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Blake's Engraved Copper Plates

Blake's Engraved Copper Plates

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William Blake and the Art of Engraving

after Designs by Other Artists (1991). In current scholarship, Essick’s exhaustive

studies generally provide the most frequently updated and detailed research on

the history of Blake’s graphic works and extant prints and copper plates.

Thanks to the scholarship referred to above, we are now able to trace some

of the Blake’s copper plates for which such kind of record remains. However,

some are only traceable through their appearance listed in auction records of the

nineteenth century (or even before Blake’s death), or on occasional markets in

modern times. Only very few of them have survived to the present day, and even

fewer are traceable to current locations. The following list shows Blake copper

plates which have been discussed by scholars so far, except for Job, together with

a commentary on their provenance. Currently, this information has not been

collated and gathered into a single place. The plates are listed in the chronological order in which they were engraved or published but, of course, not all of

them have survived to the present day.

1. Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion (1773, c. 1819–1820),

untraced since 1828.

2. Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments (engraved before c. 1779; published 1786),

Bodleian Library, Oxford.

3. Morning Amusement & Evening Amusement after Watteau (1782), untraced

since 1808.

4. The Idle Laundress & Industrious Cottager after George Morland (1788),

untraced since 1808.

5. Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy (published in 1789), untraced since 1818.

6. Plate 11 of The Beggar’s Opera (etched in 1788, published in 1790), Houghton

Library, Harvard.

7. America cancelled plate a (1793), NGA Washington DC.

8. Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789, 1794), untraced since 1863, and

electrotypes, FMC, V&A and Bentley collection.

9. The CLOD & the PEBBLE (1794, Pl. 32 of Songs of Innocence and of Experience), untraced since 1886.

10. Christ Trampling on Satan (c. 1800), Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

11. Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrims (1810), YUAG.

12. Plates 64 & 96 of Jerusalem (c. 1804–1820), possible reused plate by Blake.

13. Wedgwood’s Catalogue of Earthenware and Porcelain. (c. 1816), untraced

since 1971.

14. John Flaxman’s Compositions from the Works Days and Theogony of Hesiod

(London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1817), untraced since


15. Mrs Q (1820), untraced since 1941.

16. Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy (1827), NGA Washington DC.

Blake’s Engraved Copper Plates


17. George Cumberland’s calling card (1827), untraced since mid-nineteenth


There now follows a more detailed synopsis of the current state of knowledge

concerning these plates.

1. Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion

(1773, c. 1810–20):

Essick has traced important information about this copper plate although its

current existence cannot now be confirmed. Among the earliest copper plates

Blake executed, Joseph of Arimathea Among the Rocks of Albion could have survived after Blake’s death. An impression in Keynes’s collection bears an 1828

watermark, which suggests that the copper plate was in Blake’s possession until

after his death in 1827. The copper plate of Joseph of Arimathea had probably

been passed to Mrs. Blake, so that she (or Frederick Tatham) had the opportunity to take at least this one posthumous impression from it.6

2. Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments

(engraved before c. 1779; pub. 1786):

Six of Blake’s early apprentice engravings, the large portraits for Richard Gough’s

Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain (1786), were identified by Malkin.7

Among the twenty-three plates of monuments in Westminster Abbey signed by

Basire, Malkin singled out the monuments of ‘King Henry the Third, the beautiful monument and figure of Queen Elinor, Queen Philippa, King Edward the

Third, King Richard the Second and his Queen [Anne]’ (Plates XXII, XXIII,

XLIX, LV, LXIII, LXIV), and stated that the ‘heads’ of these monarchs were

‘considered as portraits’ by Blake.8 Essick agrees that these six oval portraits have

‘the greatest likelihood of being in large part his [Blake’s] own production’.9 The

preliminary drawings of these plates are in pencil, quite different from others

in pen and wash. The engravings are in a distinct style from the typical techniques of Basire’s workshop. Essick describes them as ‘developed with bold and

extremely simple patterns of hatching and cross-hatching – just what we might

expect from an apprentice… the visibility of the hatching patterns gives them

something of the graphic self-reflexivity distinguishing Blake’s later work’.10

Bentley says, ‘All the plates for Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments were given to

Bodley in anticipation of a second edition’.11 Essick records that they are now in

the Bodleian Library.12


William Blake and the Art of Engraving

3. Morning Amusement and Evening Amusement after Watteau (1782)

4. The Idle Laundress and Industrious Cottager after George Morland


Possibly surviving copper plates include those for Morning Amusement and

Evening Amusement after Jean-Antoine Watteau (1782), as well as another set

of companions The Idle Laundress and Industrious Cottager after George Morland (1788). They were in the possession of the publisher Thomas Macklin. The

provenance of these four plates suggests that they were considered as parts of a

similar project. After Macklin died in October 1800, the copper plates passed to

his widow. They appeared in the sale of the collection of Mrs. Macklin in 1808

(2 April, lot 64 and 96), and were sold to an unknown purchaser.13

5. Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy (published in 1789):

John Caspar Lavater’s Essay on Physiognomy, translated by Henry Hunter, was

published in 1789–98 and 1792 by John Murray, et al., and by John Stockdale in

1810. The three volumes have over five hundred plates. Four of them were signed

by Blake as the engraver. Both Bentley and Essick record that the copper plates

were auctioned by ‘Mr. Saunders’ on 29 January 1818, according to a prospectus,

but they have since been lost.14

6. Plate 11 of The Beggar’s Opera (etched in 1788, published in 1790):

The large plate of The Beggar’s Opera, Act III, after William Hogarth, illustrating

‘When my hero in court appears’, was etched by Blake in 1788, and first published in the engraved state in 1790.15 The information of this copper plate was

further by Essick in his William Blake’s Commercial Book Illustrations (1991).

Essick records that in the General Catalogue of Books (1880), item 3523, Quaritch offers a set of Hogarth’s works ‘printed for me from the restored coppers’,

and that ‘nearly 1000 guineas have been lately expended on the restoration of the

original coppers’. The copper plate appeared in Messrs. Quaritch’s catalogue 500

in 1935, and was acquired by Mr. Philip Hofer.

Keynes in his book of 1956 and Bentley’s record of 1977 both say that the

original copper plate was in the collection of Philip Hofer.16 Todd notes a modern

restrike from the copper plate in an essay in English Language Notes: Romantic

Movement (1966), noting that ‘Lewis, Wilmarth S., and Philip Hofer comps.

‘The Beggar’s Opera’ by Hogarth and Blake. Yale University Press; Harvard University Press, 1965; Portfolio of 11 Unbound pp.; pp. 30. $100.00,’ adding that

‘Plate 11 is a modern restrike of Blake’s original copper plate’.17 When Hofer

Blake’s Engraved Copper Plates


died in 1984, the plate entered the collection of the Houghton Library, Harvard

University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.18

7. America cancelled plate a (1793):

The only surviving relief etched plate from Blake’s illuminated books is recorded

by Keynes as in Rosenwald’s collection.19 Bentley writes that, ‘The only survivors

as far as 1861 were some of the plates of the Songs (of which electrotype copies

were made before they too disappeared),20 and a fragment of a rejected plate for

America which had been used for another purpose. No copper plate survives for

the Illuminated works which Blake published’.21

This uniquely existing fragment of relief etched plate has received considerable critical attention, while the other surviving engraved plates (more than

thirty of them) have been largely ignored. The America cancelled plate a has

been called to the attention of scholars by the discussion of Blake’s printing

and relief etching techniques. In 1947, Ruthven Todd, William Hayter and

Joan Miró began to put Blake’s relief printing into practical experiments.22 They

assumed that Blake had used transfer methods to put his design onto the copper

before etching. The whole process they described involved relief etching, inking

and colour printing. Hayter concludes that Blake was ‘never able to escape the

discipline’ of ‘the mechanical methods of the Italian reproduction engravers’.23

Except for studying from Blake’s prints, the only physical evidence available

to them for Blake’s etching processes was the small piece of fragment copper

plate for America.24 As discussed earlier, this theory has provoked controversies

about whether Blake used transfer techniques or whether, quite the opposite,

he worked without models, the latter view being mainly represented by Robert

Essick and Joseph Viscomi.

The history and features of this fragment of copper plate have been examined

by Bentley and Essick in detail. From the information given by them, the fragment of America cancelled plate a is believed to have been cut down in about

1805 by Blake, and given to Thomas Butts, Jr. who was taught etching and

engraving by Blake in 1806. On the verso is a portrait, perhaps of St. Jerome or

St. John the Baptist, engraved by young Butts.25 The fragment comes from the

top right corner of this America rejected plate. The size measures 8×5.7 cm, and

the thickness 1.41 mm.26 The text seems to have been partly cancelled. Lines 1

and 2 have crossing scratches on the last words on their recto, and lines 4 and 5

have what Bentley has rather unspecifically described as ‘heavy pounding’ marks

on them. This fragment was sold anonymously at Sotheby’s, 22 March 1910 for

£30. 10s. to W. E. Moss, and is believed to have come from the Butts family, sold

with ‘William Blake’s Working Cabinet’ including copper plates engraved by

both Blake and the young Butts which had been found in one of the cabinet’s


William Blake and the Art of Engraving

secret drawers.27 In 1914, the fragment was lent for an exhibition in Manchester

and in 1927 loaned to the Burlington Fine Arts Club. On 2 March 1937 it was

sold by W. E. Moss at Sotheby’s for £50 to Rosenbach. Finally, it was acquired

for the collection of Lessing J. Rosenwald.28

In the third part of William Blake, Printmaker, Essick re-examined Todd

and Hayter’s etching and printing experiments, and argued against their transfer and counter-proving theory (see William Blake, Printmaker, ch. 9). By

examining the fragment of the cancelled plate for America and using Linnell’s

references,29 Essick concludes that Blake composed and wrote directly onto the

copper plates and did shallow etching.30 Extremely careful examination has been

carried out on the fragment. According to Essick’s observation, its etched depth

is only from 0.12 mm to 0.05 mm below the relief surface, and ‘tiny patches of an

intermediate step, bitten no more than 0.02 mm below the surface, are revealed

by fifteen-power magnification of the original copper plate, particularly around

the ampersand’.31 This ‘step-etching’ is ‘to reinforce his acid resist wherever foul

biting, lifting of the ground, or underbiting might begin to appear while the acid

was on the plate’. The intermediate steps are either ‘an attempt to create islands

of protective resist around letters’, or ‘remnants of repair ground, applied to the

relief surfaces, that flowed slightly beyond the borders of the letters’.32

8. Songs of Innocence and Experience (1789, 1794) and Electrotypes:

The electrotypes are copies from the original copper plates of Blake. Sixteen

of them were made for the publisher Macmillan in Gilchrist’s Life of William

Blake.33 They are from Plates 3, 6, 8, 16, 18, 24, 27, 29, 33–4, 36, 43, 46–8, 53 of

the Songs. The original copper plates disappeared after being electrotyped. Bentley’s observation on the electrotypes is that they ‘seem to be identical in form with

Blake’s plates except for pl. 29 (the Title-Page to Experience), which lacks some

details, such as the “1794” and the flourish on the “T” in the imprint, and [yet]

adds others, particularly the shading on the couch-tomb’.34 Possible explanations

for the variants on Plate 29 are that Blake could have engraved this plate twice35

or it is a facsimile, rather than an electrotype, made in the mid-nineteenth century.36 Bentley records their history as being preserved by Macmillan’s printer,

Richard Clay & Co., until about 1961, when they were destroyed by Clay & Co.

on instructions from Macmillan (according to Bentley’s letter from the firm).

Before the destruction, further electrotypes of the Macmillan electrotypes were

made for Keynes, and from which sets of prints were pulled for Keynes and Ruthven Todd in 1941. Keynes gave these electrotypes to the V&A in 1955. Plate 33

was acquired by the BMPD. The Fitzwilliam Museum acquired a set made from

the V&A ones and a further set of electrotypes was made from the Fitzwilliam

ones in 1964 for Bentley.37 In consequence, there are now three sets of extant

Blake’s Engraved Copper Plates


electrotypes belonging to the V&A, Fitzwilliam and Bentley respectively. Essick

has compared the three sets of electrotypes. But, as he admits, the electrotyping process38 makes them unreliable as indications of the physical appearance of

Blake’s original copper plates. It was because Blake’s own copper plates were too

shallow for commercial printing that Clay & Co. had to make electrotypes for

Gilchrist’s Life, building up the moulds and gouging out the shells to give them

a relief sufficient for rapid and numerous printing.39 The excessive depth on the

electrotype of The Echoing Green (V&A) is evidence of gouging.

9. The CLOD & the PEBBLE (1794, Pl. 32 of Songs of Innocence and

of Experience):

A likely posthumous impression of this Song indicates the late existence of the

copper plate. The impression, printed in black ink on wove paper, was once in

the collection of Frederick Locker-Lampson in 1886,40 now in the Huntington

Library, San Marino. Essick says ‘the quality of the rather flat and dull printing

indicates that this is without doubt an impression printed after Blake’s death

on 12 August 1827, probably pulled by his widow or by Frederick Tatham, ca.

1827–32. Tatham acquired Blake’s copper plates after Mrs. Blake’s death on 18

October 1831 and took impressions from them, many on paper watermarked

1831 and 1832’.41

10. Christ Trampling on Satan (c. 1800):

Todd mentions that Christ Trampling upon Urizen (Satan) was in the Butts sale

of 1903 as a copper plate.42 It was then acquired by the collector E. J. Shaw of

Walsall.43 He appeared to have had the copper plate reprinted. After his death

the plate was sold at Sotheby’s on 29 July 1925, and Todd in 1968, following

Keynes’s record of 1956,44 says it is ‘now in America’,45 but without specific location.

Essick’s record is more detailed than any former ones. He says the original

copper plate of Christ Trampling on Satan was sold by Captain Frederick Butts,

the grandson of Thomas Butts, at Sotheby’s on 24 June 1903 to Edward J. Shaw

of Walsall. Shaw put it on auction at Sotheby’s on 29 July 1925. The New York

dealer E. Weyhe acquired a number of impressions and the copper plate. This

plate appears to be executed by Butts with Blake’s assistance after Blake’s watercolour, now in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.46 Essick comments that

‘The vast majority of the etched and engraved lines in the print suggest the hand

of an amateur, but it is possible that Blake helped to ‘lay in’ the basic outlines that

carefully follow his drawing’.47

This copper plate has recently appeared to the public and is recorded by

Essick in Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, 39:4.48 The plate was given by Gertrude


William Blake and the Art of Engraving

Weyhe Dennis, daughter of the New York dealer Erhard Weyhe, to the Pierpont

Morgan Library, New York in 2002 which is now its current location.

11. Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrims (1810):

Both Keynes and Bentley recorded that the copper plate of Chaucers Canterbury

Pilgrims was in the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh. 49 The fullest and most upto-date account is in Essick’s Separate Plates of William Blake (1983) which has

further traced the current location of the copper plate to Yale University Art


The large plate measured 14×38 inches (or 35.7×97.1 cm according to

Essick’s measurement, The Separate Plates of William Blake, fig. 44) and was

engraved by Blake in 1810. It was left to Mrs Blake after Blake died in 1827.

This plate is probably the only one to be traceable to Tatham’s inheritance from

Mrs Blake. According to Henry Crabb Robinson’s diary of the 8 January 1828,

‘Job is Linnell’s property and the print of Chaucers pilgrimage’ belonged to Mrs.

Blake.50 Essick thinks Robinson probably meant that the copper plate and the

remaining impressions of Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrimage still in stock were Mrs

Blake’s property After Mrs. Blake’s death in 1831, the plate may have passed to

Frederick Tatham, who died in 1878. According to Essick:

at an unknown time it was seen in a ‘shop window’ by John Giles, Samuel Palmer’s

cousin and a friend of George Richmond’s, and purchased by Giles ‘for the rapturous

“old song” so dear to the true Londoner of those days of amazing bargains.’51 Giles

died in 1880 and the plate was sold with his collection at Christie’s, 4 February 1881,

lot 483, ‘Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims, by W. Blake; and the engraved steel [sic]

plate’ (£35 to Colnaghi). According to a brief announcement in Notes and Queries,

sixth ser., 3 (5 March 1881), 200, Colnaghi’s had impressions taken from it ‘on Japanese paper’ (i.e., laid India).52

The copper plate next passed into the hands of the New York dealer Gabriel

Wells no later than April 1940. Early in that month, William Hobart Royce, one

of Wells’s representatives, sold the plate to Mrs A. Edward Newton, who presented it to her husband on their fiftieth wedding anniversary on 7 April 1940.

After Newton’s death, it was sold with his collection at Parke-Bernet on 16 April

1941, lot 150 ($2,300 to Sessler’s on behalf of Charles J. Rosenbloom, Pittsburgh). Before delivery to Rosenbloom, Sessler’s reprinted the plate. In October

1973, Rosenbloom bequeathed the copper plate to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.53

Essick also carefully examined the Chaucer copper plate, and described it in

detail. It is worth giving here Essick’s entire description since it constitutes what

is probably the longest account of any of Blake’s copper plates. He says:

Blake’s Engraved Copper Plates


The copper has crystallized, as is to be expected, but the plate is in good condition

without much evidence of wear and no damage. The lines are clogged with old, solidified ink which permits one to see the image clearly.54 The areas where the drypoint

inscriptions were added in the fourth state are now smooth and bare, showing no

evidence of inscriptions, scraping, or burnishing. This suggests that the drypoint

inscriptions, typical of preliminary trial lettering of the sort not intended to appear

in published impressions without deeper and more careful engraving, were never

purposely removed and simply wore off the plate after a small number of pulls were

taken. Thus, the fourth state may have been the last executed by Blake. The verso of

the plate shows a number of impressions from a ball peen hammer and chisels. None

of these marks correspond to areas on the recto that could have required knocking-up

from the back during the reworking of the design; they were probably made as part of

the original planishing of the copper before Blake began work on the image. There are

two plate maker’s marks on the verso, top right and bottom left. Both read HARRIS


Essick’s observation of the hammer marks on the verso of this plate now needs

revision. They are very likely the same repoussage marks found on the Job plates,

which would surely not have been ‘made as part of the original planishing of the

copper before Blake began work on the image’ as Essick presumed, but rather

mending of mistakes occurring at the time of engraving.

12. Plates 64 and 96 of Jerusalem (c. 1804–20):

According to Essick, the copper plate of Moore & Co’s Advertisement (c.

1797–8) was probably cut by Blake into pieces and etched on the lower

left quarter, 20.3×14.4 cm, for Plate 96 of Jerusalem (c. 1804–20). Nearly

identical plate dimensions and fragments of a plate maker’s mark suggest

that Blake had first used the verso of this piece of copper for Plate 64 of


13. Wedgwood’s Catalogue of Earthenware and Porcelain (c. 1816 ):

In English and Scottish Earthenware 1660–1860 (1961), Bernard Hughes says

eight of Blake’s original plates for Wedgwood’s catalogue still remained in the

Wedgwood Museum, but all possess alterations made during a catalogue reissue

of about 1840.57

Keynes in Blake Studies (p. 65) also says eight of Blake’s Wedgwood copper

plates survive, one of them with a central figure removed and a bedpan illustration substituted. Bentley confirmed that Keynes told him he saw the copper

plates on the premises of the Wedgwood firm at Etruria, but according to the

Museum Curator they were not in the firm’s museum.58


William Blake and the Art of Engraving

14. John Flaxman’s Compositions from the Works Days and Theogony

of Hesiod (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown, 1817),

The Classical Compositions of John Flaxman (London: Bell and Daldy,

1870), Compositions from the Works and Days, and Theogony of Hesiod

(London: Bell and Daldy, 1870):

The thirty-seven copper plates for Flaxman’s Compositions from the Works Days

and Theogony of Hesiod (1817) were sold by Longman in 1838 to H. G. Bohn.

Bentley thinks that Bohn reprinted the copper plates.59 Essick suggests that the

impressions on thick, card-like paper and a rather soft, machine-made stock may

be Bohn’s restrikes. The copper plates were acquired by Bell and Daldy for the

new impressions published in the 1870 edition of the Classical Compositions and

Compositions from the Works and Days, and Theogony of Hesiod. According to

Ruthven Todd, Bell and Daldy sold the plates as scrap metal in 1917.60

15. Mrs Q (1820):

According to Bentley, the copper plate (plate-size: 21.5×27.5 cm) of Mrs Q, i.e.

Harriet Quentin, mistress of the Prince Regent, ‘Drawn by Huet Villiers’ and

‘Engraved by W. Blake’ (‘London, Published first June 1820 by I Barrow, Weston Place, St. Pancras’) survived until at least the early twentieth century and

was reprinted in Joseph Grego’s twenty-seven-page work, Mrs. Q (1906),61 along

with its companion, Windsor Castle, engraved by G. Maile after J. Barrow. The

Grego book was printed by Gilbert and Rivington Ltd, which was taken over by

Wm Clowes & Sons Ltd (of Dorland House, 14 and 16 Lower Regent Street,

London) in 1907. The latter firm reports that their records were destroyed by

German bombs in 1941, and the copper plate cannot now be traced.62

16. Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy (1827):

The seven large plates for Dante’s Inferno have been even more ignored than the

Job plates. Of Blake’s commercial copper plates, Bentley writes, ‘Though Blake

designed or engraved over 800 plates which we can identify, few have survived.

Linnell kept the plates which he commissioned or bought, those for Job, Dante,

and Virgil’.63 Keynes has a chapter about John Linnell and Mrs Blake, which

discusses the Dante plates. They were mentioned in a letter of 1831 from Linnell

to Mrs Blake about the remaining payment on their original agreement dating

back to when her husband was still alive. Linnell wrote, ‘the seven copper plates

of Dante shall be given up to Mrs B. when the Drawings are sold’.64 They seem to

have been in Linnell’s possession after Blake’s death. Due to some dispute between

Linnell and Mrs. Blake about the Dante payment, the Dante plates were never

passed to Mrs. Blake. Mrs. Blake moved to Linnell’s house at Cirencester Place

Blake’s Engraved Copper Plates


one month after Blake’s death, and stayed for nine months before she moved

to Frederick Tatham’s chamber at 17 Upper Charlotte Street in the summer of

1828, where she died in October 1831. According to several letters during 1831

between Linnell and Tatham, acting on Mrs. Blake’s behalf, Mrs Blake suspected

Linnell had exploited Blake. Whether this accusation is fair or not, the Dante

plates remained in Linnell’s family until he died in 1882. The last of the Linnell

trustees, Herbert Linnell, died in 1937 without leaving any instructions in his

will regarding the Linnell trust properties. The copper plates were discovered

in an outhouse and were soon afterwards sold through Messrs Robinson to Mr

Lessing J. Rosenwald. They were consequently in the Rosenwald Collection in

the keeping of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.65 Reprints from

the Dante copper plates were made in 1954 and 1968 in two sets of twenty and

twenty-five produced by Ruthven Todd and Harry Hoehn.

The closest modern examination of these engraved plates to date is probably

Ruthven Todd’s Blake’s Dante Plates (1968).66 The examination started from the

proofs of The Devils Mauling One Another and The Whirlwind of Lovers, printed

in 1954, which had been sent by the copper plates’ owner, Rosenwald, to Ruthven Todd. Harry Hoehn, an artist-engraver and printer, helped Todd to examine

and reprint the plates. Hoehn proofed the whole set on two kinds of paper from

the original copper plates in 1968. They discovered an almost invisible drypoint

on the plate Whirlpool of Lovers that says ‘Whirlpool of Lovers Dante’s Inferno

Canto V’. Hoehn, with his professional judgement, asserted that there is no etching on the plates. Hoehn’s letter to Todd of 11 August 1968 says:

I have looked again and feel certain that these sketchy lines are definitely a kind of

drypoint rather than etched. They have a sticky character which you get using a sharp

hard steel point or even a diamond point. … I feel that if you could look [at the copper plates themselves] with a strong loupe [jeweller’s glass] as I have you would agree.

These lines no longer have the slightest feeling of burr. Incidentally, when the plate is

clean you would almost miss them in some parts.67

Very detailed examination of the plates was carried out, as Hoehn described:

One other thing I did was to examine the backs of the plates for any suggestion of

foul biting which might show from an accidental scratch or nick and so far as I can

see there is none.68

Other than the Essick and Bentley’s accounts of the copper plates of Chaucer

and Dante, Hoehn’s is the only other explicit examination of the backs of Blake’s

existing plates.

Some other remarks show Essick also examined these engraved copper

plates, for example, ‘As the copper plates show, none of these [short strokes

in a herringbone pattern] or any other lines is cut deeply into the metal’,69 and


William Blake and the Art of Engraving

‘As a photograph [Fig. 233 in Essick’s William Blake, Printmaker 1980] of the

[Dante] copper plate of the third print shows, the drypoint scratches to the left

of the figures and all burr have been worn off the plate by later printings’.70 However, there are not many other references to these plates. On Blake’s techniques

of engraving, Essick almost entirely depended on proofs rather than working

from the copper plates themselves.

17. George Cumberland’s calling card (1827):

Blake’s last engraving, the tiny calling card made for George Cumberland, was

collected by Cumberland’s son from Mrs Blake after Blake’s death. Todd said

that this too was ‘probably in America’.71

The copper plate has a well recorded history during 1827 and 1828 in letters

by Blake, Linnell and Cumberland.72 Cumberland sent Blake a copper plate, possibly with his name already engraved on it, which Blake embellished during his

last days in April 1827. After Blake’s death in August 1827, Mrs Blake took the

plate with her when she went to live with Linnell for a short time. Cumberland’s

son, George Cumberland Jr, paid Mrs. Blake £3 3s and collected the plate, which

was sent to George Cumberland to be printed in late January 1828.

Keynes believed it was still in existence and that many impressions were taken

from it in modern times.73 Essick, however, claimed that there is no evidence

that the plate still existed into the middle years of the nineteenth century.74

For the first time, the above account draws together the current state of

knowledge and commentary on Blake’s copper plates. In addition, and as

described below, there are a number of copper plates still surviving which I have

examined firsthand.

To summarise the current understanding of Blake’s original copper plates, there

are thirty-nine copper plates known by their present locations: the fragment of

America cancelled plate a (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC), twenty-two

of The Illustrations of the Book of Job (British Museum, Prints and Drawing Room),

seven of the Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy (National Gallery of Art,

Washington DC), Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrims (Yale University Art Gallery,

New Haven), The Beggar’s Opera, Act III (Houghton Library, Harvard University), and six of Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments (Bodleian Library, Oxford), as well

as the newly surfaced Christ Trampling on Satan (Pierpont Morgan Library, New

York). Most of these copper plates have never been examined.

The following section is a close examination of Blake’s thirty-nine extant copper

plates. In addition to the twenty-two Job copper plates, there are another eleven

plates extant known to be executed by Blake, plus six conjecturally attributed

Gough plates. My research trips to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the Houghton

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