Print

Woodburytype

(Fr.: photoglyptie; woodburytypie; photoplastographie)

1865–ca. 1900. This important process can probably be classified as the most photographic of the photomechanical processes. Referred to by many as the “most beautiful photographic reproduction process ever invented,” it is basically a mechanical method of producing carbon transfer prints. The result of the researches of Walter Bentley Woodbury, the process was introduced to the industry as photoglypty or woodburytype around 1865. It was also used to produce lantern slides.

Exposed dichromated gelatin (sans pigment) was developed in hot water to leave a relief sufficient in depth and hardness to provide a lead mold that could then be filled with pigmented gelatin to create an image that was then transferrable to paper. This paper image was then trimmed and mounted onto paper, card, glass, and even stereo mounts. The lead mold required a pressure of 500 to 600 kg per sq. cm, so most prints were relatively small, although Goupil in France made 30 x 40 cm and John Carbutt (American Photo-Relief Co.) in the U.S.A. achieved 40 x 50 cm prints. The process was not suited for images that had large white areas (e.g., skies) that were difficult to keep without mottling. This flaw, combined with a certain amount of inevitable “crushing” of some of the finer details can distinguish a woodburytype from a carbon transfer print.

Woodburytypes are permanent in the sense that they are light-fast, although in theory some fading could be attributed to the carmin or alizarin pigments that were commonly used in addition to China ink (carbon black) to provide the “photographic purple” that was common with toned silver prints of that era. Woodburytypes have no grain or half-tone screen effects and are usually mounted on pages of books or other publications. Paris’ magnificent thirteen volumes (in 8 years) of Galerie Contemporaine, made ample use of the process for its who’s who of the world of arts and sciences, starting in 1868. Individual pages of that publication, with woodburytypes of celebrities like Victor Hugo, etc., are considered highly valuable nowadays. The process was commercialized in Belgium, France (by Goupil, in 1867, at Asnières, Adolphe Braun, in Dornach, Lemercier in Paris), and John Carbutt in Philadelphia, U.S.A. In Germany, stiff competition from various collotype processes made woodburytype unattractive. One source mentions that Goupil’s yearly production, ca. 1880 was 600,000 prints. (Nadeau, Encyclopedia, p. xxx).

Woodburytype portrait of Victor Hugo, ca. 1880. Woodburytype portrait of Victor Hugo, ca. 1880.

Woodburytype portrait of Victor Hugo, ca. 1880.

Woodburytype press operation at the Paris exhibition of 1878.