Victorian London - Publications - Our Social Bees; or, Pictures of Town & Country Life, and other papers, by Andrew Wynter, 1865 - Chapter 7 - The India-Rubber Artist

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WE have all of us laughed at the grotesque appearance made by toy heads of vulcanized india-rubber. A little lateral pressure converts its physiognomy into a broad grin, whilst a perpendicular pull gives the countenance all the appearance that presents itself when we look into the bowl of a spoon held longways. The pressure removed, the face returns to its normal condition. Of the thousands of persons who have thus manipulated this plaything, it perhaps never struck one of them that in this perfect mobility lay the germ of a very useful invention, destined to be, we believe, of great practical value in the arts. If we take a piece of sheet vulcanised india-rubber and draw a face upon it, exactly the same result is obtained.  This fact, it appears, struck an observant person, and out of his observation has sprung a patented process, worked by a company under the name of the "Electro-Printing Book Company," for enlarging and diminishing at pleasure, to any extent, all kinds of drawings and engravings. It must be evident that if a piece of this material can be enlarged equally in all directions, the different lines of the drawing that is made upon it in a quiescent condition must maintain the same relative [-72-] distance between each other in its extended state, and be a mathematically correct amplification of the original draft. The material used is a sheet of vulcanised india-rubber, prepared with a surface to take lithographic ink; this is attached to a moveable framework of steel, which expands by means of very fine screws. On this prepared surface, lines are drawn at right angles; these are for the purpose of measurement only. The picture to be enlarged is now printed upon its face in the usual way, and supposing it is to be amplified four-fold, the screw frame-work is stretched until one of the squares formed by the intersection of the lines, measures exactly four times the size it did whilst in a state of rest. It is now: lifted on to a lithographic stone and printed, and from this impression copies are worked off in the usual manner. If the picture has to be worked with type, the large impression has, of course, to be made from block plates, the printing lines of which stand up like those of a woodcut. This is accomplished by printing the picture with prepared ink, upon a metal plate: the plate is then subjected to voltaic action, which eats away the metal excepting those parts protected by the ink. In examples of the amplification and reduction of a woodcut by this process, they are exact transcripts of the original, even to little defects. The human hand, with unlimited time, could never reproduce such a fac-simile as we have here performed in a few minutes, at a very trifling expense. Where it is required to make a reduced copy of a drawing, the process is inverted; that is, the vulcanised india-rubber sheet is stretched in the frame before the impression is made upon it. It must be evident, that on its being allowed to [-73-] contract to its original size, it will bear a reduced picture upon its surface from which the copies are printed.
    The application of this art to map-work is very apparent. Let us instance the ordnance maps. Both enlargements and reductions of the original scale on which they were drawn have been made in the ordinary way at an enormous expense, the greater part of which might have been avoided had this process been known. As it is, we have gone to work in a most expensive manner. The survey for the whole of England was made on the very small scale of one inch to a mile for the country, and of six inches to the mile for towns, and now there is a cry for an enlarged scale of twenty-five inches to the mile. In other countries, comparatively speaking poor to England, this scale has been far exceeded. For instance, even poverty-stricken Spain is mapped on the enormous scale of as many as sixty-three inches to the mile. The Government maps of France and of Sweden are equally large; it does, therefore, seem strange that, when we are making a second edition of our Doomsday books, with the pencil rather than with the pen, our Legislature should shrink from undertaking a scale of only twenty-five inches to the mile for so rich a country as our own. But with this question we have nothing to do ; our purpose is only to show that it would be a great saving if the twenty-five-inch scale had been originally carried out, as with this new process all the smaller scales could have been produced with perfect accuracy from this one at a very small cost. Indeed, the public could, if they wish, have pocket facsimile copies of that gigantic map of England and Scotland on the twenty-five-inch scale, which  [-74-] according to Sir M. Peto, would be larger than the London Docks. and would require the use of a ladder to examine even a county. The new art is applicable to engraving of every kind; and. moreover, it can very profitably reproduce types itself in an enlarged or reduced form. This is a fact of great importance to all Bible Societies, for enormous sums are spent in producing this work in all imaginable sizes. The clearness and beauty with which a page of type can be reduced is such as will surprise Mr. Bagster or Lord Shaftesbury.
    But, it will be asked, what advantage does this method present over a resetting of the page in the usual manner! Two very important — ones speed and price. Let us suppose, for instance, that we wish to make a reduction of a royal octavo University Bible to a demy octavo. The price of resetting the type alone would be £800, and the "reading for corrections" another £300 at the least.
    Now, an identical copy could be produced by the process employed by the Company for £120; there would be no charge for "reading," as the copy is a facsimile. Where there are many rules, marginal notes, and different kinds of types, as in Polyglot Bibles, the advantage of reducing by the india-rubber process would be of course proportionately greater. Any society possessing one standard Bible have thus within their reach the means of bringing out as many different-sized editions as they like, from the large type fitted for the eyes of very old men to the diamond editions that require a microscope ·to read them.
    We may may mention another power possessed by the new method, which will prove very valuable to publishers. It [-75-] sometimes happens that when a new edition of a work is called for, some of the original blocks, or stereotyped impressions, are found to be wanting. Heretofore new drawings and engravings would have to be made ; but now all this difficulty is obviated, by simply taking the engraved page out of the old book, and reproducing the block required from it. This actually occurred with respect to the well-known work "Bell on the Hand," the missing blocks of which have been reproduced from some old printed pages. It is scarcely known yet how many centuries may elapse ere the ink of old books becomes so dry that it cannot be transferred by the new process ; but it is quite certain that a couple of hundred years does not so far dry it as to render it incapable of giving an impression, so that we may have the earliest folio copies of Shakspeare's Plays reproduced with exactness, in more available sizes, through the medium of a few sheets of India-rubber. It seems only the other day since this extraordinary substance performed the solitary duty of rubbing out pencil-marks: now there is scarcely a manufacture in which its agencies are not employed, and it bids fair, as we have shown, to revolutionize one branch of the fine arts, and to add very largely to the .um of enjoyment among the refined and educated classes of society. When the first savage tapped the india-rubber tree, how little did he dream that the turgid stream that flowed from the bark was destined to work such changes in certain branches of trade, and to add a new and most important civilizing agent to the pale-faced nations!