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How Long Did It Take to Engrave an Early Modern Map?

A Consideration of Craft
Author(s): George S. Carhart
Source: Imago Mundi, Vol. 56, No. 2 (2004), pp. 194-197
Published by: Imago Mundi, Ltd.
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How Long Did It Take to Engrave an Early Modern Ma

A Consideration of Craft Practices


Historians who have considered the process of statement that he had engraved his map of
map engraving have generally agreed with Arthur America 'in these last few days'.3 Likewise, Giinter
Robinson that 'engraving a copperplate took a Schilder, referring to a seventeenth-century con-
very long time'.1 Two factors, however, throw tract between the Dutch mapmakers Jodocus
considerable doubt on to this statement. First, the Hondius and Johannes Janssonius and the engra-
practical experience of sixteen years as a craftsman vers Evert Simonsz van Hamersvelt and Salomon
in the wooden boat- and yacht-building trade has Rogiers, has calculated that it would have taken
led me to question the claim that a 'long time' only thirteen working days to engrave a copper
was needed to engrave a copper plate. Wishing plate measuring 0.2 square metres (45 x 45 cm).4
to understand better the process of engraving, I Discrepancies between the long and short
undertook to engrave my own map on a plate times advanced for the engraving process can be
of 0.06 square metres (21 x 29 cm). The resulting explained by the failure of most historians to con-
map, which is crude in line quality and sparse sider the practice of engraving within the context
in content, took me only twenty hours to engrave of early modern craftsmanship. Early modern map
(Fig. 1). Undoubtedly, an experienced master- printing was a craft that was subject to particular
journeyman would have executed the same task, issues of time, money and material management.
producing far superior line quality and including When all stages of what are now called 'craft
much more detail, in a quarter of the time. practices' are taken together, encompassing not
Second, the documentary evidence usually cited only the preparation and engraving of the plate
in discussions of the time needed for engraving is but also all the factors involved in organizing and
open to question, and some historians have begun running a successful workshop, it at once becomes
to query how long it might have taken to create a clear that the time spent on engraving was in fact
plate. David Woodward has recently concluded relatively short, and that a critical re-evaluation
that sixteenth-century Venetian engravers could of the total context of engraving is needed to take
have engraved a copper plate of 0.128 square into account all aspects of production. Engraving
metres (36x36 cm) in no more than eight time cannot be judged in isolation; all sorts of
working days.2 He also cited Paolo Forlani'sorganizational matters need to be considered and,

► George S. Carhart is cartographic associate at the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic
Education, University of Southern Maine, Portland, U.S.A. Correspondence to: George S. Carhart, Osher Map
Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME 04104-9301,
U.S.A. Tel: (1) 207-780-4910. Fax: (1) 207-780-5310. E-mail: <>.

Imago Mundi Vol. 56, Part 2: 194-197

© 2004 Imago Mundi Ltd ISSN 0308-5694 print/ 1479-7801 online
D Routledge
|\ Taylor brands Group DOI: 10.1080/0308569042000238082

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How Long Did It Take to Engrave? 195

Fig. 1. George S. Carhart, 'A New World Map'. This is the product of the author's first, and experimental attempt at
copper engraving, in Portland, Maine, in 1998. 21 x 29 cm.

above all, the issue of costs. The idea that a 'long delivery of the finished copper plate or plates.
time' was needed to complete an engraving of a From such sources, map historians have extrapo-
map developed from fragments of widely scattered lated engraving times that vary from two months
evidence dating indiscriminately from the six- to twelve (depending on the size of the final map).
teenth century to the nineteenth. Another look at Coolie Verner, for example, found that 'seven
this sort of evidence is overdue. months was required' to engrave the 'single sheet
One of the most frequently cited sources ismap' prepared by Thomas Jefferson for his Notes on
Antonio Francesco Lucini's comment that he had the State of Virginia (1786) and that 'a year was not
spent twelve years correcting and updating the an exorbitant period' for the engraving of John
charts for the second edition of Robert Dudley's Henry's four-sheet map of Virginia (1771).7
Dell'Arcano del Mare (166 1).5 This work containedAnother source of evidence that should be
about 300 engraved plates, including some 130viewed sceptically are authorial complaints of
maps, and at face value the statement would delays in the engraving of their maps. Such com-
indeed appear to support the 'long time' thesis plaints tend to be misleading. Authors seem not to
have understood the methods by which a master
with its apparent implication that each illustration
must have taken many weeks, if not months, to engraver estimated the cost and time to complete
complete.6 Lucini, however, was not a craftsman an engraving. Formal contracts between publish-
but a gentleman, or 'patronized artisan', who was ers and master engravers record only the duration
neither as facile nor as hurried as the dedicated and expense of a project, yet starting and ending
and economically constrained commercial engra- dates are known to bear little relationship to the
ver. We also need to be careful about using actual time necessary to engrave a copper plate,
records of the interval between the handing overand the quotation of a cost does not reveal how
of a manuscript map to an engraver and the the master engravers determined those values. To

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196 G. S. Carhart

obtain an appropriate sense of the time

was also preparing - among other things -
to engrave a plate, therefore, we need toplates
for Adriaen Veen and for his own huge
engraving in the context of all the craft twenty-sheet
practices world map.9
carried out within an engraving shop. We also need to look at the costs charged by
The process of costing a project remains thefor finished copper plates. On the face of
same today as it would have been throughout
things, it would appear that such costs support the
early modern times. To calculate the timeinterpretation
required that a lengthy period was needed
for a job, the craftsman first estimates how many
for engraving: when the generally high cost of the
physical man-hours the job requires and engraved
adds to plate is divided by the engraver's wages,
this figure a margin of error. Further allowance
the result usually suggests that considerable time
is then made for preparatory activities. had
spent in engraving. However, the figure
modern copperplate engraving, preparation would
is misleading. Unfortunately for the engraver,
have included the acquisition of the platethe
and its paid for the plate had to cover more
initial polishing. Since copper was among than
the most
just his wages. Thus, the recorded price of an
expensive of commonly traded commodities, few
engraved plate contributed to the general running
engravers could afford to keep ready a stock costs and
ofoverheads of the establishment and the
copper plates and instead would purchase these wages of all its workers and included the cost of
when a job was begun.8 Once the craftsman had the copper. What was left after these expenses
allowed for the physical time, he would most could be counted as profit. Of all outgoings, copper
likely have added extra hours to accommodate probably accounted for the largest single item of
the changes that customers tend to request as capital expenditure. In 1666, a folio plate weigh-
the work proceeds. In the case of engraving, these ing 10 pounds (4.5 kilos) cost 6.6 guilders, equiva-
would have taken account of the time needed
lent to approximately four and a half days' wages
for proofing the plate, which included judging
for a master-journeyman shipbuilder or, in terms
whether this was likely to be a simple matter,
of the
as wage of a New England shipbuilder today,
about US $900. 10 Alone, this figure may not seem
with the provision of directions for the placement
all that much, but when multiplied by the number
of text, for example, or complex, as when publish-
of maps in an average early modern atlas, it repre-
ers sought to add or delete topographical features.
Estimates of proofing time would also have sents a substantial sum of money. In these terms,
allowed for printing proof impressions and the thus, the rough copper sheet needed for John
transmission of those impressions to the author, Speed's atlas, with its sixty-seven maps, would
and for the time taken by the author to return his have required an outlay of about 442 guilders, or
corrections or to indicate his approval. roughly US $60,000. n
From these preliminary calculations, the crafts- Despite the size of the engraver's capital outlay
man determines the time for which the customer on copper, most of the cost of the final engraved
will be billed, but these hours will not be those plate would have been taken up by paying for
found in the contract. Instead, the specified overheads. The breakdown of the expenses of
starting and ending dates on engravers' contracts running a workshop in the seventeenth century
embed the actual engraving time within the over- would have been no different from today's, when
all period required for a number of associated overheads (which exclude project-specific materi-
processes, and for the craftsman's other projects. als and employees' wages) can take up 30 to
Jobs are rarely completed in one continuous 50 per cent of gross income. So, in earlier times,
sitting; rather craftsmen complete the contract in an engraver would have had to recover the cost of
a series of disconnected sittings. Even when the every expendable found in his workshop, from the
customer is given to understand that his project grinding and polishing stones and the compounds
is the only one that the craftsman will work on, used in preparing the copper plates to the tools
or that his project will receive top priority, the employed in engraving and to basic items such as
craftsman is likely to be working on several the candles and wood needed for lighting and
other projects. For example, when the Amsterdam heating. All had to be taken into account in the
engraver Jodocus Hondius engraved fifty of the billing process, and it should be amply clear that
sixty-seven folio plates for John Speed's Theatre of a simple figure in an early modern document
the Empire of Great Britaine between 1 608 and 1611, recording the cost of engraving the customer's

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How Long Did It Take to Engrave? 197

map cannot be equated with the wage of a crafts- Centuries of Map Printing, ed. David Woodward (Chicago,
University of Chicago Press, 1975), 1-23, esp. 14.
man. Still less, can it serve to infer the time taken
2. David Woodward, Maps as Prints in the Italian Renais-
for engraving. sance: Makers, Distributors & Consumers, Panizzi Lectures,
As a final comment, historians have cited 1995 (London, The British Library, 1996), 24.
3. David Woodward, 'Paolo Forlani: Compiler,
reports from the engraving offices of national
engraver, printer or publisher?' Imago Mundi 44 (1992):
surveys after 1800 to support their belief in a 45-64, esp. 47.
lengthy engraving process. It has been estimated, 4. Giinter Schilder, Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica,
in particular, that each of the twenty-five sheets 6 vols (Alphen aan den Rijn, Netherlands, Canaletto/
Repro-Holland, 1986-2000), 6: 26.
of Guillaume-Henri Dufour's topographical map 5. The comment is found in Lucini's introduction to
series of Switzerland (c.1845-1865) took twelve to the second edition of Robert Dudley's maritime treatise
eighteen months to engrave, which Robinson took Dell'Arcano del Mare (1661), translated by John Temple
Leader, Life of Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Warwick and Duke
as representative of copper engraving generally.12 of Northumberland (Florence, G. Barbera, 1895; reprinted,
It would seem, however, that highly detailed depic- Amsterdam, Meridian Publishing, 1977), 122. A tran-
tions of topographical relief through hachures, scription of the relevant text is provided by Philip Lee
Phillips and Clara Egli LeGear, comps., A List of Geographi-
characteristic of medium-scale maps in the nine-
cal Atlases in the Library of Congress, 9 vols. (Washington,
teenth century, could take a great deal of time and GPO, 1909-1992), 3: 145.
effort to engrave, a degree of labour which com- 6. The inference was drawn inter alia by Robinson,
'Mapmaking and map printing' (see note 1), 14. The
mercial map publishers were perhaps unwilling
surviving copies of the second edition of Dell'Arcano del
to support.13 However, the density and the great Mare have a variable number of maps and plates; see
degree of complexity entailed by topographical Phillips and LeGear, A List of Geographical Atlases (note 5),
maps were shared by neither early modern maps 3: 142-46 (entry 3428).
7. Coolie Verner, 'The Fry and Jefferson map', Imago
nor more recent small-scale maps. As such, the Mundi 21 (1967): 70-94, esp. 78. This year-long engrav-
engraving of the one cannot be taken as a surrogate ing process was part of a longer, three-year delay occa-
for the engraving of the other. sioned, Verner supposed, by difficulties on Henry's part
in raising the necessary funds. See also Verner, 'Cop-
By reviewing early modern copperplate engrav-
perplate printing', in Woodward, Five Centuries of Map
ing as an element in a tightly integrated craft Printing (note 1), 51-75, esp. 65.
production process, we see that historians have 8. James Farr, Artisans in Europe, 1300-1914 (Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 2000), 56-60.
been unwise to accept the assumption that
9. Leona Rostenberg, English Publishers in the Graphic Arts
engraving was a long and laborious process. On the 1599-1700 (New York, Burt Franklin, 1963), 12, and
contrary, it is clear that for a specialized craftsman, Giinter Schilder, e-mail correspondence, April 2003.
Schilder, Monumenta Cartographica Neerlandica (see note 4),
operating within a relatively small-scale com- 3: 79-81.
mercial workshop, the time needed for engraving 10. N. W. Posthumus, Inquiry into the History of Prices in
was quite short. Without an understanding of Holland (Leiden, Brill, 1946) 1: 175. Schilder, Monumenta
the economics and operation of craft practices, any Cartographica Neerlandica (see note 4), 6: 26-27, reported
the carpenter's wage.
reconstruction of the complex social and cultural 11. Verner, 'Copperplate printing' (see note 7), 65,
dynamics of early modern commercial map reviewed some reported costs.
production will remain misunderstood. 12. Robinson, 'Mapmaking and map printing' (see
note 1), 14.
Acknowledgments. I would like to thank Harold Osher, 13. Richard J. A. Talbert ('Carl Miiller (1813-1894),
Yolanda Theunissen, Matthew H. Edney, Giinter S. Jacobs, and the making of classical maps in Paris for
Schilder, Mary Pedley and Peter van der Krogt for theirJohn Murray', Imago Mundi Ad (1994): 128-50, esp. 132,
support and helpful commentary. Circumstances have136, and 149 n.17), pointed out that the engraving
prevented me from completing this printed version, andof highly detailed hachures for a four-sheet map of the
I am therefore indebted to Professor Edney for seeingPeloponnese (43 x 56 cm) had taken 'seven months'. It
it through publication in my absence. A version of thisis unclear how much of that time was spent in actual
paper was presented to the Twentieth Internationalengraving, but the relief work did account for more
Conference on the History of Cartography, Harvard than four-fifths of the cost of the plate, according to the
University and University of Southern Maine, 16 June engraver's invoice. The publisher, John Murray, was
2003. shocked by the bill! The high level of detail seems also
to be the cause of the slow rates of engraving reported
by Johannes Dorflinger, 'Time and cost of copperplate
Notes And References
engraving - illustrated by early nineteenth century maps
1 . Arthur H. Robinson, 'Mapmaking and map printing: from the Viennese firm Artaria & Co.', Imago Mundi 35
The evolution of a working relationship', in Five (1983): 58-66.

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