Electrotyping (also galvanoplasty) is a chemical method for forming metal parts that exactly reproduce a model. The method was invented by Moritz von Jacobi in Russia in 1838, and was immediately adopted for applications in printing and several other fields. As described in an 1890 treatise, electrotyping produces "an exact facsimile of any object having an irregular surface, whether it be an engraved steel- or copper-plate, a wood-cut, or a form of set-up type, to be used for printing; or a medal, medallion, statue, bust, or even a natural object, for art purposes." In art, several important "bronze" sculptures created in the 19th century are actually electrotyped copper, and not bronze at all; sculptures were executed using electrotyping at least into the 1930s. In printing, electrotyping had become a standard method for producing plates for letterpress printing by the late 1800s. It complemented the older technology of stereotyping, which involved metal casting. By 1901, stereotypers and electrotypers in several countries had formed labor unions around these crafts. The unions persisted into the 1970s, but by the late 20th century, after more than a century in widespread use for preparing plates, the two technologies had been bypassed by the transitions to offset printing and to new techniques for the preparation of printing plates.
Electrotyping in printing
Two similar images, each showing 2 children reading a magazine. One child is seated on a floor and holds the magazine; the second child is kneeling. The left image has the description "Wood Engraving." underneath it; the right image has the description "Electrotype Copy." underneath it. The two images are nearly identical.
One of the first applications of electrotyping was in printing. Initially, electrotyping was used to make copper reproductions of engraved metal plates or wooden carvings, which were used to print artwork. The electrotypes could be incorporated along with movable type to compose the formes for printing. Jacobi published his first account of electrotyping in October, 1838. In 1839, electrotyping was used by Russian printers for government documents; the Russian Czar Nicholas I had immediately become an enthusiastic supporter and patron of the technology. In England, the first use of electrotyping for printing appeared in the London Journal of April 1840, and other English examples are known from later in that year. The image to the right shows one of the earliest uses of electrotyping in the United States; it is a comparison done by Joseph Alexander Adams in 1841 of the printed image prepared directly from a wood carving and of the image printed from a copper electrotype copy. Electrotyped copper plates could be formed into cylinders, which was valuable for use in magazine and newspaper printing.
Electrotyping was also used to produce entire printing plates directly from the formes composed from movable type and illustrations. In this application, electrotyping was a higher quality but more costly alternative to stereotyping, which involved casting of type metal into a mold prepared from the forme. Stereotyping had been invented around 1725, and was already well-established when electrotyping was invented in 1838. Both methods yielded plates that could be preserved in case of future needs, for example in the printing of novels and other books of unpredictable popularity. The movable type used to compose the original forme could then be re-used. Both methods could be used to prepared curved plates for rotary presses, which were used for the longest print runs. The widespread adoption of electrotyping for this use occurred after mechanical electrical generators (dynamos) became commonly available around 1872. These generators supplanted the whole rooms of chemical batteries (Smee cells) that were previously used to provide electricity for electrotyping. Batteries did not have the electrical capacity needed to rapidly deposit the electrotype (or "electro"). The advent of plating dynamos sped up electrotyping twenty times or more, so that an electrotype printing plate could be deposited in less than two hours. In addition, the chemical batteries gave off toxic fumes that had required their isolation in separate rooms.
By the 1900s printing plants often incorporated electrotyping and stereotyping departments, and electrotyping and stereotyping had become trades with associated apprenticeships. In the United Kingdom, the National Society of Electrotypers and Stereotypers (NSES) formed in 1893, and continued to 1967 when it amalgamated with the National Graphic Association. In the US and Canada, the International Stereotypers and Electrotypers Union (ISEU) was formed in 1902; previously, electrotypers had belonged to the International Typographer's Union (ITU). In 1925 there were 6800 members, and in 1955 10,500. In 1973 the ISEU was absorbed into the International Printing and Graphic Communications Union. In 1978, an Occupational Outlook Handbook reported that 2000 electrotypers and stereotypers were employed in the US. However, job prospects were reported as poor. Offset printing has supplanted letterpress printing in most printing plants; the last letterpress facility for a newspaper was installed in the 1980s. For offset printing, the printing plates are typically prepared by coating them with light-sensitive materials, and creating the image on the plate by direct optical exposure (the photo-offset process); stereotyping and electrotyping are not used.
Electrotyping in art
Photograph of a statue of Goethe and Schiller standing side by side, each looking forward. There are trees and blue sky visible behind the statue. The two figures are of nearly the same height. Goethe appears middle-aged; Schiller is noticeably younger. They are dressed in nineteenth century clothing. Goethe is wearing a knee-length formal coat, and Schiller is wearing a calf-length coat. Both men wear breeches. Goethe's left hand rests lightly on Schiller's shoulder; his right hand holds a laurel wreath near his waist. Schiller's right hand is nearly touching the wreath, which may suggest that Goethe is passing the wreath to Schiller. Schiller's left hand extends loosely below his waist, and grasps a rolled sheet of paper.
Electrotyping has been used for the production of metal sculptures, where it is an alternative to the casting of molten metal. These sculptures are sometimes called "galvanoplastic bronzes", although the actual metal is usually copper. It was possible to apply essentially any patina to these sculptures; gilding was also readily accomplished in the same facilities as electrotyping by using electroplating. Electrotyping has been used to reproduce valuable objects such as ancient coins, and in some cases electrotype copies have proven more durable than fragile originals.
One of the earliest documented large-scale (1.67 metres (5.5 ft)) electrotype sculptures was John Evan Thomas's Death of Tewdric Mawr, King of Gwent (1849). The electrotype was done by Elkington, Mason, & Co. for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Among the most spectacular early examples are Josef Hermann's twelve angels (1858) at the base of the cupola of Saint Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia (see photograph A below). As described by Théophile Gautier in 1867, "They are twenty-one feet high, and were made by the galvanoplastic process in four pieces, whose welding together is invisible. They could in this manner be made so light that, in spite of their dimensions, they would not be too heavy for the cupola. This crown of gilt angels, poised amid a flood of light, and shining with rich reflections, produces an extremely rich effect." Other important sculptures followed; David A. Scott has written, "Some extremely important commissions were made in electrotypes, such as the "bronzes" that adorn the Opera, Paris, and the 320 cm high statue of Prince Albert and four accompanying figures, erected behind the Albert Hall in London as a memorial to the Great Exhibition of 1851." The statue of Prince Albert was unveiled in 1861 (see photograph B below); the electrotyping process "was one in which the Prince Consort had had great faith." The Palais Garnier in Paris (the Opera) has two 7.5 meter tall sculptures above the main facade; the building was completed in 1869 (see photograph C below).
In the 19th century, museums often displayed electrotypes of ancient coins instead of the originals (see photograph D below), and individuals purchased electrotypes for their private collections. By 1920, the Victoria and Albert Museum in England had acquired nearly 1000 electrotyped copies of important objects from the collections of other European museums. The most celebrated may be their copy of the Jerningham wine cooler, which is a spectacular silverwork made in England in 1735 that has long been in the collection of the Hermitage Museum in Russia. Many of these objects were made by Elkington & Co., which had an extensive business in electrotyped silver.
An important example of electrotyping's use for preservation is the electrotype of the plaster life-mask of the poet John Keats (see photograph E below). The original life mask was made by Haydon in 1816. The plaster mask was electrotyped in 1884 by Elkington & Co., and this copper copy is now apparently in better condition than the plaster original.
From 1890 through at least 1930, the Abteilung für Galvanoplastic of the WMF Company in Germany produced many statues and other items using electrotyping. The statues in particular were significantly less expensive than bronze castings. Memorials in German cemeteries from this era often incorporated electroptyped statues from models that had been commissioned by WMF from well-known sculptors (see photograph F below). WMF also undertook larger commissions. One example is the full-sized copper electrotype (1911) of Ernst Rietschel's 1857 bronze for the Goethe–Schiller Monument in Weimar, Germany, which is about 3.5 metres (11 ft) tall (see photograph at right).
Many sculptors have experimented with the technique of electrotyping a plaster form that remains as the core of the finished sculpture (Kerngalvanoplastik). As one example, the sculptor Elie Nadelman did several significant sculptures in the 1920s and 1930s using this technique. The advantage was that Nadelman could have these "galvanoplastique" metal sculptures made quickly and inexpensively. Such sculptures can degrade quickly, and have presented significant preservation and restoration problems.