I won’t tell here the history of wood engraving: somebody else, more qualified than me on such matters, will undertake this interesting task. I’ll merely summarize some general information about this art of modern origin without which L’Illustration wouldn’t have the good fortune to meet your favor.
The artist draws with an ordinary graphite pencil on a piece of dry, even, and lightly whitewashed boxwood, as he would on a piece of paper. Once it has been assessed and accepted, the drawing is immediately taken to the main engraver’s workshop, of which an accurate picture can be seen below. It is engraved at once upon arrival, without pause or respite, night and day, as the work must often be completed in less than forty-eight hours. The process is quite simple, but carrying it out requires great skill. It consists of removing with burins of various sizes every part of the drawing which must remain white. It is completely different from intaglio engraving: the copperplate or steel engraver carves into the plate the very lines the wood engraver leaves in relief; in other words, the copperplate engraver doesn’t touch any of the parts which must remain white, whereas the wood engraver leaves untouched every part that must be black.
Not only is this workshop busy night and day, but when necessity commands, a drawing is cut in two or four pieces which are engraved separately and which, after they have been carefully glued together again, are then retouched and completed by a dexterous hand.
Once the engravings are completed, they are sent right away to a distant neighborhood where they are always impatiently awaited. So let’s cross the Seine and betake ourselves to the very center of the Cour des miracles, not far from the passage du Caire. Some other time, we’ll show you the most beautiful printing house currently standing in Paris, the famous yard where elementary schools replaced the shelters of beggars and scoundrels from the Middle Age, these large workshops where several hundreds of workers are constantly busy composing, correcting, or printing the masterpieces of contemporary French typography. Today, we’ll just tell you how the newspaper is printed.