Lithography vs. Letterpress

I recently came across this web site The page opens with a larger than life-sized image of part of an Ault & Wiborg ink ad from the Inland Printer which in its original printed version is quite stunning. But the author of this site describes this advertisement thusly:

“Of course they weren’t the only ink company around and in the mid-1890s they began running full-color poster advertisements in trade publications such as The Inland Printer, The Printer and Bookmaker and The American Bookmaker. In a novel twist the posters were lithographed with the very inks they were advertising…”

However, this particular ad plus other Ault & WIborg ads were definitely printed letterpress. I have the original of this ad in one of my Inland Printers and it is an insert printed one side and on the back of the sheet the impression from the multiple plates is very evident. No novel twist here as the Codex99 author is dead wrong. The letterpress work is stunning, and it dates from the early 1890s but then most of the letterpress work in those years of the Inland Printer was exceptionally well done. The Inland Printer’s circulation of over 10,000 per month in the early 1890s would dictate letterpress vs. stone lithography. The images in this ad reflect designs commonly found in etched and leaded glass work of the period.

I have no idea who Codex99 is but his enthusiasm for his subject is limited by his technical knowledge.

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I wonder if Codex99 is aware of how many of us veterans are actually familiar with the proof of how jobs are ran. Able to spot a fraud just by a simple turn over. Your on it Fritz, call him on it. Make them aware.
be funny if the website goes bye bye.

It’s not your first Rodeo.

Sink those spurs in—I just scanned the full page:[email protected]/30798273050/in/dateposted-pub...

I am constantly amazed at the basic lack of understanding on the basics of the processes—counterfeit money, phony Book of the Mormons, George Bush’s letter that it took Thomas Phinney from Adobe to determine to be a fake, etc. Maybe I’ve been at this too long but this stuff just jumps out at me.

And then again, 1892 isn’t exactly the mid-1890s. Beware of false prophets.

If you watch the Antiques Road Show on a regular basis, you will have heard presenters describe the “lithography” on the box as though it were extremely common for boxes to be printed by lithographic techniques in the 1930s-1940s. It appears any form of decorative printing may now be described as “lithography” if it involves the use of color. The metal toys and items within the boxes may well have been decorated by a lithographic process, but the paper label would have been less commonly so.

This may be the fault of the modern emphasis on the depressed “feel” of letterpress printing.

John Henry

An absolutely stunning specimen! Thank you for Sharing Fritz!
Well, they may have got one technical detail wrong- or even others- but this strikes me as an essay that is enthusiastic for more than just the technical details, for the subject matter and the history of the image.
Art historians get it wrong sometimes and don’t know the difference between a burin and ecope; my “history of print” professor in college didn’t know what any of these items were and was more interested in the characters of printmaker artists and the history of the image development from a scenic standpoint, rather than a technical one; and we printers who are knowledgable of the trade need to preserve that knowledge, the technical development, by participating in forums and discourse of course we can keep it alive- but it just seems like maybe addressing the source and commenting with your knowledge in an educational capacity might be of real value to the author, AND to society at large! So, I urge you to consider contacting this person from an equal knowledge standpoint and share what you know. You might just ignite a passion in this person to more faithfully understand the technical details and the ramifications of their times!

“Be funny if the website goes bye bye.”

Wait, what? For mis-stating the technique used in a century old ad, as an aside in a several-thousand word article documenting and sharing historical facts with enthusiasm?

Seems a harsh reaction, and I suspect you might overestimate the embarrassment felt by the author at what is to anyone not a printer a minor inaccuracy.

From browsing the site, the author is researching a wide range of topics and when doing a piece on printing ink simply reached for the printing process he or she associates with colorful imagery of the era.

I can’t help but agree with HavenPress and think that an email with a correction would probably be welcome, and perhaps spur further interest in learning more about the technical aspects of printing.

I had a little time today to see what else was on the internet about the Ault & Wiborg ads and it seems that every site, and there are only a few at that, embrace the description of these as being lithographic prints, and from maybe the couple of dozen in my possession that are still firmly bound in their original volumes, all are printed letterpress. I am missing a number of volumes post 1900, but commercial offset lithography didn’t get its crawling start until 1906. Lithography is the darling process of the “artist” that promotes their work as reproductions above that of the common, which was letterpress. Thus multi-color work gets slapped with the label lithographic when it was most likely letterpress. One who doesn’t have a discerning, or educated eye, will be happy in their ignorance, except when it comes to professional art dealers who know the description “lithographic print” lights up the cash register.

I’ll gently let Codex99 know his description is in error, but he picked it up from some other web site that in turn copied from someone else and who knows how far back in time this basic error was started, probably from some well known poster or art expert. Ault & Wiborg were not the first to produce complex multi-colored ads for the Inland Printer. This one from the Queen City Ink company in the January 1888 Inland Printer shows another letterpress piece of work that includes bronzing:[email protected]/5852012126/in/photolist-dBV4z...

These ads were also a showcase for the photoengravers of the day who produced some amazing work in their own ads in the trade journals in a process that was just emerging in its own place in printing.

I’m Codex 99. I signed up to post here just today after a printer friend kindly alerted me to this thread.

I bought a (mostly) unbound copy of the Ault and Wiborg Poster Book from a local library sale several years ago and thought it would be fun to learn about the history of the company (which, because I live in Cincinnati, is local history as well). I also wanted to provide high-res scans of the posters because there were no good versions of these posters online.

I’m an amateur historian of graphic arts and, although I’m VERY interested in getting the technical processes right, I’m not an experienced printer like you guys are. And, honestly, the number of competing printing techniques at the turn of the century is not always easy for a hobbyist to recognize and differentiate. I’m a lot better at identifying photographic processes than printing processes.

I pulled my posters out of storage tonight and, of course, Fritz is correct, most are letterpress. I thought they were all lithographs based on a few assumptions (and I didn’t copy information from some other site - the mistake is all mine). Also, to be fair, a few of them are, in fact, lithographs.

My site is my research into things I’m interested in. Occasionally experts will clarify or correct my writing, that’s part of my research. Connecting with experts in their field is part of the fun of doing the site. I’ve decided that’s what this is, despite the tone of some of the earlier comments.

If you guys have anymore information on this topic I’d love to hear it.


At Amberley museum in the print section we have a big “old” poster re membership of some letterpress printers association or Guild -sorry, can’t remember which exactly-but it is a reproduction or later re-issue………….. printed by litho.
Some years ago, an antique roadshow expert diagnosed old railway posters as originals but of course they were not. But they were still “nice”.

this book

A technical dictionary of print making by André Béguin.”
is very good re original prints.Has close up photos etc.

I applaud this turn of events; codex99 it’s good to see you comment here and offer up your open perspective. Welcome! I hope it proves to be beneficial discourse for you. Despite Fritz tone I believe he means well, means to preserve this tradition through pointing out room for improvement and misunderstandings. I don’t know who pointed this out to you but I sincerely hope you find this forum to be a helpful place.

St Bride Library has a pristine copy of the Ault & Wiborg album and it has long been a great favourite of mine. I have the Caxton page framed in my workshop, printed in scarlet and navy blue.