Antiques Column: George Baxter is regarded as the ‘inventor’ of colour printing

During our married life, my wife and I have lived in many properties. Initially they were small and then as the family grew so did the bricks and mortar that was our happy home. As the family flew to pastures new, so our houses shrank for just us two.

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 10:43 am

Over the years we have had everything from brand new (with unending lists of snags), through Art Deco to Victorian and have ended up in mid George lll. In every house we’ve owned we’ve always searched out it’s history. I just love social history.

How often, I wonder, do we think about the feelings of the subjects in our historical past when they experienced the highs and lows in their lives.

How excited, for example, did George Baxter feel as he walked home from work after realising he had perfected his colour printing process and how incredibly sad he must have felt in 1865 (more about that later).

Baxter Prints.

George Baxter (1804-1867) is regarded by many as the ‘inventor’ of colour printing; he achieved a way to bring colour printing to the masses in a cheaper and more time effective way.

Before Baxter, colour printing meant hand painting which was labour intensive and thus expensive. Baxter’s process, patented in 1835, put an end to this.

The process involved a steel key plate and a number of wooden and metal colour blocks. The image was first engraved onto the key plate which was laid onto the paper to leave a monochrome image.

Blocks were then produced with the same image, each representing a different colour. Each individual block was then inked and added to the paper in a prescribed order. Baxter was a perfectionist taking time to ensure each colour was dry between pressings, resulting in only two colours being applied each day.

Originally Baxter’s prints were used for frontispieces in books, but quickly a market for his prints in their own right developed. His attention to detail made him slow so he regularly missed deadlines, including those of International Exhibitions.

Combined with his lack of business acumen poor George’s slow completion rate eventually led to his bankruptcy in 1865. A very sad day and he died only two years later.