Color printed by Knight

Color printed by Knight's process for Old England: A Pictorial Museum (1844-45).

Knight's first patent drawing illustrating his color printing patent.
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The first of two large folding plates published with Knight's patent, showing four 'lids" probably each hinged to the side of a "Ruthven press with most of its working parts removed. The platen rose from below with the paper on it, while the blocks were arranged on the lids. They were inked one at a time and successively folded down over the paten, being in position by rods actuated from a handle in the centre of each lid" (Wakeman, Victorian Colour Printing [1981] 11).
Knight's second patent drawing for his color printing patent.
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The second plate published with Knight's patent (slightly cropped for clarity). Another method "involved fixing a special plate to the bed of a hand platen press. It held the four blocks and could be revolved. It turned a quarter of a revolution after each impression, the blocks being fastened to a small turntable which also turned in concert with the main turntable. They thus always faced in the right direction. This device was used to print four pictures at once, which were later divided. As Knight was the publisher of this book it seems reasonable to assume that this system was also used" (Wakeman, Victorian Colour Printing [1981] 12-13).
Color-printed upper printed wrapper of the 1841 Journey-Book of England Hampshire.
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Color-printed upper printed wrapper of the 1841 Journey-Book of England. Derbyshire. In 2021 I had not seen a color-printed wrapper dated this early on any other printed book.
Title page and color-printed "illuminated map" from The Journey-Book of England. Derbyshire (1841).
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Title page and color-printed "illuminated map" from The Journey-Book of England. Derbyshire (1841).
Gallery of Art color frontispiece

Frontispiece printed by Knight's patented color printing process of the Pictorial Gallery of Arts: Useful Arts.

St. George's Hall from Knight's OId England
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Color-printed by Knight's process for Old England: A Pictorial Museum (1844-45).

Knight Illuminated Atlas map 3
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Perhaps the most visually attractive of the "illuminated maps" printed by Knight's patented process (1840) as issued in Knight's Illuminated Atlas of Scripture Geography. This process of color-printing maps does not appear to have been used for any maps except those printed by William Clowes for Charles Knight.

Detail map of London, England, United Kingdom,Jerusalem, Jerusalem District, Israel

A: London, England, United Kingdom, B: Jerusalem, Jerusalem District, Israel

Charles Knight Invents "Illuminated Printing" & Offers Printed Color Plates at a Low Price for the Mass Market

1838 to 1845 to 1848
Color brochure for Knight's Weekly Volume
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A spectacular advertising leaflet for Knight's Weekly Volume June 29 to Sept. 28, 1844 printed by Knight's color printing process.

In 1838 English writer and publisher Charles Knight received British patent No. 7673 for "Improvements in the Process and in the Apparatus used in the Production of Coloured Impressions on Paper, Vellum, Parchment, and Pasteboard by Surface Printing." Knight called his color printing process "illuminated printing," and invented it for the economical printing of colored pictures, maps, and drawings. Knight applied this process in a group of his own publications, and then seems to have set it aside. The process appears to have been used by others only in later editions of works that Knight initially published.

"At first only four colours were contemplated, and by some ingenious mechanism he contrived that they should all be applied in the course of a single passage of the sheet through the press, which was operated by hand. Knight, like Savage, had a decided preference for a press of the 'Ruthven' type, in which the platen was normally at the back, but was brought over the forme by means of two springs, which 'gave' to the pull, but resumed their ordinary position when the bar was released. Knight fitted the machine, in place of the usual bed, with a polygonal revolving frame, or, as he called it, 'prism' (attached to a rising table), each face of which, carrying a colour block, was applied in sucession to the sheet as the frame revolved. In an alternative method, the frame with the blocks on it revolved on a sort of turn-table, placed on the bed of the press; whilst in a third, the tympan, with the sheet attached, was carried from block to block. It will be remembered that this idea of printing several colours at one operation of the press had been to some extent anticpated by Lalleman, at Paris, two centuries earlier. The specification also describes an apparatus in which the colour blocks were on beds, hinged to the sides of a square table, and turned backward to be inked by hand, and down again for the impression. The process was in regular operation in 1839, as the Quarterly Review for December in that year contains an article, headed "The Printer's Devil," in which there is a description of Clowes' printing establishment, and a fairly lengthy reference to Knight's colour-printing method, which the writer of the article in question saw at work, in connection with the production of "Patent Illuminated Maps." He describes the printing apparatus as resembling a square box, each of the four sides of which carried a printing plate, for blue, yellow, red and black respectively, which were applied to the sheet in the order named, the last having the letterpress matter for the names of places, etc. The tints being partly blended on the paper, three more were furnished in that way, i.e. the yellow and the red gave orange, the yellow and blue green, and so on, there being thus seven colours in all" (Burch, Colour Printing and Colour Printers [1910] 141-43).

In 1839 Knight issued a couple of examples of his "illuminated printing" in his publication of engraver John Jackson's A Treatise on Wood Engraving Historical and Practical. One of my copies contains at p. 715 as called for in the List of Illustrations, "A Café in Constantinople, and a Design for a Pattern, two of "Mr. Knight's Patent Illuminated Prints." My other copy substitutes Knight's "Patent Illuminated Map" of Ancient Jerusalem, a double-page tip-in, for the Constantinople scene.  Both copies also contain a more finely detailed Baxter print of "Parsonage at Ovingham" at p. 713. This book, which contained 269 illustrations, for the most part wood-engravings by Jackson himself, including a full-page engraved portrait of Jackson's teacher, Thomas Bewick, was co-authored by the writer William Chatto, who wrote the first seven chapters, and signed a preface explaining his authorship. Jackson failed to credit Chatto on the title page—a fault that was corrected in the second edition of 1861. A specially bound copy in my collection, presented by Jackson to the London bookseller Thomas Tegg on July 10, 1839, is labeled on the spine "Treatise on Wood Engraving / Illustrations by Jackson" confirming, however, that Jackson did not take credit for the text.

In 1840 Knight published a series of his "illuminated maps" in Hughes, The Illuminated Atlas of Scripture Geography: A Series of Maps Delineating the Physical and Historical Features in the Geography of Palestine and the Adjacent Countries accompanyied with An Explanatory Notice of Each Map. . . This small 4to contained 20 double-page maps color-printed by Knight's process. Regarding the maps, the work stated on p. 6:

"Lastly, we have to explain in a few words the peculiarities which distinguish the appearance of these Maps from any which have hitherto been published. These are, —1st, That, by a novel method of printing, the various divisions of the countries are covered with distinct colours, so that the boundaries are clearly perceived at the first view; and 2nd, That the mountains, instead of being, as in maps engraved in the usual manner, indicated by black lines, are in white, distinctly and prominently relieved by the coloured ground. In the best engraved maps a serious imperfection has always been felt to result from the names and the hills being alike printed in black, in consequence of which, either names are obscured by the hills, or the hills must be omitted in order to allow of the names being read. This renders them exceedingly difficult of reference; and it may be generally remarked of engraved maps, that in proportion as the physical features of country are fully and correctly delineated, so do the names and boundaries become obscure and unintelligble. In the ordinary process of map-engraving, the evil complained of appears unavoidable; but this is no longer the case when a different medium is used for conveying each part of the requisite information. By the method adopted in this series of Maps, the physical features of the countries—their hills and valleys—their lakes and streams—are clearly delinieated, without in the least interfering with the exhibition of names and places; while their various divisions, distinguished by colours, are presented at once and distinctly to the eye of the student. They will thus, it is believed, be found better calculated than any hitherto published to serve the important purposes of School and Home Education."

Also in 1840, Knight began publishing a series of small books called The Journey-Book of England. Each of these was devoted to a an English county, and included a color-printed map of the country printed by Knight's patented process. In my experience these books are among the scarcest of Knight's publications, perhaps because few copies were printed, or just because buyers used them up. A distinctive feature of these was was their color-printed wrapper also printed by Knight's process. These were very early examples of printed wrappers printed in color. In the first of these volumes, entitled The Journey-Book of England. Berkshire, Knight stated in the Notice that, "The Illuminated Map, which will accompany each Volume, will be found, in the clearness which results from its peculiar mode of colouring, superior to any existing County Map on a similar scale."

During 1844 and 1845 Knight issued Old England: A Pictorial Museum in ninety-six fascicules in small folio format containing 24 plates printed by his patented color printing process, and a total of 2,488 numbered wood engravings. The color plates in this work take on an almost painterly quality in their less than exact registration. When the set was complete title pages were issued for two volumes, and Knight offered the set for sale in publisher's cloth bindings, blind-stamped and gilt in 1845. Old England must have been a commerical success, selling a large number of copies, since copies were readily available on the rare book market more than 100 years later when I acquired several copies in different printed wrappers and in different publisher's cloth bindings. From the variants that I own we may conclude that this set was kept in print by different publishers for over 20 years.

Also, in 1845 Knight issued Pictorial Gallery of Arts: Useful Arts, followed by a second volume entitled Pictorial Gallery of Arts: Fine Arts published in 1847. Each of these volumes recycled thousands of woodcuts previously published in The Penny Magazine together with some text. Each also featured a frontispiece printed in color by Knight's special process.

Knight also issued, in 1845, Old England's Worthies: Being Full and Original Biographies of the Most Eminent Statesmen, Lawyers, Warriors, Men of Letters and Science, and Artist of Our Country. This included 12 color plates printed by Knight's process

Another work published by Knight with two color plates printed by his proprietary process was the Pictorial Museum of Animated Nature (2 vols., [1844]). This included color frontispieces to both volumes.

Probably between 1847 and 1848 Knight also reproduced three color plates printed by his proprietary process in Vol. 1 of his 2-volume set, The Farmer's Library: Animal Economy.

Timeline Themes