Just imagine — 100 years ago, well maybe it’s fairer to say 200, everything used in printing had to be made by hand. Every piece of type had to be created as a physical object. This video shows a brass plate being engraved by hand. All your “engraved invitations” would once upon a time have been produced like this — but with the engraver doing everything in reverse, so that when you looked at the final plate it would be a mirror image of the final printed piece.

A die sinker’s end product would tend to be different from that of a punchcutter, who’d be making type for printing, but the skills were similar and no doubt transferrable. Wikipedia’s entry on punchcutting gives a clear picture of the process, and my recent post on the subject included video evidence. J. J. Baddeley’s story, from Spitalfields Life gives a nice rags to riches account of the career of a Victorian die sinker. Baddeleys are still in business.

Our terminology in this area tends to elide different processes. We (in USA) now think of a die as the “brass”, the spine stamping die made for case making. But we also carry in the front of our minds the “die” used in for instance a die-cut cover — one where say a circle is cut out of the cover allowing the printed image below to show though. Most of Baddeleys’ product would be of this kind, and as you can see from the second link, they did a bit of vertical integration when they started using their own dies to cut out and assemble envelopes. These might be decorated by the sort of die we think of in case-making, and several examples are shown in these links to Spitalfields Life.

For a related business see the videos attached to my earlier post Engraving a halftone block.

Thanks to Valerie Fairbrass (appropriate name to be linked to a story on dies and brasses) via SHARP listserv for this link to the J. J. Baddeley story. Maybe it’s a bit odd that we still refer to brasses in the UK though stamping dies are no longer made of brass.