4 Lithography

Alois Senefelder
Alois Senefelder, born in 1771, studied law in Ingolstadt until his father’s death in 1791. Unable to make a living as an actor or playwright, he became interested in printing and began experimenting with writing on stone. He began by mastering the art of writing backwards and soon developed an ink made of wax, soap, and lampblack. One day, his mother needed him to write down the bill for the washer-woman. Without nearby paper or ink, he wrote down the bill using his special ink on a block of limestone. It was then that he had an idea: he covered this writing with a combination of aqua fortis, or nitric acid, and ­water, allowing it to stand for five minutes. After that interval, he ­noticed the ink had become slightly raised, and he was thus able to apply ink to the raised surface and make a print.

Senefelder, realizing that this was a new invention, was eager to patent the process and put it to use. Lacking money, he agreed to join the Bavarian army in place of a friend in exchange for 200 florins, but when he traveled to Bavaria he was unable to enlist because he was not a citizen. Dejected, he traveled to ­Munich where he met a man named Gleissner, a musician. Senefelder demonstrated his new printing technique to ­Gleissner, who, impressed, ordered 120 copies of twelve songs that he had written. Senefelder, with the assistance of a local printer, completed this order in less than two weeks. The printing was profitable and Senefelder was able to take on more orders, enabling him to continue his life as a printer and further refine his new lithographic process.

The Lithographic Process
Lithographic printing is done with a stone printing plate, the majority of which comes from the quarries of Solnhofen in Bavaria. The lithographer begins by grinding down the stone, removing previous drawings and any residue of ink or grease. Once done, the stone is smoothed and leveled. Images or text is drawn on the stone using either lithographic crayons, also known as chalks, or different liquid inks, called tusche. Once the drawing is complete, the lithographer must etch the stone, which is done by covering the image with either nitric, phosphoric, or tannic acid and gum arabic. The resultant chemical reaction causes the drawing or text to become water repellent, while the blank areas become grease repellent. This means that ink is only able to be applied to the water repellent image or text and a printed image can be made.

Advertisement for David S. Brown & Co.
This lithograph is an elaborate advertisement for David S. Brown & Co., selling agents for various American cotton and woolen goods listed on the print. The central image depicts the Washington fabric mills in Gloucester City as seen from the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River. The lithograph, dated c. 1856, was executed by P. S. Duval & Co. of Philadelphia.