Added Tue, 5 Jun 2007
A report and analysis by Tony Campbell <t.campbell(at)ockendon.clara.co.uk>
Out of the frame? Click here
Not strictly speaking map history but it does have a map and it is old, hopefully being of interest to some of the more technically minded.
I am trying to resolve a paradox which has been plaguing me for some time now.
I have a copper intaglio plate which appears to be the plate used to print the title page of the first edition  of 'The generall historie of virginia......', by John Smith. Unfortunately it is very clear that the plate referred to was re-worked for the second and subsequent editions. Very close examination reveals no significant differences in the common areas of any of the 17thC prints or indeed of prints taken from my plate.
My plate shows no sign of having been re-worked.
The only possible conclusion is that there are/were two identical plates!!
Is this a possibility or can anybody suggest an alternative hypothesis?
Any suggestions which involve time travel or alien abduction will be treated with the seriousness that they deserve!
Peter Barnes [private individual - no affiliations]
Click here or on the illustration below for a large version, [1704 x 2272 pixels, 833 Kb]
ADDITION, 30 April 2007 19.00 H CET
Click for this print panel only in high resultion
The copper-plate (i.e. the physical object) was described by Peter Barnes in a message to MapHist on 20 April 2007. An enlarged scan of an impression taken from it was subsequently posted to the MapHist illustration page.
The report that follows attempts to explain the newly-discovered plate - as a 20th-century fake - and warn of the dangers that such productions might present. Much of the information was kindly provided by the owner, Peter Barnes, whose help is gratefully acknowledged. The conclusions reached here, though, are mine.
The plate features the first, 1624, state of the title-page to 'The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles' (1624). The six states, reflecting four later imprint dates for the volume, are described in Philip Burden, 'The Mapping of North America: a listing of printed maps 1511-1670' (1996) No. 213 (pp.264-5) [I originally provided the list with the wrong Burden reference].
The Barnes copper-plate was acquired, without provenance details, in a car-boot sale in Leicestershire, England in August 2006. Since it displays the characteristics of the first state, elements of which were irrevocably altered in 1626 and again thereafter, there had seemed to be three possibilities:
Peter confirmed that what appeared to be different elements of the capital italicised W, noticed by Matthew Edney on the scan of the Barnes impression, proved not to be significant when the plate itself was carefully scrutinised < http://mailman.geo.uu.nl/pipermail/maphist/2007-April/009795.html >. Equally, the apparent second full-stop at the end of the short line 'yet knowne' does not appear on the plate.
Any newly cut plate, however closely copied, will always betray itself by small differences, like those Marcel van den Broeke described for the 'fourth plate' of the Ortelius map of America < http://mailman.geo.uu.nl/pipermail/maphist/2007-April/009794.html >.
These observations also ruled out the first possibility - much the least likely of the three anyway - that there were two 'original' plates.
That left the only sustainable conclusion that the Barnes plate was produced as a photo-mechanical copy of an impression of the first state. No details are available about the 'nineteenth century facsimile', mentioned by Burden. To test if the Barnes plate was the platform for that facsimile, an example of the latter would need to be found and compared. Otherwise, this must represent a second 'facsimile'.
Most facsimile/fakes are produced planigraphically, i.e. the plate's surface is smooth. This does not, therefore, create the distinctive platemark (an indentation outside a blank margin beyond the engraved surface) since no great pressure is required. Modern copies often add a fake plate-mark. This is usually much wider than was normal in earlier centuries, is very regular, and has neatly rounded corners. The Barnes plate is a genuine intaglio copper-plate, i.e. ink has to be forced into its incised lines under great pressure. This creates a *genuine* platemark for the Barnes plate. But it is extends much further beyond the edge of the engraved area (the neat line) than that of the original.
A scan of the Barnes plate has now been added here. Please note that, to facilitate comparison with printed impressions, the scan has been reversed so that it is right-reading. Any printing plate, of course, is mirror image.
The scan reveals an interesting detail. Instead of being flat, with an abrupt edge, as in my limited experience was the case with early plates, this is rounded. Perhaps that feature would allow it to be dated more accurately, thus providing an estimate for the period after which impressions from that plate might have been circulating. An expert in recent intaglio facsimile printing might be able to recognise the likely age of the copper-plate, and also the precise technique used. Peter notes that it seems to be etched rather than engraved, which is probably a simpler mechanical process.
The original - at least in the case of the UNC scan < http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/smith/title.html > - appears to reveal 'show through' of what might have been letterpress text around the three portraits. However, this feature has not been found on other reproduced examples. It does no more than establish that the UNC original was not used for this facsimile, since those details would have been reproduced in the intervening photograph.
Peter has taken three impressions from the plate, one of which was sold on eBay. How many were taken before he acquired the plate, and where are they now? In its present condition, the plate has a prominent scratch in the title section, through the fourth line from the end, 'Printed by I. D. and'. That represents the most obvious unique 'signature' for the Barnes plate. However, the scratch might not have been there from the beginning.
The Barnes plate seems to present itself as a genuine original. Unless impressions were intended to be printed on paper with a watermark indicating their recent origin, or a marginal note (which could be trimmed off) was used to provide an explanation, this should be considered as a fake, rather than an innocent facsimile.
Two further important considerations. Although the title-page does include a small map element, its commercial appeal to collectors would be considerably less than that of the maps found in the same volume: the map of Virginia (Burden No. 164), New England (No. 187) and Ould Virginia (No. 212). Might the same person have produced facsimiles/fakes of those three high-priced maps, perhaps on imitation old paper, but with the same extra, modern-looking platemark? If examples of those appeared on the market, have they been recognised for what they are?
Perhaps an attempt needs to be made to identify the various 'facsimiles' made of the maps and title-page of the 'Generall Historie' (and, indeed, of other early maps). What are their characteristics, and where are they? Have any been considered as originals? How do they compare with the high-quality facsimiles produced in the late 19th century of, e.g., Rembrandt etchings? Were those also printed from intaglio plates? Were the facsimiles that Forbes Smiley was carrying when he was arrested printed from intaglio copper-plates?
Lots of questions, but important ones. If fakes become essentially indistinguishable from originals, all of us who live and breathe early maps will be seriously affected.