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The Father of colour printing

George Baxter – a son of Lewes

An exhibition of George Baxter’s work



George Baxter (1804 - 1867) is regarded as the inventor of colour printing. The Baxter process involved an initial metal keyplate and up to 20 wood or metal blocks to apply each individual colour, and all this on hand-operated presses!



As “The Printworks” development nears completion on the site of his old works, the Town Council has teamed-up with the New Baxter Society to put on an exhibition of the Council’s collection of prints by George Baxter.  Baxter, born in Lewes in 1804, is regarded as the inventor of colour printing. Until the recent development began, W E Baxter Ltd had occupied the site since his father set up a printing and publishing business there.  The Town Council holds a significant collection of Baxter’s prints and other memorabilia (over 550 items in all), and the bulk of this will be exhibited in the Assembly Room at the Town Hall between 21st July and 2nd August 2008.  The last time that such an event was held to celebrate the life and work of this remarkable Lewesian was in 1967.  The New Baxter Society will celebrate its jubilee at the same time, and is to hold its summer meeting in the Town Hall.  We hope to have some of the Society’s experts on-hand to give lectures and offer appraisals of any Baxter prints the public may bring along.  Details of the exhibition will be published shortly, and we hope that it will be popular and bring the story of this remarkable man alive for another generation.

The Baxter process involved an initial metal key-plate and up to 20 wood or metal blocks to apply each individual colour.  Baxter was a perfectionist and personally spent many hours, in the early days at least, engraving his own plates. He would only use the best paper and materials and mixed all his own oil inks. The paper would be wetted and the key plate was applied and the ink left to dry. The paper then had to be dampened again, so it expanded to exactly the same size as when the key plate was used and the first colour was printed, then again left to dry. This process was repeated until all the colour blocks were added and then a final gloss finish was applied. As these presses were all operated by hand this was a painstaking process.  It is amazing to think that it is reputed well over 100,000 copies of some prints were issued in this manner! Apart from the sale of 'Oil Pictures' his prints were used to illustrate books (his Cabinet of Paintings was the first to be published in full colour) as well as music sheets, needle-boxes, boxes for handkerchiefs, playing cards etc.  His work caught the attention of Prince Albert and he was invited to personally attend and draw the coronation of Queen Victoria. He even attended the christening of the Prince of Wales, which was drawn by Baxter 'on the spot'.



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