Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Meat Extract and Chromolithography

A rather unusual juxtaposition of subjects, but one which is delightfully represented in a set of six cards issued by the Liebig Meat Extract Company in the late nineteenth century.

Baron Justus von Liebig was a German chemist of considerable note, considered one of the founders of organic chemistry. Concerned about providing inexpensive nutrition for Europe’s poor, he invented a method for producing extract from cattle carcasses, supposedly preserving the flavors and nutrients of the beef. The cost for the process proved considerable, but a young Belgian, George Christian Giebert, came up with a feasible plan to produce the extract in Uruguay, where land and cattle were plentiful.

In 1865, Liebig and Giebert formed the Liebig Meat Extract Company, with its factory in Uruguay, and it went on to great success. Not only did the company make its meat extract a popular item for kitchens throughout the world, but it also introduced both Oxo meat extract and beef stock cubes, not to mention Marmite (which I think is pretty awful, but which my wife loves!).

In 1872, the company started to issue promotional trading cards on all sorts of subjects, usually issued in sets of six cards on one topic. They were produced initially in lithography, then chromolithography, and finally offset printing. These cards were hugely popular and supposedly by the time Liebig stopped producing them in 1975, they had produced over 10,000 different cards!

The early chromolithographed cards are the most collectible and I was surprised and delighted when I came across a set of the Liebig cards on the subject of chromolithography. Chromolithography is a printmaking process, developed by the late 1830s, where a colored subject was produced by using multiple lithographic stones, each using a different color ink. The Liebig set, “Les Phases de la Fabircation d’un Chromo Liebig,” shows all the steps in making a Liebig trading card set. Included is a wonderful demonstration of the process, showing the development of a portrait of Liebig through six stages from just two stones to the finished image having used twelve stones.

Card 1: The first card shows the artist composing the subject in his studio. He is drawing a water color onto a sheet of paper, carefully working on an image of the exact size of the intended print. The portrait of Liebig is printed in gold and yellow and is barely visible.

Card 2: This card shows the quarrying of the limestone to be used for making the prints. Though many different stones were tested, it was limestone from Solnhofen in Bavaria which proved to be the best. The portrait of Liebig now has had red and blue ink added, and the visage is beginning to appear more distinctly.

Card 3: This image shows the process of transferring the image to the multiple lithographic stones to be used. The explanation on the verso explains that an outline of the image is transferred, in an inverted manner, to each stone which has been polished with pumice powder. That part of the image appropriate to the color for each stone is then added to that stone for a total of twelve stones. Liebig’s portrait is now quite visible, having been printed with six colors.

Card 4: This card shows the testing of the stones. Each stone is cleaned with nitric acid, so that the ink will not adhere to the stone except where the image has been drawn on it. Then the stones are tested, and the different colors combined onto sample images in sequence, working from the lightest to the darkest ink colors. Liebig’s portrait now appears with 8 colors having been used.

Card 5: Once the test stones are perfected, the final images are printed on a rotary press, being compared with the test images. Other than the placing of the paper on the press, this process is all automated. The portrait of Liebig is now almost finished, with 10 colors having been printed.

Card 6: This shows the cards being cut from the larger sheets and then packed. The portrait, with 12 stones used, is complete.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Maps of Ireland and the Black Irish

The term “Black Irish” is usually used to describe Irish who have dark features, black hair and dark eyes (in contrast to the more “typical” stereotype of the fair skinned, blue eyed and blond or red headed Irish). The Black Irish are generally found in western Ireland. There are a number of explanations of the origin of the Black Irish, but my favorite has to do with maps!

In 1588, the Spanish Armada was beaten badly by the English and were driven out of the English Channel to the east. Fearing trying to run the gauntlet by returning through the Channel, the surviving ships of the Armada sailed north, around Scotland, planning to head west, then south back to Spain.

The ships turned south too soon, sailing very close to the Irish western coastline. This proved disastrous when gales blew in from the west and sent quite a number of ships to destruction on the Irish shore. Many men died by drowning or were killed by English troops, but some did survive. The story is that these Armada survivors married into the local population, thus propagating the Black Irish.

So why did the Spanish turn south too soon? One factor was simply the fact that it was at that time very difficult to know your exact longitude, and another was perhaps that they did not account as they should have for the Gulf Stream, which flows to the north-east. However, the story I like, is that they were using maps which didn’t show Connaught’s western bulge. The Mullett Peninsula in County Mayo extends quite a ways further west than the more northern coast and this was not shown on the earliest maps of Ireland.

For instance, Gerard Mercator’s map of Ireland (which is shown as printed at top of the blog and oriented to the North just above) shows the western coast as with very little western bulge and most other maps of the earliest period were like this. If you were navigating south along the western coast of Ireland in 1855, using a map such as this, you would not expect the Mullett Peninsula to jut out as you got past Donegal Bay. Perhaps this was what happened to the Armada ships?

In any case, by the end of the seventeenth century a more correct shape of the west coast of Ireland appeared and that mistake would no longer occur. Collectors usually like earlier maps in any case, but for maps of Ireland, it is maps such as Mercator’s that are particularly desirable. Even if not a true tale, it certainly makes a good story!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Point of Beginning for the American West

One of the earliest issues facing Americans after they won independence from Great Britain was what to do about the lands lying northwest of the Ohio River. There were competing claims there by a number of states, based on their original charters, and the nascent nation could very well fall apart if these conflicts were not resolved.

The solution was to have those states each waive their claims, turning this “northwest territory” over to the American government. This not only resolved the conflicts between the states, but solved a number of other problems. First, there was a need for lands to reward veterans of the Revolution, and it also made land available to American citizens to seek their fortune in the west. Finally, it offered a means for the federal government to raise revenue, as the Articles of Confederation, which were then in place, did not allow Congress to tax its citizens.

As a result, in 1787, Congress passed “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio” which established the manner in which this area would be measured, divided and then distributed.

The ordinance called for the surveying of the territory with a single, consistent system, dividing it into a grid of townships and smaller sections, each with border lines oriented strictly north-south and east-west. These sections could then be used for public purposes, distributed to veterans and sold to individuals and land companies. A process was established so that as a certain population was reached, the Northwest Territory would be divided into new states. This not only gave access to citizens for land, but also would provide a source of revenue for the federal government.

In order for this all to work, the Northwest Territory had to be surveyed and divided into sections. The task of doing this was given to the first Geographer of the United States, Thomas Hutchins, who developed a system for doing this which became the foundation for how most of the United States was surveyed and divided as new lands were added.

Hutchens devised a system where the government lands were to be divided into townships of six miles square. The townships were stacked in north-to-south columns called “ranges.” Each township was itself divided into thirty-six numbered sections of one square mile each, and those were in turn divided into half, quarter and quarter-quarter sections, the smallest units being 40 square acres.

This system was eventually extended throughout the Northwest Territory, and then later to most of the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, Mexican cession, and Oregon Territory, explaining why so many roads, towns, farms, and other properties west of the Ohio and Mississippi River are so regular and straight-sided.

In order to start the survey, Hutchens had to lay down a base line, called the Geographer’s Line, off of which the rest of the survey would work. The base line itself had to start somewhere, a place called the “Point of Beginning.” Hutchens picked a spot on the north bank of the Ohio River, directly north of the western terminus of the just surveyed southern border of Pennsylvania. This point of beginning is now in East Liverpool, on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The first area that Hutchens surveyed was called the “Seven Ranges,” that is, the first seven stacks of townships, each six miles wide and lying between the Geographer’s Line and the Ohio River, running from the Point of Beginning forty-two miles to the west. Hutchens set off on September 30, 1785, but the survey team did not make it very far before they heard of Indian troubles no too far west, and so decided to high-tail it back to Pittsburgh. Hutchens and the surveyors were later able to secure military protection and so returned to finish the job, completing the Seven Ranges in 1787.

A map of the seven ranges was issued in 1796 by Mathew Carey and engraved by W. Barker. The title of the map says:
“Plat of the Seven Ranges of Townships being Part of the Territory of the United Sates N.W. of the River Ohio Which by a late act of Congress are directed to be sold. That part which is divided into sections or tracts of a mile square will be sold in small tracts at public auction in Pitsburg [sic] the residue will be sold in quarters of Townships at the seat of Government.”

W. Barker sculp.

Surveyed in conformity to an Ordinance of Congress of May 20th 1785. Under direction of Thos. Hutchins late Geographer to the United States

Hutchens’ system, now known as the Public Land Survey System, is still in use today, all surveys working off of the initial Seven Ranges survey of the late eighteenth century. It is this national survey grid which allowed for the orderly division and distribution of land to farmers and settlers, railroad companies, prospectors and all the other Americans who emigrated from the east to the west as the country expanded. Thus Hutchens’ “Point of Beginning” for this first survey, was in fact the Point of Beginning for all the American West.