The Copper Plate Rolling Press and William Blake's method of 'illuminated printing'

As a result of the popularity of 'Gutenberg' letter press classes, we shall continue the printing series of workshops in the Upper Library. We had a chance to bring over a working replica of an eighteenth century wooden copper plate rolling press such as that used by Hogarth, Gillray, and many others before the advent of the cast iron rolling press in 1820s. William Blake also famously favoured this type of press for his illuminated books, separate plates and the monotypes known as the Large Colour Prints of 1795.  The design is based upon the diagrams for constructing a rolling press in the third edition of Abraham Bosse, De La Maniere de Graver a l’Eau Forte et au Burin, et de la Gravure en Maniere noire. Avec la facon de construire les Presses modernes, & d’imprimer en Taille-douce (Paris, 1745).

In 1788 William Blake invented a revolutionary method of illustrated book production that he called ‘illuminated printing’. His invention made it possible to print both the text of his poems and the images that he created to illustrate them from the same relief-etched copper plate in an engraver’s copper-plate rolling press. By way of introduction, Michael Phillips, guest curator of the recent Blake exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, will explain Blake's invention in the context of conventional eighteenth-century illustrated book production and how he created the first illuminated books such as the Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

Having re-created examples of the relief-etched copper plates of Blake illuminated books using 1:1 negatives of original monochrome impressions, Michael will then demonstrate how plates from the Songs were printed by mixing from historic pigments examples of the coloured inks that Blake used, inking the plates using a leather-covered dauber (rollers had not been invented), and printing them in an exact replica of the wooden copper plate rolling press that Blake is known to have used now on loan to Christ Church Library.  The impressions from the Songs, printed on old hand-made wove papers of the type Blake used, will be available for sale at the special price of £25.00 each. Further information about how the replica plates have been made and printed, and about the replica rolling press, is available on:

Next workshop will be on Tuesday, 23 February 2016, at 5:15 pm. To book a place, please contact