Guided Tour of Print Processes
Black and White Reproduction

All of the story papers, as well as the majority of dime novels published before 1880, employed black and white reproduction processes. The story papers were published in newspaper tabloid format and typically have one main, cover illustration. Depending upon the publication, there might be additional images inside the issue. Story papers were occasionally published with a colorful paper wrapper, as in this example from the New York Ledger. These wrappers acted as slip covers for special issues. They were normally reserved for holiday issues such as Easter or Thanksgiving and were illustrated with imagery appropriate to those holidays.

New York Ledger Easter Wrapper

Typical Cover Illustration

  After the illustrator presented the publisher with his finished drawing, the drawing would then be reproduced by one of three black and white printing processes: a relief process known as wood engraving, and two photomechanical processes known as line blocks (a form of etching) and halftone blocks.

Wood Engraving

  The process of wood engraving involves the cutting of an image in relief on a hard, end-grain block of wood with a tool called a burin. The engraver cuts away the parts of the block that correspond to the areas in the drawing which are to remain white or uninked. The uncut, raised area receives the ink when the block is run through the press and thus appears black in the finished print.

Wood Engraving

How is the illustration transferred to the block? In some cases, the artist drew the illustration on the wood block itself.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, however, the practice developed of printing a photograph directly onto the block, thus eliminating the need for drawing onto the block.

Wood Engravings: lines can have varying widths which change the lightness or darkness of the illustration. Another thing to look for is small white marks that look like gouge marks where the burin has been used to remove material for a lighter area.
  Fine wood engravings were done by highly skilled craftsmen and would have taken days to accomplish. In the story papers, one finds engravings on the front pages and inside the issues as illustrations for longer stories. For shorter stories or cartoons, a wood engraving would have been too time consuming and costly. In these instances, a second reproduction process was used: a photomechanical process known as a line block (also known as a line cut).

Line Cuts


Line Cut Illustration

By the late nineteenth century, a method of etching had developed which took advantage of the advances in photographic processes. This method involved the following steps: first, an artist's line drawing would be photographed. The negative would then be exposed onto a zinc plate covered with light-sensitive gelatin. What once appeared (on the negative) as a black line on a piece of paper now becomes a white line against a black background. The gelatin on the zinc plate is sensitized by the light through the negative in the shape of the line drawing, and the gelatin which has not been sensitized is washed away. The sensitized area is then covered with a wax resist; the rest of the plate is etched, so that the line drawing appears in relief.
Line blocks: The main distinguishing features for identifying line blocks are the lines themselves. They tend to be of the same thickness, and since line blocks are drawn rather than carved, there are many more curves and angled lines than are possible with engraving.

Stereotyping and Electrotyping


The process of stereotyping, invented in Scotland in 1725, then improved, named and patented in France in 1829, consists of making a metal cast of a wood-engraving by means of a mould. Stereotyping was of major importance in the development of wood-engraving because it substituted metal for wood, and metal could be printed in the new machine presses.

Invented roughly a decade later, electrotyping was an advancement on the stereotype and quickly superceded it. The process took longer but it produced a finer quality plate than stereotyping. Used in both the U.S and Great Britain for illustrations, the electrotype was popular in the U.S for text as well.

The process includes the following: first, a mold of wax is impressed on the engraving or line block. The impression in the wax is then coated with an electrically conductive substance such as graphite. This mold is immersed in an electrolytic bath and a copper coating is deposited onto the surface of the coated wax. The wax is then removed and the copper surface is mounted onto plates and used to print the illustrations.


Relief Halftone


Halftone Block Print Based on an Illustration


The halftone block is a variation on the line block that allows for transitions of tone or greyscale. By the turn of the century, the relief half-tone dominated the illustrations of story papers and dime novels. The printer could use either a photograph of an artist's drawing or a photograph itself, and in story papers one finds both, although photographs are less common than artist's illustrations.

Relief halftones from drawings: this relief halftone began as a photograph of an pen and ink work. It appears to have subtle gradations of gray, but upon magnification it becomes apparent that the image is composed of dots.


Halftone Block Print Based on a Photograph

The image is developed from the photographic negative, with a screen placed between the negative and the resulting image. The screen causes the light to be transmitted into dots; the denser the image area is on the negative the smaller the dots will be on the print. Under magnification, a relief halftone looks like a series of dots which are larger and more dense in dark areas and smaller or non-existent in light areas.
Relief halftones from photographs: this image is from a photograph rather than a drawing, yet the reproduction process is similar enough that upon magnification it looks much the same.
  The halftone relief process effectively eliminated the need for highly skilled wood-engravers. The impact on line blocks was less radical as the photomechanical means by which they were being reproduced was relatively cheap, and they were still used for cartoons and smaller illustrations into the twentieth century. There was a transition period in the 1890's where all three forms of reproduction appear in story papers, but as time went on wood engravings disappeared.

Color Reproduction


In the 1860s and 1870s, the use of color in dime novels, and on some story paper wrappers, was limited to printing on brightly colored paper and using different colored inks for printing. These early attempts at introducing color did not involve complicated color combinations.


Chromoxylography is one of the early methods developed for multi-color printing. This process could be used with relief printing--both with wood engravings and line blocks. Chromoxylography uses a combination of primary colors (red, yellow and blue) to create a range of colors on the illustration. Multiple electroplates of engravings are made, each inked with a separate color that effectively adds tint to a specific area. The color is either applied as a solid (this was common with yellow) or as stripes, whose thickness could be varied for different intensities of color.


In this example, the layering of separate electroplates is clearly visible: one with blue ink, one with yellow and a third
with red.

In this example, the line block electroplate is inked with blue, with additional plates with further line block drawings added in red and yellow.


Color Halftone


A second color process, one which dominated the illustration for dime novels covers during the first few decades of this century, is the color halftone. This method resembles the use of black and white relief halftones except that primary colors, with the addition of black, are applied as dots. As in chromoxylographs, the combination of primary colors lead to many new colors. As in black and white relief halftones, the density of the colors is determined by the size of the dots.

The color in this process is applied by dots of red, yellow and blue. Unlike later color halftones, black is not used in this illustration. The darkest areas of color here are either blue, or a combination of blue, red and yellow.

Detail of a color halftone: the use of the three different primary colors should be more clear in this image. The mix of primary colors generates secondary colors.

Another characteristic color halftones shared with chromoxylographs was the potential for off-register printing.

When the impressions from the differently colored plates were not completely aligned, the image could become blurry, or as in this case, completely out of register. In this case the red and yellow are aligned and the blue and black are aligned, but they are not aligned as a whole.

Not only could color halftones be printed out of register, but sometimes not all of the color plates necessary were printed. Below are two examples of the same issue of a dime novel where the first example was printed and distributed without the black ink plate having been added; the second image is a copy where the black plate was used.




I. Print Processes and their Identification

Forster, H.C. From Xylographs to Lead Molds AD 1440 - AD 1921. Cincinnati: Rapid Electrotype Co. 1921.

Gascoigne, Bamber. How to Identify Prints. London: Thames and Hudson, 1986.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Griffiths, Antony. Prints and Printmaking: An Introduction to the History and Techniques. London: British Museum Publications, 1980.

Nadeau, Luis. Encylcopedia of Printing, Photographic, and Photomechanical Processes. New Brunswick: Atelier Luis Nadeau, 1989.

Olson, Kenneth. Typography and Mechanics of the Newspaper. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1930.

Pilsworth, Edward S. Electrotyping in its Relation to the Graphic Arts. New York: MacMillan, 1923.

II. Dime Novels and Story Papers

Bragin, Charles. Bibliography. Dime Novels 1860-1964. Brooklyn: C. Bragin, 1964.

Carney, Carol Ruth. Constructive Narratives of American Culture and Identity: Beadle's Dime Novels By and About Women 1860-1870. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1995.

Cook, Michael. Dime Novel Round-Up: Annotated Index, 1931-1981. Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1983.

Denning, Michael. Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America. London: Verso, 1987.

Drotner, Kirsten. English Children and their Magazines, 1751-1945. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Dunae, Patrick. "Penny Dreadfuls: Late Nineteenth-Century Boys' Literature and Crime," Victorian Studies 22: 133-150, 1979.

Evans, James Leroy. The Indian Savage, The Mexican Bandit, The Chinese Heathen: Three Popular Stereotypes. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms, 1968.

Hoppenstand, Gary, ed. The Dime Novel Detective. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1982.

Johannsen, Albert. The House of Beadle and Adams and its Dime and Nickel Novels. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.

Jones, Daryl. The Dime Novel Western. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1978.

Leithead, J. Edward. "An Artist [Charles L. Wrenn] Recalls Nickel Novel Days." Dime Novel Round-Up. Issue 87: 1.

Leithead, J. Edward. "The Art of Robert Emmett Owen." Dime Novel Round-Up. Issue 421: 94.

Lund, Michael. America's Continuing Story: An Introduction to Serial Fiction 1850-1900. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993.

Richards, Jeffrey, ed. Imperialism and Juvenile Literature. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989.

Roberts, Garyn, Gary Hoppenstand and Ray B. Browne. Old Sleuth's Freaky Female Detectives (From Dime Novels). Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1990.

Sullivan, Larry E. Pioneers, Passionate Ladies and Private Eyes. New York: Howarth Press, 1996.

Turner, E.S. Boys Will Be Boys: the Story of Sweeney Todd, Deadwood Dick, Sexton Blake, Billy Bunter, Dick Barton, et al. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976.

III. Digital Imaging

Besser, Howard and Jennifer Trant. Introduction to Imaging. Santa Monica: Getty Art History Information Program, 1995.

Blather, David and Philip Roth. Real World Scanning and Halftones. Berkeley: Peachpit Press, 1993.

Kenney, Anne R. and Stephen Chapman. Digital Imaging for Libraries and Archives. Ithaca: Department of Preservation and Conservation, Cornell University Library, 1996