George Baxter was born on the 31st July 1804. His father was a publisher and bookseller based in Lewes, Sussex. Initially Baxter worked in his father's business but was later apprenticed to Samuel Williams of London to be taught wood engraving, that is printing images by carving the image into wood, the raised areas taking the ink and printing onto the page. Colour printing had been practised for many years but was quite basic, using only a limited number of colours. Virtually all coloured prints of the period were hand-coloured, a slow and laborious task. In 1827 he married Mary Harrild, daughter of Robert Harrild, a manufacturer of printing machinery. Robert was to assist his new son-in-law many times in his life, both financially and with gifts of equipment.
In 1828 Baxter produced his first colour print - Butterflies, very few copies exist. His next print, issued in 1834, was a rather primitive frontispiece to a book, Mudie's British Birds. He practised his art and by 1835, when he applied for his patent, he had made major improvements.
Simplistically the patented process meant an initial printing from a steel key plate, which gave the black outline and all the intricate detail and shading, then he would apply up to 20 different blocks made from either wood, copper or zinc - one for each colour he wanted to apply. Each block had to align perfectly. This keyplate made all the difference and gave his images a 'sharpness' never before achieved.
What made Baxter different was that he was a perfectionist and personally spent many hours, in the early days at least, engraving his own plates. He would only use the best materials and mixed all his own oil inks. The paper would be wetted and the key plate was applied and the ink left to dry. The paper then had to be dampened again, so it expanded to exactly the same size as when the key plate was used and the first colour was printed, then again left to dry. This process was repeated until all the colour blocks were added and then a final gloss finish was applied. As these presses were all operated by hand this must have been a very painstaking process. It is amazing to think that it is reputed over a 500,000 copies of some prints were issued in this manner.
In the early years most of his work was for book illustrations. Including Mudie's natural history books, poetry and a number of works for the missionary societies. It was during this period that he realised there was a market for his prints, sold separately from books, as works of art for the masses. His work caught the attention of Prince Albert and he was invited to personally attend and draw the coronation of Queen Victoria. He even attended the christening of the Prince of Wales, which was drawn by Baxter 'on the spot'. Although the watercolour was exhibited at the Royal Academy, a print was never produced.
He illustrated many of the events and scenes of the age and his works were used to illustrate everything from cheap childrens books to some of the most elaborate, subscription only, editions of the era. His prints graced the front of music sheets, boxes of handkerchiefs, playing cards, and many thousands were used on needle boxes. He received an honourable mention for printing at the Great Exhibition and later received Gold Medals from the Emperor of Austria in 1852, at the New York Exhibition 1853, The Paris Exhibition 1855 and from the King of Sweden in 1857.
Between 1834 and 1860 he issued approximately 400 different prints. His aim for perfection made him slow and often late with delivery, his Interior of the Great Exhibition was published the day the exhibition closed! This, together with his lack of business acumen meant he was always in some form of financial difficulty. In 1860 he became insolvent and put his plant and stock of prints up for auction by Southgate and Barrett. Of the 141,106 prints offered only 20,719 were sold. Most of the plates and blocks appear to have been sold under extended credit terms and it seems that most items were never paid for and they were returned to Baxter. He held many sales around the country to dispose of his prints and it was possibly this that had resulted in the buyers at this recent auction not wanting to use his plates while Baxter himself was still selling his vast stock of prints.
In 1864 he 'republished' some of his prints at 'vastly reduced prices' this was followed by another auction by Mr Bean, in July of the same year, both were not a success.
Through his son he managed to sell his plates and blocks for £400 to Vincent Brooks, who then reproduced a number of prints under Baxter and his son's supervision on the presses that Baxter lent him, as such they are still considered Baxter Prints. This was not to save him and Baxter finally declared himself bankrupt in January 1865.
In November 1866 Baxter was involved in an accident with a horse drawn carriage and died in January of the following year from his injuries.
August 1868 saw G Baxter Jr negotiate the sale of the plates and blocks on Vincent Brooks behalf and also all the presses to Abraham Le Blond of Le Blond & Co for £300. That company printed from a number of plates, these are known as Le Blond Baxters. By the 1870's the Baxter process was superseded by Lithography and the use of machine presses. The images are (top) 'An actual photograph of George Baxter in the possession of the family and kindly lent. (centre) Baxters prints used on music cover, 'HRH The Prince of Wales' lid of box of needleboxes 'Warwick Castle' valentines card 'Waterfall on the Alps from The Tarantella Set' needleboxes with prints from 'Regal Set' and 'The Harem Set' pin cushion with 'General Canrobert from The Allied Sovereigns' gilt printed reward card with 'Religious Events' and a box lid, probably from playing cards, with HRH Prince of Wales' (bottom) 'Hollyhocks' on a card advertising one of Baxter's own sales of his prints in Bristol in 1861. The wording states 'Exhibition of Baxter's Oil Pictures - Admission Free- Royal Albert Rooms College Green- Exhibition opens at 11 o'clock sales at 3pm and in the evening at half past 6.Back to Top
Le Blond & Co. was formed by brothers Abraham and Robert, in Stepney, London. They were the first company to take a licence from Baxter in 1849. Their first print by the Baxter Process - The Royal Family at Windsor - was produced in the following year.
They produced over 100 prints and are considered to be the best exponent of Baxter's process. The set of 32 ovals are particularly fine and sort after fetching more than a lot of Baxter's own prints. Later production runs of the ovals and other prints also show the name 'L.A. Elliot & Co., Boston, U.S. who was Le Blonds agent in the USA. They printed many Royal subjects, scenic and romantic views and illustrated a number of small pocket almanacs of the period which are now quite rare. Some of their scantily ladies were specifically printed for use as labels on rolls of fabric.
In 1868 Le Blond purchased 66 sets of Baxter's original plates and blocks and republished them, they are known as Le Blond-Baxters. Le Blond removed Baxter's signature from the plates and added his own, but at sometime, probably in the 1890's - 1920's, someone trimmed thousands of prints to remove the Le Blond signature presumably to pass the print off as a genuine Baxter. For commercial reasons Le Blond omitted some of the blocks resulting in an inferior 'finish' to the prints but he also published some fully finished examples on mounts with blue labels on the reverse which are of a quality that could match Baxter's own work. Any Le Blond Baxter still with Le Blonds signature is rare even rarer on the mount with label.
Le Blond & Co. turned to the cheaper method of lithography, but even so the business ran into financial difficulties and in 1893 Le Blond sold all his plates and blocks together with his stock of prints to Mr Frederick Mockler. Finally, a receiver was appointed in 1894 and the business was sold to Barclay and Fry. Abraham Le Blond died later that year aged 75 years. The image at the top is 'Her Majesty at Osbourne' Isle of Wight, along with Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales on an embossed mount also shown is a fine copy of the oval 'Blowing Bubbles'.Back to Top
Kronheim & Co
Joseph Martin Kronheim was born in Magdeburg, Germany on 26th October 1810. He worked as a designer and engraver in Paris then Edinburgh. He is recorded at 9 Buccleugh Place in 1842 before moving to Paternoster Row, London in 1846. He acquired a Licence from George Baxter in 1850, and produced a considerable output by the process. Frauenknecht had put money into the business in 1852 and bought Kronheim's share in possibly1855 but now more likely 1857. Kronheim moved back to Germany but lost everything in a failed business venture. He returned to England and is reputed to have worked for his old company until about 1887. He died in Berlin in 1896.
Baxter's apprentice Charles Gregory had joined the company in 1849 and his experience must have been of great assistance. He was made a partner in 1857. Baxter's process was at it's height in the mid 1860's when they were printing, apart from other items, a vast array of biblical prints.
They found the process very time consuming and adapted it by using zinc rather than wood blocks, this gave his prints a 'flatter' finish. The most sort after prints are a set of 4 large coaching scenes, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. In 1875 steam power was introduced and they stopped using the process. They are reputed to have issued over 4000 different prints. They can be found illustrating many books with their lithographic prints in the last quarter of the 19th century. In the mid 1980's a vast cache of uncut sheets of prints were auctioned at Christie's. These came from the 1920's collection of the late Mr Owens of New Hall Birmingham and you will often find these prints framed with the Christies label 'New Hall Vault Collection' on the reverse.
Joseph Kronheim moved to America with his, we can find Kronheim & Co of 9 Dey Street , New York printing the Centennial Home Insurance Calendar for 1876. Is his son the Martin Kronheim who was the partner of Charles Wemple of Wemple & Kronheim colour printers of New York in 1878? Can anyone assist with information? The image is one of a number of sheets of 'ladies' from the New Hall Vault Collection Back to Top
One of the original Baxter licencees, he issued a good number of well drawn and brightly coloured prints. A good businessman, colour printing was virtually a secondary occupation. By the time he purchased the licence he was already an established 'fancy stationer'. He possibly was more renown for his 'paper lacework' and embossing used extensively for Victorian greeting cards for which he was one of the leading exponents. At one of the auction sales of Baxter's plates, Mansell purchased and then printed from the plate containing, River Teify, Crucis Abbey, Lake Como and Warwick Castle. The image is of Mansell's '4 ladies' sheet uncut, as printed. Back to Top
Starting his career as an artist he moved into engraving on wood and copper before starting as a colour printer in 1849. He was a Baxter Licence but also used his own modified process to print his 'Chromographs'. His main work by Baxter's process is 'Studies of the Great Masters'. He did a lot of work for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and issued many illustrations for books and also sets of reward cards. Quite a prolific printer his works were catalogued by Alfred Docker in the 1920's, 'Colour Prints of William Dickes' The image is 'The Blind Beggar' from Dickes' 'Studies from the Grand Masters' Back to Top
This firm was founded by George Bradshaw in 1829 and William Blacklock became a partner in about 1835 after joining as an apprentice. They took out a licence from Baxter in 1849 and Charles Hall from Baxter's workshop supervised the process. Blacklock retired from the business in 1850 one year before they published their first work by the process, 'Bradshaw's Guide through London' which contains an interesting account of the printing method. Their best work 'The Pictorial Casket of Coloured Gems' was issued in 1853, the year of Bradshaw's death, and contained 33 colour plates on embossed mounts.
George Baxter Junior
After his father died and Vincent Brooks had sold Baxter's plates to Le Blond in 1868, GB Jr appears to have moved to Birmingham with his wife Frances Ann and set himself up as a printer in Montpelier Street. He used his father's process but later moved over to the cheaper Lithography. His prints are nowhere near the quality of his fathers but he does appear to have suffered from his fathers lack of financial acumen. He printed a music cover 'Die Wacht am Rhein' and also many, many copies of 'Holy Family' from his father plate.
He also printed many copies of a sheet of 24 needlebox prints but as yet I can't remember seeing a copy used on a needlebox. Perhaps after printing them he could not sell them? In 1871 he could be found living with his wife and son, another George at 44 Richmond Road, Finsbury, London. We believe he was still printing at this time until in the 1880's he emigrated to Australia and opened a shop in Sydney New South Wales, giving art lessons and selling his father's prints. Copies of his father's medals were displayed in his shop window. The images are a music cover for 'Die Wacht am Rhein' and two seperate halves of the sheet of 24 needlebox prints, the half sheet on the right was printed by his father's process while the sheet on the left is by Lithography.Back to Top
Baxter Prints since his death
After Baxter's death no interest was shown in his work until the 1890's when a bank manager named Frederick Mockler and few other gentlemen who appreciated the artistic qualities of Baxter's work, started the first Baxter Society. Mockler had inherited a collection of Baxter's prints from his father, who had himself purchased them at some of Baxter's sales in the 1860's. Mockler purchased all the plates and blocks from Abraham Le Blond with the intention of printing from them. Their poor condition meant that he could only print from the steel plates and he issued approxiamely 150 sets of reprints in monochrome. A financially ruinous Baxter exhibition forced him to auction all his collection, Baxter prints were sold for penny's in batches of tens and twenties and interest waned.
A second Baxter society flourished in the 1920's and 30's when the collecting of Baxter prints reached 'fever-pitch' proportions. Many books were written, led by CT Courtney-Lewis, who really brought Baxters into the limelight with the issue of his first book in 1908. Auction prices went through the roof and sought-after Baxter items were fetching more than Constables and Canalettos in the auction room!!
Many articles were written in the art and collecting magazines of the day and letters were published between parties arguing on the virtues of certain prints. There was much controversy about a part hand coloured copy of the 'Launch of the Trafalgar', that had just been sold for a vast £400. Some said the it was greatly overpriced and couldn't even be considered, a Baxter PRINT. There was a sudden 'run' at auction and prices fell. The craze for Baxter's must have been akin to the dot.com crash of the 1990's. The Society struggled on till the 1930's. Baxter prints made a revival in the early 1980's with the formation of the New Baxter Society and the issue of the first fully illustrated 'Price Guide to Baxter Prints' by Ball and Martin.
All Baxter's prints are now well over 140 years old. All were printed by hand, a slow and, what must have been, laborious method. The process required expert craftsmanship in the initial carving of the engraving plates and subsequent colour blocks and a perfectionists eye for detail to ensure all aligned perfectly. Yet his prints can still be purchased for as little as a few pounds. The image shows a Mockler reprint in monochrome from Baxter's 'Crystal Palace New York'. Back to Top