Music Plate Engraving

Maybe you selected a song to learn, purchased it, and have spent hours looking at it while practicing.  Maybe you found some old pieces of sheet music in a piano bench.  Have you ever give stopped to think how that page of music was printed?  There were — and still are — multiple ways to create a page of music, but I’m talking about how to make a fine edition “back in the day.”   Before computer printing, before mistakes could be corrected by a couple of keystrokes, before songs could be created without a true knowledge of the language of music, there were craftsman.  These artists prepared zinc or pewter plates for the printing press by engraving them with small hand tools and dies, all with the steady hand of a surgeon and the discerning eye of an artist.

This video shows one of the last of these craftsman engraving a metal plate.  Remember, everything is done by hand…and as a mirror image of the final product.

For further reading, the book “Metal plate printing: a treatise on printing in the lithographic manner from zinc and aluminum plates,” published in 1910, has a wealth of information. You can find the book here.

Cover Photo: Engraved Metal Plates, for the printing of sheet music, c. 1930’s. From the University of Illinois Music and Performing Arts Library’s Special Collections. Photo taken on 13 Mar, 2014 by C.E. Crane.