An important printing technique for centuries, woodcuts are a form of relief painting where patterns and images are carved into blocks of wood to create a raised picture. The raised surface is then covered with ink and pressed onto paper thus transferring the image. In the early days of the printing press, woodcuts and moveable type were a marriage made in heaven.
Most woodcut illustrations are black and white because any additional colors must be applied by using different blocks and that complicates the process. A common alternative is to simply color the woodcut by hand. Woodcuts were used in Europe from the end of the 14th century but they have a longer history in Asia. They are an important theme for antiquarian book collectors as they represent one of the earliest forms of printed illustration.
Many of the oldest manuscripts and books featuring woodcuts are expensive as you are buying a little piece of history. However, the technique is still being used today and many printers and publishers are producing innovative woodcut illustrations. This selection of books with woodcuts features contemporary and older examples of this technique.
Collection of Japanese wood-block prints from 1600 to 1800.
1897, 1,000 copies in 6 volumes printed by Chiswick Press.
Yolla Bolly Press from 1991. 40 numbered copies with seven large hand-colored woodcuts.
1891, one of 300 copies with a woodcut border design by Morris.
Early medical book printed in 1559 in Frankfurt.
1921. Only 1,000 copies and four full-page woodcuts from Bell.
Published by Gonfalon Press in 1997 with woodcuts by Michael Fallon. 110 copies.
Rare 1950s nature book illustrated with photos of woodcuts.
An obscure book published by Little Man Press in 1940.
Unicorn Press from 1898. A dozen giants, each with a full-page woodcut
1923. One of Frost’s most notable books. Lankes was a good friend of the poet.
Published by Pennyroyal Press in 1985 with 62 woodcuts by Moser.
The rare Rockwell Kent edition from 1930.
Limited Editions Club from 1930. One of 1,500 copies signed by Masereel.
Twelve color lithographs printed from wood blocks by Nicholson.
by Adam Lonicer
Early health book. Printed in 1609, it has around 800 woodcuts with early hand-coloring.
An early medical book from 1511 with 435 chapters and nearly 400 woodcuts.
Printed in 1636 with more 2,500 woodcuts.
Printed in 1931, just 500 copies.
Printed in 5 volumes (1924-27). 1,000 copies on Japon vellum.
140 striking woodcuts blending Art Deco and Expressionism from 1929.
Facsimile of Kelmscott’s Chaucer printed in 1974 by John Swain & Son. 87 woodcuts.
An early ABC book for children with 48 woodcuts on eight pages.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by S.T. Coleridge & illustrated by Gustave Doré
Elephant edition with 38 full-page engravings from Doré, who used steel.
by Alfred Lord Tennyson illustrated by Gustave Doré
A Doré masterpiece from 1967 with nine full-page black and white engravings.