Early New Zealand Botanical Art
All but a few of the 743 copperplate engravings have survived to the present day, despite air-raid damage to the British Museum in September 1940. These 738 plates are being published in eighteen volumes by Alecto Historical Editions, London, in association with the British Museum (Natural History). The edition is limited to 100, and each set will sell for about $NZ 130,000. The Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, has purchased a set and the first volumes, illustrating Australian plants, have been received. In Banks's time the engravings would probably have been printed with black ink and perhaps sold in uncoloured and hand-coloured versions. Alecto Historical Editions have used the à la poupée technique of colour printing from copper plates, developed by a Dutchman in the seventeenth century. Each copper plate is chromium plated to harden it so that it will not become page 30 worn during the printing. The various coloured pigments are worked into the incised lines of the engraving with a bunched piece of cloth (poupée). Then the smooth, unengraved part of the Plate is wiped clean. The colours of the pigments that are rubbed into the Plate are carefully chosen to match the colours of each finished watercolour. Up to fifteen different colours are used for each plate. The pigments chosen are those that were used in the eighteenth century, and these are mixed with boiled linseed oil. It can take three hours or more to ink up each Plate and to remove excess ink from non-engraved regions. Heavy-weight, acid-free paper is then lightly dampened and placed on top of the copper plate. This is run through a press, the rollers of which press the ink onto the paper from the grooves in the plate. Only one print can be made from each inking, which explains why each set of prints is so costly. The finished plates are very impressive indeed. They are, however, a step removed from the watercolours, which give a more accurate and life-like picture of each plant.