The Art of Advertising exhibition. Blog post 2
A catalogue of American trees and shrubs that will endure the climate of England, Christopher Gray, Fulham, [c. 1737]
The second item in our Printing case exemplifies copper engraving and etching, and is accompanied by the following description of the process:
In copper engraving and etching the print is taken from hollowed-out marks on a copper plate. These marks were inscribed through a coating that resists acid, and then subjected to etching, or physically engraved into the copper with a tool known as a burin. Often the plate was first etched and then engraved.
To take a print, ink is forced into the recessed lines, and the surface cleaned of ink. A sheet of paper is laid on top of the plate and pressure from the printing press forces the ink out of the hollows. The process was capable of great delicacy, although the soft copper plate would wear out over time. Text could be engraved as part of the plate, as in this example, but if type was needed, the two had to be printed separately.
This exquisite broadside is unusual in combining masterly etching and engraving with extensive alphabetical and bilingual text. Christopher Gray (1694-1764) specialised in plants from North America. This catalogue, referenced in the DNB article for Gray (odnb-9780198614128-e-37479) includes dogwoods, tulip trees, maples and American oaks as well as magnolias. The illustration of a magnolia altissima (or grandiflora) is based on a drawing by G.D. Ehret.
The title is unusual in explicitly identifying this item as a catalogue. It is more elaborate than a shopkeeper’s bill, but terminology was fluid. Another 18th century single sheet, similarly identified in its title as a catalogue: A Catalogue of Goods, sold Wholesale and Retail, by Gillery Pigott would usually be styled as a ‘shopkeeper’s bill’ or a tradesman’s list.
The John Johnson Collection is fairly rich in Horticultural ephemera. Early seedsmen’s lists are kept in two guard books (Bodleian shelfmarks: Johnson a.50 and Johnson d.1640). These are catalogued on SOLO (advanced search by shelfmark) and were listed by John Harvey in his Early Horticultural Catalogues: A Checklist of Trade Catalogues Issued by Firms of Nurserymen and Seedsmen in Great Britain and Ireland Down to the Year 1850, Bath, 1973.
There are also trade cards, such as those of Arabella Morris and Humphry Repton.
The main trade card sequence of the John Johnson Collection can be searched through our Zegami project.
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