Skip to main content
The Collation

Myth-busting early modern book illustration, part two

The last round of book illustration myth-busting looked at how copper plates wear out (and how they don’t wear out). This time, I’d like to take a bucket of archival research and dump it on a related myth. How many acceptable impressions can you get from an engraved copper plate before it needs reworking? Conventional wisdom says “not too many,” or “not nearly as many as with woodcuts,” or “somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred.”

How about 6,425?

  1. Karen L. Bowen and Dirk Imhof, “18,257 Impressions from a Plate,” Print Quarterly, 22 (September 2005), pp. 265–279.
  2. The timing of the re-workings was also verified visually, by examining dated title pages, in case something had been touched-up without having made it into the account books.
  3. Karen L. Bowen and Dirk Imhof, Christopher Plantin and Engraved Book Illustrations in Sixteenth-Century Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 175, 177, 359, and 363.


Great post.
While working on the prints of Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Rijksmuseum curator Ger Luijten found records indicating that Goltzius could get 2,000 impressions off a single plate.

julie mellby — February 4, 2013