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[Cycleback] [1-14-2003]




Did you know that some of the earliest American trade cards were printed by Paul Reviere?







One of the reasons for lithography’s popularity in both the commercial and fine arts is it’s versatility.  Throughout its history, it has been used for a wide variety of purposes and comes in a variety of visual styles.  In its various forms, lithography has been used to make the labels on the soup cans in your kitchen cupboard to the original Pablo Picasso in a Christie’s auction, that $30,000 1887 Allen & Ginter tobacco advertising poster to the newspaper you read this morning.


In the fine arts, artists use handmade lithographic techniques (as opposed to mass production commercial techniques) to produce a variety of effects.  Lithography can create original prints that mimic a pen and ink drawing, a watercolor painting, an etching and a chalk and crayon sketch.  Often times, artists mix and match these and other techniques in a single print.


In this interlude, we will look at the distinct and easily identifiable forms of handmade lithography called chalk lithography and crayon lithography.  These techniques were and are used in the fine arts.  They were also used on some 19th century and early 20th century commercial prints.  This includes many early movie posters, advertising signs and 19th century trade cards.


Chalk and crayon lithographs are easily identifiable, because they look like chalk or crayon sketches.  A chalk lithograph looks like a chalk sketch and a crayon lithograph looks like a crayon sketch.  In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether it’s a print or an actual sketch.  Even when viewed up under a magnifying glass, the printing will have the subtle detail of an original sketch.   It won’t have the fine pattern of dots that you will find in the picture on a modern baseball card, calendar or magazine picture.


These lithographs were made by the artist using special lithographic chalk or crayons to draw directly onto the printing plate.  Whether it was by Picasso or for a 1920s movie poster, this type of print can be considered an original work of art (assuming you think it’s art).





** 19th Century Forbes Comic Base Ball Trade Card:


** Original 1893 Poster by Toulouse-Lautrec


** Close-up detail of a an early 1800s lithograph



One of the great things about chalk and crayon lithography is that it is extremely difficult to counterfeit deceptively, especially when the examiner has a detailed picture of the original.   The printing is simply too tonally subtle and detailed to counterfeit so as to fool someone familiar with the printing.  The only way to reproduce a chalk or crayon lithograph so that it looks half-way decent, is to use the same ‘halftone’ printing methods used to make the before mentioned modern baseball card, calendar or magazine picture.  These reproductions are quickly identified in person, by the fine dot pattern as viewable under the magnifying glass or microscope. 


If you come across an old movie poster, trade card or other advertising item that has all the qualities of a crayon or chalk lithograph, and there’s nothing other obviously wrong with it, it’s fair to assume it’s an original and not a modern reproduction.





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