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ISO: Database of Printing Plate Metals

From the Contact page:

I am wondering if there exists a database of the metallurgical compositions of worldwide printing plates from the 15th century to the 20th? Basically, if anyone has pooled together metallurgical data from known plates from museum collections.

I am trying to collect the data to compare it to a 17th-century plate that I have, and such references would be helpful to my research.

If such a compilation does not exist, could you recommend some places that would have a broad collection of copper and bronze plates with metallurgical data to share?




  1. (From Facebook) I doubt this exists as a single database or even that there would be databases. I assume this kind of analysis would require spectrometer or other scientific analysis. There *might* be individual analyses of individual surviving plates or collections saved by a diligent curator, conservator, or researcher. On the other hand, this researcher might start with surviving manuals with later descriptions of the proportions of metals. Maybe D’Alembert/Diderot’s Encyclopédie (vol 2 on type and typefounding; vol 7 on printing and plates [mostly intaglio])? I’ve always assumed that metal proportions before ca1850 would have been treated as something like trade secrets, but it’s always useful to check what contemporaries found (even if they’re wrong or not completely accurate). In this country Smithsonian Graphic Arts, RIT Cary Collection; maybe some of the large academic collections like Harvard or Princeton. In the UK St Bride might have copies (or know about) of unpublished scientific studies, or Cambridge and Oxford. Perhaps the Imprimerie Nationale (France) or Plantin-Moretus might have some contemporary documentation or some later analysis. But there are wiser and more learned heads on this list.

  2. Thank you for the well-thought reply. If any other resources come to mind, don’t hesitate to add them. I shall be off to the daunting task of compiling data. I shall be happy to share the results which will probably be in many months.

  3. I had forgotten that there are some 20th C books like R.G. Harper, Printing Metals (London: Fry’s Metal Foundries, 1956, revised ed [3rd I think]), originally written in the 1930s by A.H. Mundey, but these are early 20th C and I think they focus on type metal. There’s also Walter George McMillan, A Treatise on Electro-metallurgy (don’t get the photocopy reprints!) which is primarily on electro-plating. Although your focus is earlier, you might talk to some people who make plates. I’m guessing that Rich Hopkins in West Virginia or some of the small type founders (like Sky), might have some suggestions. -Paul

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