Employment had never been so plentiful, yet in order to take advantage of it, engravers were forced to make concessions which were detrimental to their art. They had to alter their methods in order to keep up with the demand and to combat the many alternative methods which were being developed and which threatened their livelihood. The first big change came with the introduction of steel plates, which altered the forms of engraving considerably; the second was the use of photography as a means of transfer in lithography. This eventually meant the end of engraving as a reproductive method. Speed was the main objective. Mezzotint was a faster method than line-engraving, etching was faster than mezzotint, and photogravure superseded all three methods. The public were not particularly interested in the fine quality of a line-engraving, they merely wanted a copy of a painting, and this factor also led to the decline of line-engraving in favour of the more imitative methods like mixed mezzotint, lithography and finally photogravure. Yet the process of photogravure, with which engraving had to compete, eventually proved to be the means of its release. With the general adoption of this process for reproduction, engraving, etching and lithography were able to grow anew as original graphic processes. . . .

The art of engraving was in a unique and paradoxical position during the Victorian era. The creative aspects and the traditions of the art declined steadily, while the social aspects, the function of engravings as a mass medium attained more significance than ever before. [11]


Beck, Hilary. Victorian Engravings. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1973.

Last modified 31 July 2018