Wood engravings made illustrated newspapers possible from about the 1840's onward. Prints made from wooden blocks pre-date published halftones and photographs, and were one of the first methods to communicate newsworthy images on a mass scale. During the US Civil War in the 1860's, Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslies Newspaper became the leading American illustrated publications. They devoted every other page to prints made from wood engravings. Together, their circulation was under 200,000. Issues were passed from hand to hand until little remained.
In Britain, The Illustrated London News and The Graphic were the leading weeklies. They were also the source of many images of India reprinted by Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's.
The images of the subcontinent that made it into these publications ranged from the racist and grotesque to the magnificent and poetic. Lurid prints of thuggees were among the most popular images of India in America from 1860 until 1900, if not later. Other pictures and stories were simply ludicrous. But sometimes the strength of an image, the craft of the artists, overwhelms the context. Prints from wood engravings have an immediacy somewhere between a photograph and a painting. At their best, with the right amount of contemporary salt, they permit a unique glimpse into the 19th century.
Photographs were the source of many wood engravings, a fact often noted in captions to emphasize their veracity. Actually, an enormous amount of art and craftsmanship were added to the polished boxwood plate reproduction of a photograph before it became an ink image on paper. Wood engravers would carve out wooden lines of varying widths and depths to convey different shades and textures. The more hand labor, the finer the result. The Graphic devoted many resources to working with the best artists and materials. Some of America's most famous artists worked as engravers for illustrated newspapers.
Wood engraving was developed in the 18th century from the much older woodcut technique of taking prints from a wooden block. Like in copperplate engraving, the design was cut into the wood with a burin. A confluence of technological factors like the incorporation of typography with engravings on one block helped make it the cheapest way to publish prints in newspapers and books. Wood engravers and designers became highly specialized partners. The advent of photography and the photomechanical reproduction in the 1880's and 1890's replaced wood engravings in all but limited circles in the 20th century.
Nearly all the engravings are shown with the original text of the accompanying article in quotes. Original spellings have been retained, as well as punctuation where possible. These texts vary from the extremely biased but dramatic account of the capture of the last Mughal King of Delhi in 1857, to an inside report on the deliberations that went into the naming of Mt. Everest.
Above: "The Alleged Nana Sahib, Arrested by the Maharajah of Scindia at Gwalior," Cover of The Graphic, Dec. 5, 1874.

Further Reading

© Harappa 1996-97