Electroblock printing, with no electricity

John Leech (1817-1864), Contemplating a Day’s Fishing, Mr. Briggs Gets His Tackle in Order, and Trys the Management of His Running Line, ca. 1860. Watercolor. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2006.02345. sheet: 25 x 27.8 cm.

John Leech (1817-1864), Mr. Briggs & His Doings. Fishing (London, Bradbury & Evans [1860]). Electroblock print. Otto von Kienbusch Angling Collection Oversize 2003-0004F. sheet: 33 x 47 cm.

In the summer of 1862, an exhibition entitled “Sketches in Oil” was held at The Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly in London. Although the designs by John Leech (1817-1864) were fun to see (primarily cartoons for Punch), it was the reproduction process that drew insiders to the show.

The process, Electroblock Printing, had been developed to ingeniously enlarge and transfer images to canvas or lithographic stones or other mediums. Despite the name, the technique required no electricity. An impression was taken from the original wood blocks or other medium onto rubber (or a sheet of caoutchouc), which was then stretched to a larger size and re-transferred to another surface. If a smaller design is needed, the process can be reversed by stretching the rubber before the design is transferred and then, releasing it back to its former size. The hard part was, of course, keeping all sides in proportion.

Leech was quite taken by the process and used it for several books and exhibitions, hand painting the black outline once it had been transferred.

John Leech (1817-1864), Mr. Briggs & his doings. Fishing. by John Leech (London, Bradbury & Evans [1860]). Otto von Kienbusch Angling Collection Oversize 2003-0004F 33 x 47 cm.

John Leech (1817-1864), Mr. Briggs contemplates a day’s fishing and practises with his running tackle, 1860. Electroblock print. Gift of Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, Princeton University Class of 1906. Graphic Arts Collection GC164

John Leech (1817-1864), Contemplating a day’s fishing, Mr. Briggs gets his tackle in order, and trys the management of his running line, ca. 1860. Watercolor. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2006.02345 sheet 25 x 27.8 cm.