Home > Digital Library > Index of Newsletters > Vol. II No. 2 July - September 1994

LECTURE

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The Introduction of Lithigraphy and its impact on

Book Design in India

Mr. Graham Shaw, Deputy Director, Oriental and India Office Collections, British Library, London delivered a talk at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. He traced the introduction of Lithography in India and also discussed about its impact on the appearance of the vernacular printed books.

Lithography literally means writing or drawing on stone. Various methods were used to produce books lithographically , but in practice just two methods predominated. First, writing directly onto the lithographic stone, that is, writing in reverse or mirror-writing, using lithographic ink and steel pen, a difficult technique to master and therefore comparatively slow but which gave the best-quality results. Secondly, writing on transfer paper, that is, writing in the normal way on to specially prepared paper, this writing then being transferred (Hence the name of the paper) by a relatively simple operation so that it appeared in reverse o the stone and therefore the correct way round for printing. The writing or design on the stone was then retracted with the greasy lithographic ink, "a solution of gum-lac in potash coloured with Jamp-blck produced from burning wax", to quote a contemporary description. Once the ink was dry, the stone was treated with dilute nitric acid (in Lucknow we know that lemon juice was substituted) which ate away a minute part of the surface of the stone except for those areas impregnated with resinous ink. The pattern of letters or lines was thus left in relief as it were; the stab of stone was washed with water, and a printer’s ball or sponge filled with ink was pressed by hand over the stone. A sheet of paper in a frame was then lowered onto the stone and an impression obtained either by rolling a brass cylinder over the paper or by using a proper press. When the required number of copies had been printed, the stone was polished clean removing all trace of the letters or design and it could then be reused. Alternatively, if the same text were thought likely to be reissued within a specified period of time, the stone with letters intact would be stored away until reprinting took place. The stones were ideally between 2 and 2.5 inches thick and could be reused in this way upto 30 or 40 times.

In India there is evidence that both these methods were used: writing in reverse directly onto the stone and the transfer method. Writing in reverse onto the stone was certainly practised at Lucknow in the golden age of lithography there. Munshi Jafer Husain at the Mustafai Press is supposed to have initiated mirror-writing on stone there and the art was brought to its greatest perfection by Munshi Saiyyid Ali Hussain of whom it was said that few calligraphers of Katibs could vie with his uverted script. One particular difficulty in the process was correcting mistakes in the text on the stone. This was done by carefully scraping away and rewriting with a pen even for such delicate scripts as Naskh and Nastaliq and this technique (known as musleh sangi "stone-correction") was perfected at Lucknow.

Lithography was invented only in 1798 by Alois Senefelder, a native of Prague, then in Bohemia, whose main motivation was to find a cheap way of printing so as to make a living from his plays. He founded "stone printing houses" as they were called (recalling the Hindi term Shilayantra) in both Munich and vienna, the former being the more famous. News of lithography’s invention and a realizato nof its potential reached India very quickly from an article in the Supplement to the Calculla Gazett of 28 March 1811, squeezed between Ancedotes of Bonaparte and an item on Mongo Park’s reappearance which commented that lithography was "meriting from its simplicity, its expedition, and its economy, to rank high among modern discoveries, and offering some real and important advantage to the arts". But it was not taken up immediately in India and came into practice only after it had become established in England following the publication there of an English translation of Senefelder’s treatise A Complete Course of Lithography in 1918.

The use of lithography might never have become widespread at all if no local source of stones suitable for the process could have been found, as it was both expensive and time-consuming to import them from Europe. But this problem was overcome almost immediately when the right type of porous limestone was discovered at Kurnool in the Bellary district of Madras Presidency (modern Andhra Pradesh) in 1826. Not only was there a very plentiful supply with, for instance, over one hundred stones being dispatched to Bombay and Poona in 1830 alone, but the Kurnool stones were locally considered to be superior in quality to those imported from Europe, being both much denser and finer-grained. When lithographic presses were introduced in Jails in the Punjab at Ambala and firozpur in the 1850s the cost of lithographic stones was 8 annas per pound weight at Delhi but those from Calcutta were said to be cheaper and of a better texture. It is generally accepted that lithography was introduced in India by Names Nathaniel Rind, an assistant surgeon in the Bengal Medical Service, who returned to Calcutta from a period of sick-leave in Scotland in August 1822, bringing with him a lithographic press and materials. This accepted view may, however, be open to doubt for the Calcutta Journal of 26 September 1822 reported that "Mr. Belnos, and Mr. de Savighnac, two French artists resident in this city, having united their information and skill, have produced specimens of lithographic engraving and printing equal to anything we have seen from England, and we have now in our possession a portrait of a private individual, and a sketch from nature, which it would be difficult to distinguish from pencil drawings". "Since Rind’s proposal to set up a lithographic press was not presented until January 1823, it may be that the first practice of the new technique in India was imitated by two French artist.

From Calcutta lithography spread rapidly to the other Presidency capitals. A government press was established at Bombay in 1824 by Robert MacDowell, who lent heavily on James Rind for advice, and a commercial press owned by John Morris followed there in 1826, issuing in that year J.M. Gonsalves Lithographic Views of Bombay. By 1827 John Gantz had opened a commercial lithographic press at Madras, issuing the Indian Microcosm that year. The first up-country or mofussil lithographic press was that of Sir Charles D’Oyly at Gaya in 1826, later to become famous as the Behar Lithographic Press. The word amateur occurs quite frequently in the context of lithography, emphasizing one of its key advantages as a printing technique, i.e. that it was far easier to master than typography, less cumbersome involving less equipment and therefore appealing to the amateur or small-scale operator in particular.

One final point about lithography’s use in India must be mentioned. In Europe lithography always remained on the fringes of book production—one in a line of ‘subversive’, alternative technologies to typography that emerged from time to time, one of its chief applications in England during the 19th century, and most extensively of all in the Indian subcontinent. Some of the reasons for its rapid adoption have already been mentioned but there is also the deeper cultural question of textual acceptability and the aesthetics of the book. Thus, Lithography was in essence, a link with the past. It combined the cultural attributes of the manuscript with the technical advantages of mass-production. Lithography made the printed book no longer an alien artifact but something visually more familiar and therefore culturally more acceptable. The mass-produced manuscript was, through lithography, a paradox realized.

 

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