While today printing is often as simple as the click of a button, the history of printing goes back thousands of years. Printing, a reprographic technique for reproducing text and images from a template, has seen many changes over the millennia. The January Object of the Month embodies just one step in that evolution, a line printing plate depicting the floor-plan of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Cookham, Berkshire.
Line printing plates represent one type of block printing. Unlike early blocks which would have seen designs carved directly into the wooden block, line printing plates involve engraving an image, text, or combination of the two into a metal plate secured to the block of wood. Copper and zinc were the most commonly used metals as they allowed for the use of photomechanical techniques to transfer drawings, photographs, or other original designs to the plates in addition to the more traditional hand etching. In some instances, as is the case with this particular block, a combination of metals were used to achieve the desired effect.
Once the design has been rendered, the raised components of the blocks are intended to hold the ink. This will be the visible portion of the image or text when printed while the blank depressions, known as negative spaces, will not hold ink and instead retain the colour of the surface being printed upon. The resulting image will be the reverse of what is seen on the printing surface of block. As you can see from our Object of the Month, this is particularly challenging on blocks where text is required. If you look closely you will notice that not only the words, but each individual letter has been etched backwards.
While some line printing plates may consist entirely of text, the plate we have here is an excellent combination of both text and imagery. The block is a floor-plan of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Cookham, Berkshire, an edifice that is still standing and indeed in use today. The text helps to identify the church depicted as well as the specific features of its construction.
Adding interest to this particular plate is the key in the upper corner which denotes different periods of construction in the history of the church. The origins of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Cookham dates back nearly 1000 years. The stages of expansion outlined on this plate correspond with the history provided on the Holy Trinity Church website and indicate that despite the many stages of growth the building has remained largely unchanged for more than 700 years.
To see the January Object of the Month in person along with other unique line printing plates, please visit Whitehall’s free temporary display, Drawing the Line, on now through the end of the month at Cheam Library (Church Rd, Sutton SM3 8QH) during regular library opening hours.