In today’s world of fast-paced communication and social media collaboration, engraving in the present day is a rare form of art in the graphic design industry. Engraving is said to be, “the highest form of print, its beauty appreciated by almost anyone who has the opportunity to experience its romantically expressive lines.” While the beauty of finely engraved social stationary and hand engraved metals is still an elegant means of communication, it’s being studied less and less and considered more of a trend in today’s culture. In the beginning days of engraving, this form of art was considered to be more for scholars and kings because of the time and cost of engraving. Some still appreciate the beauty of engraving but this form of correspondence has mostly become an under appreciated and forgotten trade. In her new book, The Complete Engraver: Monograms, Crests, Ciphers, Seals, and the Etiquette of Social Stationary, graphic design teacher and author Nancy Sharon Collins discusses the history, the etiquette, and the hopeful return of engraving.
Collins begins the book with a well-documented and fascinating timeline of engraving. The timeline includes references to popular and well-known engravers, draftsman, printers, and graphic designers. She gives the significant founding dates of copperplate engraving, typeface and typography, lithography, steel engraving, wood engraving, the Bessemer process, cartography, water ink, philately, and powderless etching. She’s also purposefully placed images in the timeline with relating text of many successful engraving productions such as illustrative works, stamps, photographs, drawings, currency, and stationary. The dates for print history, books and literature, and pop culture influences are also included to fully complete the timeline on engraving.
The following chapters provide thorough details of the history of engraving and social stationary beginning with the early 1400s to modern stationary in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Collins gives a glimpse into the first days of calligraphic engraving, the printmaking community, mass media, and printers. The customs and uses of engraved stationary were important to the representation of a business or individual person’s social status and were dictated through their use of letter papers, society papers, personal letters or notes, family crests, ciphers, seals, invitations, acknowledgements and announcements.
The role of stationary paper has also played an integral part in the art of engraving as paper making made its way from China and across the globe. From parchment and oriental handmade paper and the development of writing tools, stationary paper has had a significant impact on society. As paper making progressed and pens and printing were created, the cost of paper making became much less and developed into a world of communication for the masses. Store displays, brochures and ads, billboards, and product packaging became just as significant as stationary and notecards.
Collins even includes a chapter on the engraving process and how to create that special means on communication with your own personal touch. She talks about carefully selecting your item to engrave, determining how you want your item to be engraved, preparing your art for the engraving process, creating your engraving plate, selecting your paper of choice, and the two different types of presses used in the engraving process.
This book is very engaging and rich with content. It’s loaded with image examples and typefaces with corresponding references from the first days of engraving to today’s current engraving designs. Collins very much loves the art of engraving and you will certainly feel her passion as you read her expertise in the text. This book is complete with expert advice on letter writing and a how-to on the engraving process as well as a forward from graphic designer Ellen Lupton and an essay from curator Marjorie B. Cohn.