in a wide range of subjects, and he began his photographic researches in 1816 from a background in lithography. He compensated for his lack of talent as a draughtsman. by using a camera obscura and was obsessed with the idea of being able to fix the images he obtained in it. Niépce had his first success in 1822 with bitumen of Judea mixed with oil of lavender, exposed for several hours under an engraving which was oiled to make it transparent. The areas not exposed to light could be washed away with turpentine and oil of lavender, and the dark areas etched in acid. In 1826 he produced a pewter printing plate of the Cardinal d’Amboise - the first successful attempt at photomechanical reproduction.
After the invention of photography, there was international competition to find ways of making permanent ink prints of hotographs, and many of the methods used electrolytic processes in one way or another. The earliest attempts, by Alfred Donne in 1839, and Joseph Berres in 1840 started with a daguerreotype, which was a photograph on a silvered copper plate, which was plated and then etched (8). From then on, there was international competition to find ways of making permanent ink prints of photographs, and many of the methods used electrolytic processes in one way or another. At that time there was an acknowledged need for an easier way of producing high quality reproductions of works of art, original works or popular views to illustrate books, which up to then required the making of steel engravings, each of which could take up to a year to produce. Printed photographs were perceived as the solution and the competition was later stimulated by a prize of 2000 francs offered by the Duc de Luynes in 1856 for the best method of photomechanical printing.. One of the most talented early experimenters, was the painter and photographer Charles Negre who took up the methods originated by Niepce and his cousin, and elaborated them by introducing an electrolytic step, plating the partly developed steel plate with gold to protect the half tones, then aquatinting it and etching it in nitric acid. He received a French patent in 1856 and was a finalist in the Duc de uynes competition (8).
Hippolyte Louis Fizeau developed probably the most successful method, patenting it in 1843 . He boiled the daguerreotype in potassium hydroxide to strengthen the resist dots, lightly etched it in nitric acid and then wiped it with heavy linseed oil, as if for printing in intaglio. Then he electroplated it with gold, which was deposited only on the highlights not protected by oil. He removed the oil and etched it again to strengthen it so that many prints could be pulled . The plates required some hand retouching, and the results were impressive despite difficulties in achieving good half-tones, but the method was too complicated and expensive to catch on.
But the Austrian, Paul Pretsch took a different approach and patented a process
called 'photo-galvanography'', in which he began with a photographically exposed
dichromated-gelatine mould which was made to reticulate, from which he
produced a copper intaglio plate by galvanoplasty. He formed a company in
London to produce the first commercially printed photographs called "Photographic
Art Treasures" in 1856 (9).
The French name for the Electrotype plate-making process is 'galvanotypie' and a plate made by the process was called a 'galvano'. The process was much used in France for intaglio plate-making in the nineteenth century, particularly by the firm of Goupil & Cie, publishers of Fine Art reproductions. They used a process between photogravure and Pretsch's photo-galvanography, but kept the exact process a closely guarded secret (11). British Early Ordnance Survey Map plates were produced by special application of galvanography. In Sheffield, a process of thick silver plating over copper warewas developed and called "Sheffield Plate".
the 20th century
In the twentieth century, S W Hayter described the electrolytic process of depositing metal into lines drawn through a ground on a metal plate, and probably used it at Atelier17 (12). In industry electrolytic processes were used very widely, mainly for plating and protecting metal. Anodising was developed as a process for protecting aluminium. In 1943 a US company called Lectroetch adapted the Electro-Etching process to marking metals of all kinds, and is still supplying equipment and materials for the purpose. Many other companies have started to provide the same service, and electro-etching became well enough known for artists who were interested to learn about it.
In Canada Nik Semenoff and Christine Christos carried out research into electro-etching in 1989, and published a paper in Leonardo, an art journal in 1991, detailing the method for artists, the equipment required, its advantages regarding safety. (19). In Sweden Ole Larsen developed some electrolytic processes, and one that he called "Polytype" was in essence the same as the "Electro-Tint" process described by Charles V. Walker in his 1855 book (7). (................)
and personal reasons, I prefer the original etymology, and the prefix
"galv" used in "galvanography". I use the name 'galv-etch' , and galv-on
for applications in which the plate is etched, and for consistency, other
names using the prefix 'galv-', like galv-tone, galv-plate, or galv-type,
which will be used throughout this booklet. The names therefore can be
used freely, as can the 1850's name 'electro-etching'. .