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Antique Fashion & Costume Plates
Part 14 - Types of Plates & Paper, Pochoir

By Pauline Weston Thomas for


Antique Fashion & Costume Plates Part 14

Hand Coloured Plates, Types of Plates and Papers

To help you in your choice you may like to know about hand coloured plates and colour printed plates.


Before the 1830s, all prints were engravings with finer distinctions between intaglio, mezzotint and copper engraving.  Engraved plates had a line etched or cut into plates made of copper or wood.  Later steel was used and the engraved plate lasted longer than copper plates enabling more impressions to be made taking fashion plates to a larger audience.  When the engraved plate was inked and pressed onto the paper, the ink created mirror image marks on the paper. All of these plates were also used for reprints later throughout the c19th.

In the early C19th most colour illustrated books had plates made using copper plate engravings that were hand coloured. Publishers flirted with techniques like aquatints, but the next buzzword of the era was lithography.  So by 1830, hand-tinted lithographs became a primary method of book illustration throughout central Europe.  Lithography was first used in the USA as early as 1819. Despite other methods such as aquatints, lithography was clearly the least expensive way to illustrate books


In lithography, a very fine-grained stone such as limestone is coated with a drawing made with greasy crayons or pens scratched into a greasy surface.  The surface is then fixed with water containing Gum Arabic and acid leaving the greasy impression sketch behind.  The ink binds itself to the printing plate greasy surface.  At the time, it was revolutionary and enabled the printer to create better tonal variation and halftones and detail such as brush marks.  


Chromolithography soon followed and from 1850 it slowly took over as a main colouring method.

Chromo lithographs are lithographs printed in three colours or more.  Each colour demands an individual colour plate and as colours are overprinted so colour mixing occurs.  By 1870 chromolithography was the most viable method of illustrating books with colour and hand colouring began to die out. 

By the 1870s, we know a great deal of hand colouring was eclipsed by full multiple over layers of colour used in modern chromolithography.  When this technique is done well and with delicacy it can be very attractive, but when done badly as it often was in the early experimental days it could look clumsy compared to good hand tinting.  Even later as in the example on this page it can look heavy handed.

In the world of fashion plates colour printing had truly started by the 1880s.  By 1900 there were a small number of books illustrated with tri-chromatic half-tones. the use of the 3 primary colours plus black and white with tonal values enabled a wide range of colour effects and was a main printing method until digital colour printing in the 1980s.

Amazingly despite many magazines using the latest printing techniques, fashion plates are one of the few items that in some instances continued to be hand coloured until the turn of the century.  We do know that with early chromolithographs the printing was only as good as the lithograph matrix and the printer's expertise at ensuring good printing.


Laid Paper

Many early prints up until about 1800 are on hand made laid paper.  But many were made after that date using old paper stock and fashion plates up until about 1835 are often on laid paper. Laid paper is made in a mould by hand and paper pulp is placed on fine support wires.  As the paper dries the fine wires leave a horizontal linear impression of closely spaced marks.

You can see these spaced lines especially if you hold the paper up to the light.  Usually the linear pattern of the grid is about every 1 mm horizontally and about every 2.5cm vertically. True hand made laid paper does have some natural irregularity in appearance, not evident in machine made wove paper.  But beware false lines can be added to machine made paper.

Buy your first fashion plates from a reputable and knowledgeable antique dealer and get used to the feel of paper from various plates from different eras.  Try also to buy plates that have the descriptive text with them and you are less likely to lose out.



Pochoir is another term you may come across and was used early in the twentieth century in France for fashion and style designs.  The method uses stencils and so the image is created straight onto the paper, but it gives an interesting effect that can be likened to hand colouring.  Some of the Pochoir style prints in the era 1910-1930 are really lovely and very collectible.

Prints in the Pochoir Process

Print in the Pochoir Process 1912 1914 Brunelleschi Pochoir Print Print Adieu in the Pochoir Process Prints in the Pochoir Process
Pochoir Print in the Pochoir Process by Erte Print in the Pochoir Process Erte Design Prints in the Pochoir Process

Famous French fashion journals such as Gazette du Bon Ton and Le Jardin des Dames et des Modes used the Pochoir process to produce fashion plates.  Pochoir style prints were made in France from 1900 through the 1930s.

Making a coloured Pochoir print is a labour intensive hand method to using the Pochoir stencilling process.  The Pochoir process has crisp lines and vibrant, brilliant colours to the point of appearing freshly wet or just printed.  A liking for Japanese prints in the c19th started this craze and it developed into a French art form employing some 600 workers in 30 design studios. These 600 workers made prints with not only fashions, but patterns for interiors or fabrics, playing cards and papers.  The style is mostly associated with art nouveau and later deco styling.

Metal stencils gave way to newer materials like celluloid which could be cut more easily by the Decouper.  Soon watercolours were used much less in favour of thicker gouache paint.  Gouache could be brushed, sprayed, stippled and textured to create a depth of colour that almost rises from the paper.  Sometimes extra watercolour would be layered atop all of this gouache to create even more interesting effects.

Poiret very much liked his fashion designs to be made as a Pochoir art prints. They had a new fresh look to them and this reinforced how new and liberating his fashion styles were intended to be.  George Lepape, Erte, George Barbier, Paul Iribe were all artists who are associated with  illustrating in the Pochoir manner.


Trade Plates

Fashion plates are different from trade plates. Trade plates were guideline advertisements which gave ideas on how to make up the fabric products sold by a manufacturer.  Examples of trade plates are shown in the 1940s section

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This Fashion Plates Page Added 8 Oct 2005

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Some images in this section are courtesy of eBay seller Cabrio4

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