Copper plates

I have a collection of copper plates, some labeled with recognizable faces from History, one on right in pic. labeled Gen. William Henry Harrison. Many more portraits, land scapes and sections of maps.
I have no idea what these are worth, I have some one interested in purchasing and want to be careful not to give them away.

image: copper plates.jpg

copper plates.jpg

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First off - a copper plate is used in printmaking, what you have is a half tone cliche mounted on wood for Letterpress.
They can be reproduced quite easily and have quite a lower value than Example given a wood engraving which would be an original.

What type of value range are you thinking. I have seen similiar ones with portraits of no name people on them for sale for $20.00 each. These are at least famous people. May be worth more to a history or military collector?
Appreciate any info.

and here… I thought… A copper plate was a piece of sheet copper that was carrying any kind of image for printing or was intended to carry an image….. oiy vey….

Call them what you will, cliche, photoengravings, some are possibly halftones even (or some people would have called them that) etc etc. etc etc…

The thing is, they’re really like anything- value of them is purely speculative and is only what someone is willing to pay, unless a specific instance of rarity or notoriety. My guess is that unless you denote all the recognizable/historical characters and manage to research importance or any kind of specific/special reason why any one of these images/plates/cliches is a rarity, that they’re as common as any other old printing plate that someone found or inherited.

Something can only be as good as it’s use is, if that makes any sense. I think the value depends upon who you would sell them to.

If they’re going to a collector who must have them, I’m sure that individual would probably be willing to pay more for the specific pieces they are interested in than others which are vaguely useful.

Wheras, if they’re going to a printer who is actually going to appropriate them for something, I’m sure that printer wants to pay as little as possible for them and still receive a usable artifact. Still further, I’d venture that scrap value may be close to what they’re actually worth to any printer, unless that printer has a fetish for this kind of imagery and is willing to use it to further an artistic goal- then you’re entering the part of the venn diagram that circles all three into the same category.

I’d think of a total price for the ‘lot’ of them to try and unload all as easily as once, say 10-15.00 USD a piece, and see if it’s bitten upon. If not, then consider doing some research and finding out about the subjects and their historical relevance and then if you have interesting findings, presenting your findings to the public at large. You may just find someone who gives a shit about history, or you may just have a box of very interesting copper.


i use them to fill a box of letterpress goodies i ship sometimes, i don’t see any real value in them.

Thanks for all your comments. I do know where they came from. They were sold when a historical society moved to a new building 25+ years ago. They had no room to store them. I have contacted the historicial society to see if they would be interested in them. They actually have newsletters etc… that are printed from these images. I thought they would make for a great exhibit, showing the plate and the original printed image. They are interested perhaps in a donation. At this point they are not interested in paying anything for them. I APPRECIATE all your comments as I try to figure out what to do with my collection of 100+ related “pieces of wood with copper mounted to them”

Hello jrwoodchuck,

I think the blocks would have the most value to the historical society, since, as you say, they can use them in a display of both blocks and prints. (It’s unusual to find old blocks together with the prints which they were used to make.) If you donate some of the blocks to the historical society, they can set the value for you. They probably won’t want all 100+ — especially since they were theirs in the first place and they didn’t have room to store them — but at least you’ll have a value to work with.

If you can get photocopies of some of the prints made from these blocks, you could try putting block-and-print combos on eBay and see what happens. You never know. Someone might be a local history buff and love to have them.


I am not sure about tax laws in the US, but here in Canada, when you donate an item to a registered charity, you can claim the value of the item donated against your taxes. This is often used to great advantage by museums, in particular, to encourage donations of artifacts.

If your historical society is a charity, you may want to check in with someone who knows about such things, as you may come away at tax time with a reasonable credit, while making the historical society happy at the same time.

typenut, why are you confusing intaglio copperplate with copper halftone?

I have made a donation to a major museum in NYC some years ago. Giving them something became a process unto itself. I have a large collection of Glass negatives as well. I self published a book with these images and use it as a catalog for the collection. I let the museum pick out several images and then planed on having prints made to donate to them, Barbara as you mentioned; to perhaps entice some further interest. Then they had a huge peramater lsit that I had to conform to to make a donation.
I PAID a lot of money to have them printed on certain paper, in certain sizes, packed and shipped them to the museum specs.. I spent $5,000. making a donation to them. Once they recieved them, they sent me a letter to let me know they recieved them and were reviewing them to consider them as a donation. I would have killed some one at the time if they did not take them. A process I would not do again to try to benifit someone, as I would have been better to loan them for a while and get them back. I did take a tax deductable donation.
As far as the historicial society, they have since moved into a much larger space from their original one 25+ years ago, I think any exhibit would be much more interesting with the original plates. I have offered them smaller amounts. Frankly I think they are making a mistake. Also explained that I was not looking to get rich but I did PAY for them myself and warehoused them. I just believe I owed them the first right of refussal before I broke up the collection (silly me, what was I thinking).Now I will feel guilt free when selling. If I had not already been givien the run around from a majrt NYC museumIi would put a few in a box and put a big shiney bow on the top and send them on their way. Sadly some times people do not appreciate anything unless they pay for it.
I originally bought them to put on my proof press and pull down a few prints and hand color them just for fun. I may just still do that.
I have sold a few of them in the past via E-bay, with historicial data attached and they sold pretty well. I just don’t have time to deal with selling them one at a time, packing, shipping them etc…….
If I don’t sell them to a local print collector this week I may list them here.
Once again gotten crazy trying to do the best thing.
Thanks again for everyone’s comments.

Parallel Imp -

I’m not.

Jrwoodchuck wrote, that he has a collection of copper plates.

They are NOT, they are copper galvanos mounted on wood for Letterpress.

Aside, even in Printmaking we generate halftones for printing = aquatint.

In the moment we generalize the terminology of the trades. we loose the ability to precisely communicate to each other, which in case of Eg. Troubleshooting somebody’s problem is crucial.

I love all your discussion about this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I am learning alot and appreciate your commitment to the printing trade, I to have ink in my blood!!!!!
PS The best part is you are all wrong, “he” is a “she”.

As an American printer, I see a difference between “copperplate”, as an adjective relating specifically to intaglio, and the more general “copper-space-plate”, which would definitely include the copper halftones above as well as other kinds of plate. (“Cliche” is a European term not use by working printers here, and the cut of Harrison suggets these are American plates.) Who knows, there might even be a copper line cut lower in the pile. Copper photoengravings were, and still are, the highest quality plate used in letterpress. Your term “galvano” would seem to refer to electrotyping, but original copper halftones were common, and I don’t see any evidence that these are duplicate electrotypes.

Ok so I went deeper in the boxes, here is another pic to correctly identify? They are all from the same collection.
Line work on the left appear to be outlines for maps,and a block of type on the right

image: plate.jpg


The apparent white corrosion suggests the line cuts might not be copper. Zinc can corrode over long periods, magnesium much quicker.


even the first copper halftone has to be made first. I worked for a large company than I put my years in to satisfy the Trade requirement.
We had a Form or cut, let’s call it original: either set type or a Metal cut or such. A flong was pressed into the Form and inserted into a holder and through electrotyping a copper skin grown. We recast the skin with Lead and than brought it down to type high instead of mounting on wood.

That is the procedure in rough to make ONE.
Once you have the flong, you can make copies if needed.

In the 40’s Ing. Hell invented a half tone engraver which could read in an image and with engravers basically hammered a halftone pattern into a plate. Never widely used, as the line screen was coarse.

Photo sensitive copper is exposed with a negatived and acid etched. The most common way of making a copper cut.

Copper letterpress cut, copper halftone.

But as far as I can see in different Trade specific dictionaries and manuals “copper-space-plate” is not a wildly generic Term.

That might not be corrosion. It might just be cleaner/not inked metal from the recessed non image areas on the block of type. The camera flash makes it hard to tell on my monitor screen.

Look typenut, my point is that “copper plate” can refer to various materials used in printing, and your initial statement that “copper plate” can only refer to intaglio is not usage I would recognize. I seem to have confused matters by my way of differentiating between adj. “copperplate” and noun “copper plate” by writing out the “space”.
Some of this may be just more US-UK terminology differences, of which many have already occurred here. But even in UK sources, I have never seen flong mentioned in connection with electrotyping. Flong is a paper based material that when molded to a form become a stereotype mat used to cast duplicate plates in typemetal. Paper mats would disintegrate if used in an electrotype bath; wax and plastics and even lead were materials used in electrotyping, but they are not flong.

Gwak, if that isn’t corrosion, I’ll eat my last used topsheet (jute tympan only, not Duralar). I’ve seen many old zinc plates in that same exact condition, but relatively little corrosion on copper of similar age and storage.

parallel imp, would you like a little pi with that tympan???

Not from my hellbox, thanks. Maybe you’ve dropped a donut or two?

jrwoodchuck could you please post some more pictures (closeups) of the last set?

parallel_imp please don’t eat your topsheet…you are probably right (that it’s corrosion)…most of us have seen it when good dies go bad. Being that you are across the old pond can you enlighten me about Duralar is it a plastic sheet like mylar? Also, I don’t think the tympan paper here is made out of jute. I think I read that it’s made out of gummie bears, baby oil, or simple green.

Just ready to attach another pic before you asked for it.
Hope this helps you out. I also checked it out with a magnet this morning, not magnetic.
This is a close up of the block of type. I don’t think there is any corrision on these. It looks like an image was made on something. (has the coloring of lead). Cut around it then mounted (actually nailed with small nails) to block. Also apperars that the non image area close to image is kind of etched out a bit more.
Don’t forget I am still trying to find out what any of these are worth? Thanks….

image: 2012-06-27 09.19.21.jpg

2012-06-27 09.19.21.jpg

Well I guess there isn’t anything wrong with my monitor, screen, or eyes…..must not be magnesium dies gone bad.
It looks chemically etched, then they went back in and gave it more relief. Besides using nails, they are probably glued too.

It is usual practice to rout away dead areas of plates once they are attached to the mounting blocks. This si done on a free-arm router, a mechanical, not a chemical process.

OK, that looks like copper, and is definitely routed not corroded. But I still see a few areas that may be lightly corroded, just enough to repair with a finishing rubber. But the plate shown earlier in the lower left corner, the white areas I see as corroded are in the printing surface not the non-image area. Nay?
Value all depends on the content. Proof them and maybe an eBay buyer will be interested, like someone who is a Harrison collector. If they are related, these cuts might all have come from a specific book on Harrison or a related subject. Odd halftones only have value if you find the right buyer.

I’ll eat your tympan paper if that is copper…it’s not copper colored at all.

come on you kids, lets not eat your print shops.

Nay, Nay
I have attached a close up of the line work plate from the lower left. The metal area around line work is just the actual metal still there, as to have something left to attach it to the plate. The white stuff in the right is probably baby powder. It rubs off with your hands. When selling these before on Ebay. I dusted the surface lightly with powder, this brings image (great on halftone images) up and you dont need to do a proof of it to get a good look at the plate. An old trick I learned, they photograph much better.
I dont believe I have any corrosion on any of these plates.

As mentioned earlier, I do know where they came from,they are all related and the manuscripts that were printed from them are in a historicial society. They chose not to “buy” them back, that is why I hate to sell them one at a time. Maybe another 25 years and someone new would be interested in them.

image: linework.jpg


Why not dick? gummie bear rollers, jute and crisco mmmgood

I am glad to hear there is no corrosion. But if you want to keep it that way, remove all the powder! That will attract moisture, which is what causes corrosion.
My Dad had eight drawers of old zinc and copper cuts, great stuff from a hardware catalog, and the cuts moved from damp basement to damp basement over some 50 years. Five years ago I did an inspection and 19 out of 20 cuts were corroded, unsalvageable, and beetles in the wood mounts as well. I hate to see things end that way.

Those I can see, zinc plate, the value is of course what people will give.
and what quality they are, etc.

I’ll show you what these historical records can be used.
It would probably increase the price when this comes around.

I’ve tried to make printing plates for indskannig to Digital
I want to hear if there are others who may
In Denmark. Press museums have never seen it before

I would like to hear your opinion about the outcome.

My opinion on the result is that it’s really good.
As can also be used for anything. It’s a new way of thinking.

It was clean enough local archives have thought of something before,
when I want to shoot that 99% of the printing plates have been thrown on the scrap heap,
it’s our history that lies at the dump that never comes again.
This example should also have been the dump.

The back of the original print, it says:
A very impressive picture of the trail terrain by gl. Station.
The picture was taken during the period between 1926 and 1935

If i go and throw your plates out, or have too many
you must ask me first.

image: 3-den-gamle-banegård.jpg


image: 2-den-gamle-banegård.jpg


image: 1-den-gamle-banegård-god.jpg


image: 0-den-orginale-tryk.jpg


Those are very good!

Well done! The title of the last one says “originale tryk” — is that one of the original prints, perhaps a proof or a print taken from a newspaper or book? It is a good model to follow since the shadow detail is more visible.

Printing from halftones takes some skill. Would you mind telling us what you did — what kind of press, what kind of paper, and any special measures you took?

Do you know Jens Hansen? If not, here’s his Flickr page:


Hello Barbara

The title ORIGINAL Press is:
Where zinc printing plate was wrapped in from the printing
I have packed it out, it has not been unpacked for approx. 60 years
The printer itself has taken pressure off the plate and sat on the packaging.
Since it was better experience for users to find the platen again, if it were to be used again.
Shadow is just an adjustment.

How do I make printing plates for digital, I will not give the recipe.

There are not any of the 4 pictures that have been in the printing machine, it is purely digital.
I can print the size I want A4 A3 A2

I know who Jens Hansen Holsted.


I think this is all GREA!!!!!!!!!!!. I wish I had time to experiment myself. I also have a proof press that I had hoped to use and try a lot of different techniques. For me right now I just have several hundred of these that I keep moving around. Just wish I had more time…………
Love to see what people are doing with all the different related printing mediums.


Looks like a pretty solid idea for digitizing blocks. Have you tried inking with other colors to see how they affect scan quality?

Hello Michael

I thought that it is a good idea, but lacks a little feedback from others.

You ask about other colors
Is what you think.

image: 13-den-gamle-banegård-brun.jpg


image: 13-den-gamle-banegård-green.jpg


image: 13-den-gamle-banegård-blue.jpg


image: 13-den-gamle-banegård-rød.jpg