This etching is one of the exhibits in the Folger Library’s exhibition “Beyond Words: Book Illustration in the Age of Shakespeare.” This exhibition goes on until June 3rd, 2018. This illustration comes from a 1745 edition of Abraham Bosse’s manual on intaglio printmaking, first printed 100 years earlier.

Previously printed sheets can be seen hanging from the clothes-line like ropes behind the pressman. In order to facilitate the transfer of the ink from plate to paper, hand press operators would dampen the paper before printing. As may been judged from all the pictures of intaglio presswork, considerable effort was required to create  enough pressure for a clean impression. (Intaglio printing works from an image recessed into a metal plate, not from letterpress’ raised image.)

Here Mr Bosse illustrates the method of pouring aqua fortis (dilute nitric acid) onto the copper plate in order to “bite” it.

Below is the frontispiece of Mr Bosse’s book, which is entitled Traicté des manières de graver en taille douce sur l’airin. A PDF of the entire book can be found at the Biliothèque nationale de France’s website Gallica, though it doesn’t seem to include all the illustrations.

Another of Mr Bosse’s etchings of the press in action, this one from The British Museum, shows plates being prepared for the press too. It also has drying sheets hanging in the background.

See also Printing methodsCopperplate and Starwheel press.