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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/615

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COPPER, STEEL, AND BANK-NOTE ENGRAVING.

COPPER, STEEL, AND BANK-NOTE ENGRAVING.
By C. W. DICKINSON.

HOW few of the many people who are fortunate enough to have a dollar bill in their pocket think of it as a work of art! Two hundred years ago this piece of paper would have been of almost incalculable value, and have awakened an interest among the artists of that day which we can scarcely realize. Look at the portrait on the left of the face of the note. Here we have a beautiful specimen of pure line engraving—much better work than most of that done by some of the old masters and now considered classic. Then there are on both face and back the fine, delicate effects of light and shade produced by the ruling machine and geometrical and cycloidal engraving lathes. Further than this can be seen elegant designs in scroll work and lettering.

This may be a piece of "the root of all evil," and we know it is often "filthy lucre," only worth one hundred cents to us, yet it may be profitable to inquire as to how it is made.

Steel and copper plate engraving does not, as is generally supposed, owe its origin to the woodcut, but to the chasing on goldsmith's work. Look at any article of jewelry ornamented with incised designs, and there will be seen the true origin of line engraving; and although this work was not done—as was the steel or copper plate engraving—for the purpose of producing copies by printing, still it was by this engraving on jewelry that the art of printing from an incised line was, like a great many other good inventions, accidentally discovered.

The goldsmiths of Florence, in the middle of the fifteenth century, were in the habit of ornamenting their works by means of engraving, after which they filled up the hollows produced by the graver with black enamel (made of silver, lead, and sulphur, the result being that the design was rendered much more visible by the contrast of the enamel and the metal.

An engraved design filled up in this manner was called a niello, and our modern door plates are really nielli also, for in these, too, the engraved lines are filled with black. The word niello comes from nigellum, and simply refers to the color of the enamel.

While a niello was in progress, the artist could not see the effect of his work so well as if the enamel were already in the lines; and, on the other hand, he did not like to put the enamel in the unfinished engraving, as, when once it was set, it could not easily be got out again. He therefore took a sulphur cast of his niello—in progress—on a matrix of fine clay, and filled up the