Joseph Mansell Prints from Baxter’s Plate and Blocks

At Baxter’s ‘retirement’ auction sale held at Southgate & Barrett starting on the 8th May 1860 Joseph Mansell, a licensee of George Baxter since around 1850, purchased one of Baxter’s printing plates. For a detailed study of the whole auction catalogue please see HERE.

Lot 3054 was described as “Warwick Castle & c The engraved steel plate 11 engraved blocks in standing forms” and sold at a price of £4 (Fig 1). There are four prints on the plate being Warwick Castle, Netley Abbey, River Teify, Cardiganshire and Lake Como.

The Baxter prints are not rare but it has taken me 30+ years to get all four versions by Mansell so I can’t see that they were produced in great numbers.

Fig 1 - Page 72 of Baxter's Auction sale catalogue of 1860 showing Lot No 3054 at the bottom of the page

On an initial look, if you weren’t that enquiring or just not used to seeing Mansell productions, you wouldn’t think they are anything but Baxters. In fact, when I purchased my copies, the sellers in all instances described them as such and one also included a picture of the Baxter Print from the price guide to confirm.

For people that have had the opportunity to look at Mansell’s works you would most probably know that Mansell is known for his bright florid colours. As well as a printer he was a ‘fancy stationer’ and is most probably better known for his embossed lace papers and valentines cards. Unlike Baxter, Mansell’s marketplace wasn’t selling oil colour pictures but more adornments to brighten up valentine and other cards, parlour scrapbooks, reward cards, needle boxes as well as illustrations to a small number of books.

Warwick Castle by Joseph Mansell

Fig 2 & 3 - Warwick Castle - to the left the Baxter version, slight cropped to match the Mansell version on the right

Fig 4 & 5 - Lake Como - to the left the Baxter version and the Mansell version to the right

I like Mansell’s work and found it very interesting to compare the two different versions. I illustrate a Baxter version against the Mansell of each print (Figs 2 – 9).  When comparing the two versions, Baxter’s colours are soft and subtle whereas Mansell’s are quite bright and hard, but to my mind still very pleasing. Mansell’s detail appears more defined but this could easily be because he used a darker colour ink for the metal key plate.

Netley Abbey by Joseph Mansell

Fig 6 & 7 - Netley Abbey -to the left the Baxter version, slight cropped to match the size of the Mansell  on the right

River Teify by George Baxter
River Teify by George Baxter

Fig 8 & 9 River Teify to the left the Baxter version and to the right the Mansell  - with extra man which see at the end of the article

The plates originally came with all Baxter’s colour blocks, as can be seen from the auction listing. It appears that Mansell re-cut some, if not all, of the blocks or even used a different type of relief block, as it is here, within the way the colours have been added to the prints, that we can see the differences.

Firstly the skies and the clouds, instead of being solid white and blues as in Baxter’s version they are made up of ruled lines to give a graduation, something that from a distance looks very good but to a Baxter collector might appear quite basic on close inspection. These ruled lines can easily be seen across the skies and lakes.

In 1857 Baxter had lodged a provisional patent for “Improvements in printing in colours”, which entailed a method of obtaining gradations of COLOUR by machine ruling printing surfaces. The wording on the patent infers, to me, that even Baxter acknowledged his method was already used in “copper and other plate printing…Where one plate or block produces a complete impression” rather than just a colour as Baxter was suggesting, this is possibly why he never went on to lodge his full specification. Baxter did use ruling, for example in later versions of Gathering Apples. It appears Mansell also cut a new block that coloured the mountains in River Teify and Lake Como. In the Baxter versions the snow-capped mountains are subtly toned white but in Mansell’s they now appear to be lush green covered hillsides.

Mansell’s colour blocks on all his prints, to my mind, tend to be made up of coloured dots rather than Baxter’s subtle shaded blocks of colour. The colour on these four prints seem to mimic his style of colouring and perhaps is the main or only reason he recut the blocks? Figs 10-11 show Lake Como in close up showing Mansell’s ruled lines, the changes to the mountains and his dotted method of applying some of the colours.

Lake Como - Baxter Print close up
Lake Como - Mansell colour print close up

Fig 10 & 11 A close up of Lake Como - to the top the Baxter version and below the same print by Mansell showing Mansell's ruled sky and lake, his dotted method of applying colours and also the colour changes from Baxter's snow capped mountains to Mansell lust green hillsides

Frederick Mockler is well known as the purchaser of Le Blond’s stock of prints and all Le Blond’s and Baxter’s plates and Blocks in 1893. He also amassed a very large collection of Baxter and licensee prints including Mansell. In an auction catalogue of the sale of all his collection in May 1896 Lots No 127c to 129c listed three of these prints, River Teify wasn’t included.

Interestingly the following three Lots were described the same “After George Baxter by Josh Mansell”. These three Lots were Tintern Abbey, Welsh Drovers and Bala Lake. Did Joseph Mansell purchase another plate from Baxter? The plate containing these three prints, unless the plate was cut down at some time, would have also included Shall I Succeed, River Camel Cornwall, Brougham Castle, Watermill on the Wye and Stolzenfels on the Rhine.

That plate didn’t appear in the 1860 sale and there is no mention of it since with any of the known owners of Baxter’s plates. Could Mansell have also purchased this plate before or after the 1860 sale? Did he re-print from it? If the Mockler listing is correct did he only print from just three of the images on this plate or are there Mansell versions of the other five prints unwittingly in Baxter collections around the world? I would be very pleased to hear from anyone who thinks they might have a Mansell copy of any of these eight prints.

River Teify and Lake Como George Baxter Prints

Fig 12 - a full strip by Baxter from his plate showing River Teify and Lake Como, note the 'obvious' join is not in the centre, pleases see below

As an aside you might notice that my copy of Mansell’s River Teify (Fig 9) shows a figure in the water on the right hand side that is not illustrated in my Baxter version. This is not a difference between the versions but just a quirk of the plate. I illustrate a full strip of Baxter’s version of River Teify and Lake Como and if you look at where the image of Lake Como appears to start it is not in centre. Baxter seems to have been undecided on this matter as I have prints that are all roughly the same usual width for such prints with some showing this standing man and trimmed to the left, others cut to the edge of Como trimming the standing man. The Mansell image has been cut, possibly by the purchaser rather than Mansell showing both sides and making the print wider than it was initially intended. Please see Fig 12 and compare with Figs 8 and Fig 9.