Publishers' Department. Senefelder, the inventor of lithography and chromo-lithography, - his art in Boston developed by L. Prang & Co. - Color-printing on satin, etc.

The Bay State Monthly 3, 1884

A century ago the world knew nothing of the art of lithogrphy; color-printing was confined to comparatively crude products from wooden block, most of which were hardly equal to the Japanese fan pictures now familiar to all of us. The year 1799 gave us a new invention which was destined to revolutionize reproductive art and add immensely to the means for education, culture and enjoyment.

Alois Senefelder, born 1771, at Prague (Austria), started life with writing plays, and too poor to pay a printer, he determined to invent a process of his own which should serve to print his manuscript without dependence upon the (to him) too costly types.

A born inventor, this Alois Senefelder, a genius, supported by boundless hope, immense capability for hard, laborious work, and an indomitable energy; he started with the plan of etching his writings in relief on metal plates, to take impressions therefrom by means of rollers. He found the metal too costly for his experiments; and limestone slabs from the neighboring quarries — he living then in Munich — were tried as a substitute. Although partly successfull in this direction, he continued through years of hard, and often disappointing trials, to find something more complete. He hit upon the discovery that a printed sheet of paper (new or old) moistened with a thin solution of gum Arabic would, when dabbled over printers' ink from the dabbler only on its printed parts and remain perfectly clean in the blank spaces, so that a facsimile impression could be taken from this inkked-in sheet. He found that this operation might be repeated until the original print gave out by wear. Here was a new discovery, based on the properties of attraction and repulsion between fatty matters (printers ink), and watery solution of gum Arabic. The extremely delicate nature of the paper matrix was a serious drawback, and had to be overcome. The slabs of limestone which served Senefelder in a previous emergency were now recurred to by him as an absorbent material similar to paper, and a trial by making an impression from his above-mentioned paper matrix on the stone, and subsequent gumming, convinced him that he was correct in his surmise. By this act lithography became an established fact.

A few short years of intelligent experimenting revealed to him all the possibilities of this new discovery. Inventions of processes followed each other closely until in 1818 he disclosed to the world in a volume of immortal interest not only a complete history of his invention and his processes, but also a reliable description of the same for others to follow. Nothing really new except photo-lithography has been added to this charming art since that time; improvement only by manual skill and by chemical progress, can be claimed by others.

Chromo-lithography (printing in colors from stone) was expenmented on by the great inventor. He outlined its possibilities by saying, that he verily believed that printed pictures like paintings would sometimes be made thereby, and whoever has seen the productions of our Boston firm, L. Prang ea Co., will bear him out in the verity of his prediction.

When Prang touched this art in 1856 it was in its infancy in this country. Stray specimens of more or less merit had been produced, especially by Martin Thurwanger (pen work) and Fabronius (crayon work), but much was left to be perfected. A little bunch of roses to embellish a ladies' magazine just starting in Boston, was the first work with which the firm occupied its single press. Crude enough it was, but diligence and energy soon developed therefrom the works which have astonished not only this country but even Europe, and the firm, which took thereby the lead in their speciality of art reproduction in color, has succeeded in keeping it ever since from year to year without one faltering step, until there is no single competitor in the civilized world to dispute its mastery. This is something to be proud of, not only for the firm in question, but even for the country at large, and to crown its achievements, the firm of L. Prang 8. Co. have this year made, a, from their usual wonderful variety of original Christmas cards and other holiday art prints, a reproduction of a flower piece of the celebrated Belgian flower painter, Jean Robie, and printed it on satin by a process invented and patented by Mr. Prang. For truthfulness as a copy this print challenges the admiration of our best artists and connoisseurs. The gorgeous work as it lies before our eyes seems to us to be as perfect as if it left the very brush of the master, and even in close comparison with the original it does not lose an iota of its charms.

Of the marvellous excellence of this, the latest achievement of this remarkable house, thousands who visited the late exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic's Association and saw Messrs. L. Prang ea Co's. extensive exhibit, can bear witness. Everybody who looked at the two picture's, the original masterpiece by Robie and its reproduction by Prang, side by side, was puzzled to distinguish which was which, many pointing to the reproduction as the better, and in their eyes, therefore as the original picture. The same was true with regard to many more of this justly celebrated firm's reproductions, which they did not hesitate to exhibit, alongside of the original paintings. Altogether, their exhibit with its large collection of elegant satin prints, its studies for artists, its historical feature, showing the enormous development of the firm's work since 1856, its interesting illustration by successive printings of how their pictures are made, and its instinctive and artistic arrangement of their collection, made it one of the most attractive features of the fair.

What more can we say but that we are proud ourselves of this achievement within our city limits; it cannot fail to increase the fame our beloved Boston as a town of masters in thought and art. Honor to the firm of L. Prang & Co.

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