Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Printing Plate

Here's a bit of an Oz novelty. This is an original printing plate, used by the publishers to print a full page illustration by John R. Neill in The Patchwork Girl of Oz. It's a classic image of Scraps, proclaiming "I hate dignity", while catching a stone she's kicked in the air. For a long time, the original printing plates from the Oz books were assumed to have been lost or destroyed, but in 2013 a series of them came to auction. They had been in the collection of rare book collector Richard Manney, and are the only plates known to have survived.

The plate is engraved in zinc, and the stamped number on the upper right refers to its placement in the book - page 131. In the original printing of the book, the illustration was in full color which would have required additional plates, one for each color. This is the black, or key line plate. When the color printing was dropped, in the 1930's, this would have been the only plate used. With the popularity of the Oz books, new printing plates had to be made as old ones wore out, and the publishers kept the original drawings by John R. Neill for this purpose.

Creating the printing plates appears to have involved quite a bit of hand work, in addition to photo-mechanical etching. In this detail, the circular marks of a grinder, used to clean up the background, can be plainly seen.

This has been very nicely presented in a custom box which provides a space for the plate, as well as a new proof pulled from the plate. There is also a pamphlet containing an essay concerning the Oz illustrations, written by Michael Patrick Hearn. It's fascinating as an integral part of the creation of the Oz books!


Dennis Anfuso said...

what a wonderful find! That is one of my favorite Oz images, I even have a T shirt with it and ALWAYS get a positive comment when I wear it.I always believed the plates were destroyed or lost, I am so glad some survived!

Scott O. said...

Could that plate be as late as 1950?

Bill Campbell said...

I imagine it could - there's no indication of a date on the plate, so it's difficult to say when it's actually from.

Paul Bienvenue said...

Great piece, Bill! That's always been my favorite image from Patchwork Girl. I had to wait until after Tax Day, but I got a different one from the dealer. Dating these is difficult; they could indeed be as late as the 1950s, or significantly earlier. They're not later, because several of the images that had lost elements when the color separations were dropped (such as the image of the Shaggy Man using the telegraph found in printed in the author's preface) still lack these elements, even those that were replaced with black line for the white editions of 1964/65. But we do know that at least some of the plates in the same collection cannot date later than the early 1930s, since the endpaper plates from John Dough and the Cherub are among those offered, and the latest dust jacket I've seen for John Dough lists through The Yellow Knight of Oz (1930). Also interesting are the plates offered from The Silver Princess of Oz (1938), which appear in the dealer's photo to have a gold cast like brass or bronze rather than the more pewter-looking zinc plates from Patchwork Girl. Too bad they don't show photos of all the plates rather than just the printed proofs from the plated.

Bill Campbell said...

Thanks! I saw the Silver Princess plates at the NYC book fair, and was intrigued by the coppery color - it's a beautiful set.

keeline said...

A printing plate with a copper color is most likely an electrotype plate. These were used for large quantities of printing over many years. For a duodecimo book, the plate for a single page can weigh a pound or so. I have some examples of these for one Dana Girls text page, two Tom Swift Jr. pages (fashioned into bookmarks), and one Tom Swift Jr. with an illustration.

Plates with a dull silver-gray printing surface are probably stereotype plates where type metal (lead, tin, and antimony) are poured into a mold. This was used in newspaper print runs of smaller sizes than book print runs. The mold is sometimes called a flong or mat and could be a pressed paper that could be mailed less expensively than electrotype plates.

Zinc sounds odd to me as a metal for a vintage printing plate. It is used widely today, including for book cover dies.

I also have some page plates for the Applewood (1992) reprints of Tom Swift and His Airship (1910). These are a clear plastic, perhaps a vinyl.

There are obviously some recent printing efforts which use page plates of various kinds. One has to at least wonder if it is more recent than the usual Reilly & Lee printings. This sort of thing would be hard for a bookseller to research and authenticate. They are neat to have in any event and the custom box for it is a nice addition.

Bill Campbell said...

Thanks for the interesting information - I'm afraid I was using zinc as a generic term, as I don't know what material the plate is actually made of!