This is the fifth in a series of six columns on identifying common antique commercial printing processes to make sports prints including trading cards, ad signs and signs, premiums, postcards and more. This segment is on the miscellaneous processes including collotype, photogravure, rotogravure, woodbury type, gilding and screen printing.
COLLOTYPE (Also known as Albertype, artotype, helioptype)
Collotype was a commercial printing process commonly used in the 1800s and early 1900s to reproduce photographs and art. It is still sometimes used in the fine arts.
It was commonly used to make antique photorealistic postcards and movie theater lobby cards. The Albertype Company made many collotype postcards, including Baseball Hall of Fame postcards, with the company printed on back.
Collotypes usually have a light tan or black and white tone and a matte surface. Under the microscope they have a distinct reticulated pattern, appearing like a mosaic with similar size pieces of irregular shapes. It often resembles a bunch of noodles.
While the collotype has been used over many years, if you find a seemingly old print, photo or postcard that is identified as a collotype that is consistent with it being vintage.
Photogravure (aka rotogravure, roto, gravure)
Photogravure, also known as gravure and rotogravure, is a process known for its excellent image quality and detail. It was invented in the late 1800s, is still used today by fine artists, but was largely discontinued for commercial prints in the mid 1900s.
The surface is matte and the image can come in any color, though is commonly black and white or brownish. The print was created by using heavier ink to create the dark image areas and less ink to create the light areas. Great pressure was used to squeeze the ink onto the paper, and a plate mark may exist on the paper. A plate mark appears as a pressed in area just larger than the printed image, and is created by the printing pressure. Sometimes this mark was trimmed off. Antique photogravures sometimes have images that are faded and with foxing.
Under the microscope, an irregular, often speckled ink pattern exists. A variation of the photogravure called the rotary photogravure (rotogravure or roto) was produced on a cylinder. The ink on the photogravure image is set up in an even grid with dots of ink surrounded by intersecting white lines. This pattern is similar to that in photoengraving and photolithography but looks more like a screen or mesh.
Photogravure printing was most commonly used in the old days, so gravure printing is consistent with a print being old. They were used to make art prints, premiums, photorealistic postcards and book pictures. Many old newspapers had special rotogravure picture sections, often labelled was ‘rotograph’ or ‘roto’ at the top.
The Woodburytype, called photoglyphie by the French, was an 1800s process capable of highest quality photoreaslitic images. Unlike other photomechanical processes, the Woodburytype has no printed ink pattern even under magnification. It was most commonly used from 1870 to 1900.
Most Woodburytypes were book illustrations, and cannot be larger than 11″ by 14.” They were printed on paper then glued or mounted onto the pages. Woodburytype’ is often printed just below the image. There are also examples of Woodbury cabinet cards and CDVs, with the woodbury print on paper pasted to the backing.
Woodbury prints lave a light relief texture in the image surface and different glosses through the image. Some parts will be at least slightly glossier than others.
Though often mounted to larger backings, including book pages, woodburytype prints were almost always trimmed to the image area. This means they almost never will have a white border (not counting the larger mounting).
There is a real photo process called the carbon print that very closely resembles the woodbury type. Luckily, it is also an antique processes, so, even if you aren’t sure which it is, the print or photo is most probably antique.
Many antique prints are embellished with gilding, which involves metal applied in the form leaf, dust or stamping. Numerous antique trading cards (T205 baseball cards, T205 Ramlys, N172 Old Judge cabinet cards), postcards and greeting cards were gilded. Many antique books have the cover text gilded.
‘Gild’ literally means gold. Traditionally gold was used, but silver, aluminum, copper, bronze and other metals have been used in recent times. Remember that gold doesn’t tarnish, while the commonly used copper does (See T205). Silver tarnishes black over time.
The practice of gilding thousands of years old. Ancient Egyptian artifacts and early European religious manuscripts were gilded in real gold. Archeologists date the process to more than 2000 years before Jesus Christ.
Gilding on prints is easy to identify as it’s real metal that shines like metal and that you can feel with your finger. Under the microscope you can often see the leaf or specs of metal. As you might expect, gilding is delicate and there are often areas where the metal has flaked or worn off.
Screen Prnting/Sergraphy/Silk Screen
Screen printing, also known as seriography and silk-screen, is a relatively recent form of printing popular in the arts and collectibles. It’s been around a long time, but wasn’t widely used by artists before the 1960s. Despite its modern usage, I’ve included it as there are many highly collectible screen prints around, including by famous artists such and Leroy Neiman, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali.
Screen prints are known for their bright ‘pop art’ colors and designs, ofen involving artistic or funky collages. Though they can involve reproduction of photographic images, they don’t resemble real photos as they don’t have enough detail. A mesh is used in the printing process, and this mesh does not allow for the fineness of other prints.
The prints often have overlapping colors and are identified when there areas of mesh patterns from the mesh. The mesh patern will show up here and there in the print’s ink and is noticeable up close. Screen prints often resemble lithographs and can be printed on many surfaces, including paper, canvas, metal, plastic and cloth.