Fables of Aesop
illustrated by Edward J. Detmold
Most people familiar with AbeBooks will have seen the words 'colour plate' used in association with certain rare book listings. Plates are whole page illustrations printed separately from the text (illustrations printed within the text are called cuts) and naturally colour plates feature colour illustrations.
To some book collectors, the golden age of colour plates had to be the Victorian era where countless books were produced on flora and fauna complete with numerous colour illustrations of everything from moths and butterflies to grasses and alpine plants. However, many subjects are addressed in colour plate books, including satirical cartoons, sporting scenes, landscapes, costumes, fairy tales and architecture.
The legendary illustrators - Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Edward J. Detmold, Willy Pogany and to a lesser extent N.C. Wyeth - are defined by their colour plates, which were produced in eras before improved printing processes enabled true mass production. The production of a book in, for instance, 1820 containing 100 colour plates would a major achievement and come at considerable expense to the publisher.
Mounted and tipped-in colour plates are plates that have been attached to the page. It is also possible to encounter loose colour plates where they are ‘laid-in’ or unattached.
Hand coloured plates are particularly collectable because a black and white outline has been printed onto the page and then artists have manually added colours to the printed page. It was simply too expensive to produce books with hand coloured plates in large numbers.