Early Colour Printing

A small book with coloured plates published in 1858 was recently added to the Library’s collections. It was published by the firm of Thomas Nelson, which became one of the most successful publishing houses in the world during the 19th century. Its origins lay in bookselling in Edinburgh, and from there the firm expanded into publishing and printing.

This book has particularly attractive colour plates. They were produced using an early chromolithograph technique based on G. J. Cox’s invention of transferring steel and copperplate engraving onto lithographic stone, but using a combination of light blue, chocolate brown, and beige. Here is an example:

Sailing ship

“Overland route to India and China” is an example of Nelson’s success in printing good quality, affordable, small format books. Despite its title, this anonymous work describes a sea journey to China, stopping in Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt and India, Ceylon, Hong Kong and Singapore, before ending up in Shanghai. The only real overlandpart of the journey was travelling from Alexandria to Suez (the Suez canal was yet to be built)! This journey involved “incessant galloping and jolting over the parched desert” as the railway line through the desert was still in construction. Travelling was certainly an adventure in those days!