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The engravings in the pictures are acid etched in high grade steel, often known tool steel quality.
These engravings are all half inch thick and were highly polished on the top surface only. Some leeway was always allowed as to the thickness of the steel, or size regarding length or width; but mainly the steel was half an inch thick.
The steel was coated with wax and then the image was scratched on through the wax and then the steel was etched out with acid.
You will note that the depth of the image is only few thousands of an inch, and this was because that was all that was necessary.
This plate was placed and locked up in a highly specialized printing press, actually an engraving press, that had immense strength so that an impression could be obtained.
The entire surface of any plate was then inked with a specialty engraving quality of ink that had as one of it’s properties, that it was a greasy ink. The ink was impressed into the sunken surfaces of the plate and then custom rollers and or wiping paper was drawn over the entire surface of the plate, leaving ink only in the etched cavities in the plate.
The press operator then inserted a sheet of paper or card stock into the press and the press cycled to put very heavy impression on the back of the paper, thus forcing the ink onto the paper. The ink was of course then on the surface of the paper and when dry could be easily felt and seen. And that then allowed the type to show on the paper. This was commonly called just engraving. There is another type of engraving and that is copperplate engraving, but that was all carved out by hand by artists using what were called graving tools. Please note this was all done freehand, whereas steel die engraving was done in the wax by pantograph machines that used a matrix as a pattern. The matrix was itself etched out in acid and was almost always made employing a photograph as the very first matrix.
History So, you can see that this was a slow and very expensive process and these steel dies are rare a hen’s teeth. This was a slow and tedious and really expensive way to print and was reserved for top quality printing. This method of printing is also called Intaglio and is the way some postage and pretty much all paper money is printed. All of the dies in the photographs date from the late 20s and on into the 1930s with a very few being dated the 1940s. One or two might date from the 1950s. All of these engravings were made in New York City which was a center for this type of steel engraving for the printing industry in North America. These steel die engravings produced the very highest quality printing leaving a raised ink impression on the paper. Some of the dies are wrapped in a copy of the image that they printed. We have not opened them, but they are undoubtedly in pristine condition.
Many of these steel die engravings were used by government and private businesses in rural Saskatchewan. The dies can transport us back in time to reveal the type of letterhead on documents used by government offices and business in the early part of the last century. Many of the dies are from the city of Regina as well, and refer to businesses, buildings, addresses and people that have long since disappeared from the prairie landscape. The steel die engravings are truly one-of-a-kind antique collectors items.
FOR SALE: Steel Die Engravings
The antique steel die engraving in the picture dates from the 1920s and 1930s and was used in the letterpress printing industry to produce the very highest quality printing by leaving a raised ink impression on the paper. The images and text on these tool-quality steel blocks were etched by acid.
These engravings are generally half-inch thick and highly polished on the top surface only. A powerful printing press was needed to ensure that the image on the steel dies could be thoroughly and cleanly impressed onto paper.
We have advertised these steel die engravings on a number of sites including Etsy. The full range of steel die for sale can be found below on this site. When find the particular die you want, send us a message along with with the file name to arrange for purchase and shipping.
HISTORY Because using steel die engravings was a slow and complex process, it was also the most expensive way to print and was reserved for the best quality printing. As a result, these steel dies are as rare as hen’s teeth.
These engravings were used for decades by government and private businesses in rural Saskatchewan. The dies can transport us back in time to reveal the type of letterhead on documents used by government offices and business in the early part of the last century. Many of the dies are from the city of Regina as well, and refer to businesses, buildings, addresses and people that have long since disappeared from the prairie landscape. The steel die engravings are truly one-of-a-kind antique collectors items.
PRICES 100.00 each. The larger plates and those with line drawings are more expensive. Contact us for information
CONDITION All of the antique steel dies are in very good condition considering their age. Light rust or stains can be easily removed with a metal cleaning solution. Some of the steel dies in the photos appear to have distorted colour, but this is because the photographs were taken in poor light. During the photo editing process, some of the photos attained distorted colours.
IMPORTANT NOTE As with all letterpress type and etchings, these steel die engravings are reverse images. After being inked and printed on paper, the reverse image dies will print onto paper a “right reading” image. For ease of viewing the photographs, I have flipped all the photo images in the galleries below to “right reading” images. The steel die engraving that you will buy is a reverse-reading image.
LOCATIONS The engravings involve individuals, business, or government in the following cities, towns, and villages in Canada and the USA:
Kelliher & Ituna
McLaren Elk Biggar
NOTE: As with all letterpress type and etchings, these steel die engravings are reverse images. After being inked and printed on paper, the reverse image dies will print onto paper a “right reading” image. For ease of viewing, I flipped all the images in these galleries to “right reading” images.
We have four galleys of steel die engravings. Each galley is presented below in a separate image gallery. Each of Gallery 1, Gallery 2, Gallery 3 and Gallery 4 below consists of two parts: a) Complete Gallery Image b) Individual Steel Dies
The following images are images of the individual steel dies shown in the Galley #1 tray above.
The following images are images of the individual steel dies shown in the Galley #2 tray above.
The following images are images of the individual steel dies shown in the Galley #3 tray above.
The following images are images of the individual steel dies shown in the Galley #4 tray above.
Close Up Image Galleries
Below are two galleries showing the exact same steel die engraving. The first gallery is
Close Up Right Reading Gallery
Close Up Reverse Reading Gallery
The above “Close Up” gallery showed the steel die engravings as “right reading” images. The gallery below shows the exact same steel die engravings as they actually are– as reverse images. I took these photos just outside the door at Ambrosi Printers on a nice spring day.