Engraving or intaglio

The original sense of engraving (or intaglio) is engraving with a chisel, it’s the first engraving process inherited from the goldsmiths. Printing was done with a lever press or a “rotoplane”
By extension, engraving referred to all the hollow engraving on copper process. These include direct engraving with a tool (chisel, dry point, mezzotint) or indirect engraving by etching with acid (etching, aquatint, “crayon manner”)
Stamping is engraving on a steel or brass block. The size of the paper is not a constraint compared to the intaglio engraving which is used more for business and correspondence card. The steel stamping is used mostly for letterheads, ex-libris and labels; they allow multiple colours, one per steel block, on the same paper or card.
The important use of copper blocks for engraving shows similarity with chalcography, engraving on copper, even if the latter technique can be done on other type of metallic plaques (zinc, brass).This technique allows a very precise design and destined it to the production of banknotes and stamps.
Maso Finiguerra (1426-1464), goldsmith and engraver working in Florence, stood out as he might have been the first to print impressions from niello plates on sulfur casts and afterwards on sheets of paper, and of having followed up this invention by engraving copperplates for the express purpose of printing impressions, and thus the inventor of the art of engraving for printing and printmaking.

Engraving sees its development related to printing and the use of paper. Since 1488, Michelet Topie de Pymont, working in Lyon, prints « un Voyage de Breydenbach » which is illustrated with intaglio engravings for the first time in France.

In philately, the Penny Black is the most famous use of intaglio. It was the first stamp issued in Great Britain. In spite of its cost, the technique was chosen as its precision makes the stamps and banknotes impossible to counterfeit and copy.

© Guy VIGOUREUX - MOF, Maître Graveur-imprimeur
Photo : Jérôme Vigoureux-Peltier

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