L’Illustration, a Weekly Newspaper How It Was Done

A wood engraver is not granted the same resources as a copperplate engraver: his burin only lets him produce solid blacks and whites and no halftones. To give a wood engraving some sort of shading, it is necessary to tone the black parts in varying degrees. That is the overlaying job, which is long and difficult. The pressman first pulls a proof on light cardboard of the engraving which is to be printed. With a sharp instrument, he then removes from this cardboard the parts of the engraving which shouldn’t be completely black. The lighter the intended tone, the deeper he will carve into the cardboard. This cutting or carving of sorts once completed, the cardboard is firmly pasted to the mechanical part which presses the paper sheet on the forms composed with engravings and type. It is, therefore, easy to conceive that an engraving exactly matching the cardboard will be applied more or less pressure depending on how deeply the cardboard was cut, and as a consequence will display tones of various intensities. Oftentimes this initial work is not enough and hours must be spent pasting pieces of paper on the cardboard parts which are not prominent enough, and carve some more into those which are too thick.

Offices of L’Illustration 33 rue de Seine
Offices of L’Illustration 33 rue de Seine
Meanwhile, overlaying is completed, and the last corrections are done. A signal is given and wheels start turning: with each revolution a copy of L’Illustration slides, fully printed and of its own accord, between the two cylinders. This beautiful and curious machine, of which we’ll some day give you a true to life depiction, gets through more work on its own than twenty men could. Without it, our subscribers couldn’t be served all in one day, and where would we be after a few months? It prints 600 copies per hour, whereas, in the same time, eight workers on a hand press could only print 200.
As copies get printed, they are, on Saturday morning, taken to the binding workshop where more than fifty people are busy folding and wrapping them. From there, some copies go to the post-office, others are immediately carried away by messengers in charge of delivering them to their subscribers within Paris. Some go back rue de Seine, No. 33, to the subscription office where they’ll be sold separately as part of monthly collections or volumes. Then printers, binders, messengers, etc., all take a few days rest or move on to other business until the next issue claims their time.

Image source: L’Illustration vol. III. Paris: J.-J. Dubochet, 1844.