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Chromolithography

  

 

My son and his lovely wife found me a 1907 book at a garage sale, "Around the World in an Automobile." It's caused me to go burrowing into chromolithography, the trendy new printing technique of the 1870s. It flooded advertisements and children's books with color, lots of color--rich, saturated color, at that. (It mimicked oil paintings so well that many dealers of the day were fooled into thinking they were looking at actual paintings--but that's another side of the process.)

I have a scrapbook that was made for my grandmother by her aunts in 1896. It's full of chromolithographed advertisements. Although falling apart, the colors and hopefulness still leap off the tattered pages. It was before sophisticated or self-deprecating ads came on the scene, and advertisers of the 1890s relied on color and visual appeal, in the most over-the-top way, in their particular field. Chromolithography gave them all they could ask for.

McLoughlin Brothers was a printing firm that adopted chromolithography and rode it like a prize pony, churning out children's books billed as "amusing and instructive." Victorian parents bought 'em like they were going out of style, which they did in the 1930s. But until then, and especially in the late 1800s and early 1900s, children's books were characterized by brilliant colors and a naive illustration style.

It looks to me like the new technology was the perfect embodiment for Victorian optimism. Children are drawn with the same proportions as adults, just smaller, and are inevitably dressed to the nines in enough clothing to choke that prize pony. And impossible situations are presented with breathtaking breeziness--for example, see the 1907 motor car that was able to drive through a wilderness to reach the side of a stream, pictured below. Scenes rustic and domestic feature well-dressed Victorians with perfectly behaved offspring, doing things either physically or practically impossible.

It's a snapshot of an era, both in terms of technology and attitude, that feels refreshing. Enjoy!

 

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