Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Making the Hand-Colored Lithographic Prints in John Gould’s Bird Books

September 8th, 2020

We are periodically sharing some of the materials that are featured in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery permanent exhibit. We hope you’ll be able to visit the library and explore the full exhibit in person! This week’s post highlights materials by and information about English ornithologist John Gould.

John Gould, an English ornithologist based in London, published large, lavishly illustrated books about birds of the world from 1830 until his death in 1881. Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas holds 47 large-format volumes published by Gould, as well as nearly 2000 preliminary drawings, watercolors, tracings, lithographic stones, and proof prints from his artistic workshop. Digitized a decade ago, our Gould collection has recently migrated to new Islandora software that makes searching for bird images within the volumes as easy as finding the separate pieces of preliminary art. The digitized Gould collection is accessible at the University of Kansas Libraries website.

Lithographic portrait of John Gould, 1834
John Gould. Lithographic portrait by J. Maguire. Inserted as frontispiece in A Monograph of the Ramphastidae or Family of Toucans (London, 1834). Call Number: Ellis Aves H17, vol. 1. This volume has been digitized and is available online. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

The son of a humble gardener, John Gould had spent his boyhood in rural England. His youthful interest in birds and taxidermy would later grow into a career as a publisher of bird books. Hired in 1827 by the recently founded Zoological Society of London, his work maintaining their collection of bird skins enabled him to learn from member ornithologists. Gould and his wife Elizabeth, an amateur artist, ventured into ornithological publishing in 1830 with a book about birds of the Himalaya Mountains.

High-quality digital images downloaded from University of Kansas Libraries website are included here to help explain how the beautiful lithographic prints of birds that illustrate Gould’s books were made. Lithography was a chemical printing process based on the antipathy between grease and water. It involved drawing with greasy ink or crayon on blocks of fine-grained limestone imported from Germany. Invented in Bavaria about 1798 by Aloys Senefelder, lithography soon spread throughout Europe and beyond. By the mid 1800s lithography had replaced copper engraving as the preferred method for quality book illustration, because it was easier and faster (and therefore cheaper) to execute.

An initial rough sketch on paper, often drawn by John Gould himself, began the bird illustration process. The multiple lines and erasures on this sketch of two Asian ground thrushes (Pitta concinna) reflect Gould’s search for the best composition.

Rough pencil and chalk sketch of Pitta concinna by John Gould
Rough pencil and chalk sketch of Pitta concinna by John Gould. Call Number: Gould Drawing 1114. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

One of Gould’s artists, in this case William Hart, then developed the sketch into a detailed watercolor painting to be approved by Gould, who insisted on accurate proportions and coloring.

Finished watercolor of Pitta concinna by William Hart
Finished watercolor of Pitta concinna by William Hart. Call Number: Gould Drawing 1167. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Next Hart copied the outlines onto tracing paper and blackened the reverse side with soft lead pencil. By laying the tracing paper on a block of limestone prepared for lithographic printing and re-tracing the outlines, he was able to transfer a non-printing guide image onto the printing surface.

Outline drawing in pencil on tracing paper of Pitta concinna
Outline drawing in pencil on tracing paper of Pitta concinna. Call Number: Gould Drawing 1168.

Following the guide lines, Hart has used a greasy lithographic crayon to draw and shade the bird image on the lithographic stone. The stone had been rubbed with fine sand and water to give it a velvety texture or grain to which the crayon would adhere.

Lithographic crayon drawing on lithographic stone of Pitta coccinea
Lithographic crayon drawing on lithographic stone of Pitta coccinea. Call Number: Gould Drawing 2383.

Close examination with a magnifier would show small irregular dots of crayon adhering to the grained surface of the stone. At normal reading distance, though, the viewer’s eye blends the tiny dots and perceives them as shades of gray.

Enlarged view of grained stone surface
Enlarged view of grained stone surface. Charles Hullmandel, The Art of Drawing on Stone (London, 1824). Call Number: D725. Click image to enlarge.
Enlarged detail of lithographic crayon shading of feathers of Greylag Wild Goose (Anser palasurus)
Enlarged detail of lithographic crayon shading of feathers of Greylag Wild Goose (Anser palasurus). Uncolored proof copy of John Gould, Birds of Europe (London, 1837), Volume 5, Plate 347. Call Number: Ellis Aves H132. This volume has been digitized and is available online. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Turning the drawing on stone into a printing image was a chemical process. First, the crayon drawing was lightly etched with a gum arabic solution, which adhered to the non-image areas and made the bare stone surface there more water receptive. The crayon image was then washed out with turpentine, which formed a thin coating on the image making it receptive to the greasy printing ink.

Next the printer placed the stone on the bed of a lithographic printing press. Before inking, the stone was wetted, so the greasy black ink would adhere only to the crayon image. A blank sheet of paper was then placed on the inked stone and pressed against it by a scraper bar to transfer the black ink onto the paper, forming the printed image.

A printer inking a lithographic stone on a printing press. Elisha Noyce, The Boys Book of Industrial Information (London, 1858), p. 129. Accessed via HathiTrust. Click image to enlarge.

After the ink had dried, the print was hand colored with watercolors, copying a colored master print (called a pattern plate) that had been approved by Gould. Gould’s colorer was Henry Bayfield, who employed the female members of his family to help with adding watercolor washes by hand to uncolored prints. The washes not only tinted the black print but also blended visually with the lithographic shading to convey the shape, color and texture of the feathered bodies of the birds.

Photograph of a watercolor box with brushes and dry cakes of paint
Watercolor box with brushes and dry cakes of paint. Collection of K.S. Cook. Click image to enlarge.
Uncolored lithographic proof print of Pitta concinna pair
Uncolored lithographic proof print of Pitta concinna pair.
Call Number: Gould Drawing 1134. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).
Detail of a hand-colored lithographic print of Melanopitta sordida. Call Number: Gould Drawing 1265. Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Above, in the middle, the print of a pair of ground thrushes (Pitta concinna) illustrates Gould’s book about the Birds of New Guinea. On the facing page is Gould’s scientific description of the bird, set in metal type and printed by the relief letterpress process. After being printed separately, the parts of the book were issued in installments to subscribers, who had them bound as volumes once complete.

Pitta concinna. John Gould, Birds of New Guinea (London, 1875), Volume 4, Plate 31. Call Number: Ellis Aves H129. This volume has been digitized and is available online. Click image to enlarge.

In vogue during the middle decades of the 19th century, such hand-colored lithographic prints of birds were superior in quality to the earlier hand-colored copper-engraved prints they had replaced. Although succeeded in the second half of the 19th century by color-printed chromolithographs, in the early 20th century by four-color process halftone photolithographs, and in the late 20th century by digital images, Gould’s hand-colored lithographic prints are still esteemed as quality bird images.

However, the Gould example is only one of the stories that could be told about lithography’s impact on the production of graphic images during the 19th century. This is because lithography’s versatility as a chemical process meant that it was not just one new technology but rather a cluster of image making technologies that could be used separately or combined in innovative ways. As well as drawing on grained stone with a crayon, early practitioners drew on polished stone with pen and ink, “engraved” (more accurately “scribed”) lines in a thin coating of gum arabic, or drew with lithographic ink on coated transfer paper. After the mid-19th century these were combined with new methods of transferring images to the printing surface and of printing in color (chromolithography) from multiple lithographic stones or (later) from metal plates. A ground-breaking example of chromolithography is Owen Jones’ book, Plans, elevations, sections, and details of the Alhambra (London, 1842-1845. Drawing flat areas of color on lithographic stones, one stone per color, he printed multi-colored illustrations in remarkably exact registration for his book, but this is a single example. The story of all the many technologies associated with chromolithography would fill a book, one which, in fact, has been well told by Michael Twyman in his 728-page book, A History of Chromolithography: Printed Colour for All (London: The British Library and New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2013).

Karen Severud Cook
Special Collections Librarian

North Gallery Highlight: Sumner High School

August 26th, 2020

We are periodically sharing some of the materials that are featured in Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery permanent exhibit. We hope you’ll be able to visit the library and explore the full exhibit in person! This week’s post highlights materials documenting the history of Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas. The Sumner collection is part of the African American Experience Collections within the Kansas Collection.

Photograph of the exterior of the Sumner High School building, 1905–1940
The “old” Sumner High School building at 9th and Washington Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas, 1905-1940. This image appeared in the 1922 Sumnerian yearbook. Call Number: RH Ser D1286 1922. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the exterior of the Sumner High School building, 1940-1978
The “new” Sumner High School building at 8th and Oakland Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, 1940-1978. Sumner High School Records. Call Number: RH MS-P 1137, Box 1. Click image to enlarge.

Established in 1905 in response to the threat of racial violence and a decades long effort to exclude African Americans from the city’s high school, Sumner High School was created by exempting Kansas City, Kansas, from the state law prohibiting racially segregated high schools. However, the local African American community resisted further efforts to further diminish their children’s opportunities to achieve academic excellence. Their relentless push for the school’s curriculum to emphasize college preparation earned Sumner High School’s membership in the prestigious North Central Association of Secondary Schools by 1914. Under a federally mandated plan for racial integration, Sumner closed in 1978.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 national convention of the Sumner High School Alumni Association of Kansas City, Kansas, has been postponed until next year. In anticipation of the convention – and in honor of the new school year – here are a few highlights from the Sumner High School Alumni Association of Kansas City, Kansas, Collection, established in 1986. Additional donations of materials are welcomed.

Photograph of Sumner High School faculty, 1919
Sumner High School faculty, 1919. Before the late 1950s, Sumner was the only high school in Kansas comprised of an African American faculty and the only high school in Kansas that permitted African Americans to serve as teachers. Sumner High School Records. Call Number: RH MS-P 1137, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the Sumner High School orchestra, 1918
The Sumner High School orchestra, 1918. Sumner High School Records. Call Number: RH MS-P 1137, Box 1. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of a Sumner High School chemistry class, 1930s
A chemistry class at Sumner High School, 1930s. Sumner High School Records. Call Number: RH MS-P 1137, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

The film clips below show various aspects of Sumner High School. The first features scenes from a football game in 1931. The second clip, from the 1940s, introduces viewers to the new building, the principal, and staff members; it also shows students arriving for school. There’s no need to turn up the volume on your computer or phone; neither clip has any sound.


See Spencer’s online exhibit “Education: The Mightiest Weapon” to learn more about the active role African Americans in Kansas played in our nation’s past struggle with laws and practices of racial segregation in public schools.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist/Curator, African American Experience Collections
Kansas Collection

North Gallery Highlight: University Archives

July 16th, 2020

Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s North Gallery houses a permanent exhibit highlighting materials from the library’s various collecting areas: the Wilcox Collection, the Kansas Collection, Special Collections, and University Archives. While the library is closed to the public, we hope you enjoy the periodic exhibit highlights we’ll be sharing on the blog. Once Spencer reopens, we hope you’ll be able to visit the library and explore the full exhibit in person!

The University Archives portion of the North Gallery exhibit showcases materials related to University Chancellors, faculty, athletics, and student life. In one interactive part of the exhibit, visitors can peruse a timeline of highlights from nearly 150 years of KU’s history.

Below are two videos from the timeline. The first (which has no sound) is a compilation of film clips and photographs showing snippets of student life at KU during the 1940s. The second video contains clips of Robert F. Kennedy’s speech at Allen Fieldhouse on March 18, 1968.


Molly Herring
Associate Archivist, University Archives

December-January Exhibit: Women Students’ Writings in KU’s Department of English, 1899-1900

December 11th, 2018

A new temporary exhibit is currently on display at the entrances to the North Gallery at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. This exhibit is titled “Writing within Required Genres: Women Students’ Writings in KU’s Department of English, 1899-1900” and showcases many of the materials that serve as the basis of my dissertation work in the Department of English’s Rhetoric and Composition Ph.D. program.

Photograph of the east side of Spencer Research Library's North Gallery

Photograph of the temporary exhibit case on the east side of Spencer Research Library's North Gallery

The temporary exhibit case on the east side of Spencer’s North Gallery.
Click images to enlarge.

Throughout its history, the Department of English at the University of Kansas has experienced many changes in its structure, policies, and approaches to the teaching of writing. In this exhibit, materials from KU’s University Archives at Kenneth Spencer Research Library help narrate a snapshot of time in that history—the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, and a course titled “Advanced English Composition.”

This exhibit provides information about the Department of English, its teachers, and this particular course. Moreover, it showcases the importance of examining the writings of individual students and their unique responses to the writing instruction they received.

Exhibit Case 1 is located at the west entrance to the North Gallery. It contains materials that help contextualize “Advanced English Composition” and the student writings produced for it. Included are course catalogues, photographs, English Department publications, and more.

Photograph of the temporary exhibit case on the west side of Spencer Research Library's North Gallery

Exhibit Case 1 seeks to contextualize the writings of students
Margaret Kane and Kate Hansen. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of pages in a diary kept by KU English Professor Edwin M. Hopkins

A sample item on display in Exhibit Case 1: a diary of KU English Professor
Edwin M. Hopkins. Call Number: PP 73. Click image to enlarge.

Exhibit Case 2 is located at the east entrance to the North Gallery. It contains the actual writings produced by two women students for “Advanced English Composition”: the 1899 course notes of Margaret Kane (PP 23) and the 1900 course papers of Kate Hansen (PP 19). These texts were required for the successful completion of their courses. They show instances of Margaret and Kate writing within, pushing against, and even occasionally even moving beyond the expectations of these genres. These writings stress the importance of viewing students—those in the past and in the present—as unique individuals, not a homogeneous group.

Phtoograph of selected writings of Margaret Kane

Exhibit Case 2 highlights information from life of student
Margaret Kane and features her notebook and course notes.
Call Number: PP 23. Click image to enlarge.

Photographs of Kate Hansen

Exhibit Case 2 likewise highlights information about the life of student
Kate Hansen, including these two photographs taken during and
shortly after her time at KU. Call Number: PP 19. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of "Description of a Library Chair" by Kate Hansen

Among Kate Hansen’s featured papers is her essay providing a
“Description of a Library Chair.” Call Number: PP 19. Click image to enlarge.

Curating this exhibit has been a joy. It has provided an opportunity to share my research with a more public audience, a feature that dissertations and the academic publications that stem from them too often lack. I’m extremely grateful to the staff at Kenneth Spencer Research Library—particularly those in public services, conservation, and University Archives—for assisting me with this process.

Sarah E. Polo
KU Doctoral Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition
Public Services Student Assistant

Throwback Thursday: Reading Edition

September 6th, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

It’s National Read a Book Day, and a visit to Spencer Research Library is a great way to celebrate! Our collections have something for everyone: books in various genres covering a wide range of topics, places, and time periods. Or, bring your own book to the library and find a quiet spot to read. You might enjoy the coziness of the antique furnishings in the Spencer lounge or, like the student in this week’s photo, you might prefer the grandeur of the North Gallery, with its glass-enclosed book stacks and spectacular campus views.

Photograph of a library student assistant reading a book in the North Gallery at Spencer Research Library, 1970s

A library student assistant reading a book in Spencer’s North Gallery, 1970s.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 32/37 1970s Slides: University of Kansas Libraries:
Special Collections (Photos). Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital Collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services