Set in Stone: Victorian Lithographers

On MusiCB3 we often post about our Victorian sheet music collection. The most interesting thing about these items is often the illustrated title page, rather than then actual sheet music that it covers. As last week’s blog post mentioned, these illustrations are interesting for many different reasons and can be helpful in researching many different things, including family history research, social history, even architectural history. The printing technique that we have to thank for many of these illustrations is lithography. For the next few weeks, the exhibition cases in the UL music department will showcase illustrations by some of the most well-known Victorian lithographers.

Lithography is a printing technique developed in the late 1790s by the German actor Senefelder. Images are created by drawing on to a stone surface with wax or something oil-based, which clings to the pigment when the stone is inked, and keeps the ink where it needs to be while the rest of the stone is washed clean. Unlike some other printing methods such as engraving, the inked and non-inked surface are on the same level, and so there is no need for any laborious etching. Also, unlike in intaglio or relief printing, the stone printing blocks used for lithography could be wiped and used for something else when the image was no longer needed, making it a cheaper method for publishers to use. It was widely adopted as an easier way to produce printed music, and was soon also used for decoration and cover illustrations.

Earlier lithographs were often printed and then coloured by hand, but after Godefroy Engelmann developed a process for colour lithography and was granted an English patent in 1837, this technique took over. Colour lithographs could now be produced more cheaply and in greater numbers. The development of lithography coincided with a growth in interest in home music making and a demand for sheet music for amateur singers and players, and publishers would often pay an illustrator more for an attractive cover that might catch the eye of their customers then they paid the composer or lyricist for their work.

John Brandard (1812-1863) was noted for the high quality of his lithographs for sheet music and was able to charge a handsome sum for them. He was for many years employed exclusively by the publishers M. & N. Hanhart, who would often need to use several stones to print his more complicated illustrations. Brandard has been described as the “prince of music-illustrators” and was apparently “a man of somewhat imposing presence, and quite the dandy in his attire. His work took him much to the opera or play, to which he usually contrived to drive in some smart conveyance.” (Imeson, W. E., 1912. Illustrated music-titles and their delineators, London.)


The Belle of the Ball / Brandard

Alfred Concanen (1835-1886) is often thought of as Brandard’s successor as the most sought-after sheet music artist. Many of Concanen’s illustrations were portraits of music hall stars or scenes from music hall songs, though he was a versatile artist and also did a lot of work illustrating books and periodicals, such as the ‘Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News”. Concanen’s pictures can be unknowingly helpful – to the vexation of many a music cataloguer, nineteenth century music publishers seldom dated their publications. In Concanen’s later illustrations, however, he devised a way of his own for recording the year that they were published. Between the years 1881-1885 he would add after his signature two letters representing the year. ‘H’ stood for ‘8’, and ‘A-E’ stood for ‘1-5’. Thoughtful!


Concanen’s signature and his ‘code’ for 1882.

Brandard and Concanen were two of the most prolific sheet music artists, and are very well represented in the UL’s collections. However, while some artists made their living primarily by providing illustrations for sheet music, others just dipped into this profitable field occasionally. George Cruikshank, better known for his illustrations for Dickens’ novels, provided a cover for the piano piece ‘Estelle Redowa’ (A1871.1812). Jules Chéret, who went on to become famous for his poster art, has quite a number of music covers to his name in the UL collections.


Estelle Redowa / Cruikshank

If you are around the UL in the next few weeks, then pop over to the music department display cases to see some more of our favourite illustrations by Brandard, Concanen and co…


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