Antiques Column with Michael Dowse: Perfectionist gave us a colourful way of printing

09:00Thursday 02 June 2016

George Baxter (1804-1867) is regarded by some as the ‘inventor’ of colour printing. Before Baxter, colour printing meant hand painting which was labour-intensive and thus expensive. Baxter’s process, patented in 1835, put an end to this.

The process involved a steel key plate and a number of wooden and metal colour blocks. The image was first engraved on to the key plate which was laid on to paper to leave a monochrome image; blocks were then produced with the same image each representing a different colour.

Each individual block was inked and added to the paper in a prescribed order. Baxter was a perfectionist, taking time to ensure each colour was dry between pressings, resulting in only two colours being applied each day.

Baxter’s most detailed and complex scenes are the most sought after and valuable today.

The scene of ‘Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria receiving the Sacrament at her Coronation’ showing the Queen kneeling at the altar before the Archbishop of Canterbury, which he was invited to capture by Prince Albert himself, is one of Baxter’s most famous and contained over 200 recognisable faces.

The full-colour version took him years to complete and wasn’t published until 1841, three years after the coronation.

Originally Baxter’s prints were used for frontispieces in books but quickly a market for his prints in their own right developed. Between 1835 and 1860 he produced approximately 400 prints but his attention to detail made him slow. He regularly missed deadlines, including those of International Exhibitions, and this, combined with his lack of business expertise, led to bankruptcy by 1865.


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