Page 10 - November 2016
P. 10

| Colour like no other |                     | |Bob Richardson (9718)

– the Jean Berté process                     plate, cut by hand in the style of a linocut.
                                             As the process developed, systems of
It was printed colour like no other—         photo-mechanical engraving, such as
     strong, deep, rich and vibrant. The     those o?ered by Paramat in the UK, and
     heavily-pigmented inks, sometimes       Parazin in the USA and Canada, became
?uorescent in their luminance, meant         available. These replaced the time-
there was almost no mistaking an image       consuming method of cutting by hand,
printed by the now obsolete Jean Berté       but the best examples of Berté’s work are
process. The inventor died 35 years ago      undoubtedly those using plates which
and was 98 when he passed away, but the      were engraved manually. A retired Lund-
glory days of his printing process expired   Humphries employee (a British licensee
long before he did, reaching their peak      of the process) recalls engraving slabs
in the 1930s, and surviving beyond the       of rubber on a sloped drawing board
Second World War as little more than a       incorporating a turntable mechanism,
curiosity in the UK.                         permitting access to the engraving
                                             surface from any angle. This allowed
   Frenchman Jean Berté’s printing           a great deal of control and resulted in
method was patented in the United States     surprisingly detailed line work.
on 10 August 1926. Although it shared
similarities with other relief printing         Printing and advertising trade
processes such as wood block printing        magazines on both sides of the Atlantic
and linocutting, his method used highly-     started featuring examples of the process
pigmented, water-based inks that were        soon after it was launched. By 1929 The
printed in a strict sequence, akin to the    Inland Printer (USA), American Printer
production of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints        and British Printer carried regular, and
(see Small Printer, December 2006). The      often spectacular, display advertising for
order of printing was important, as many     the Berté system. Special inks, plate-
inks were transparent and had to be          making services and substrates developed
overlaid in a particular sequence to create  for water-based inks were supplied to
combination colours. The printing plates     the trade by manufacturers on both sides
were made from rubber.                       of the Atlantic. Full-page trade adverts
                                             showed the best examples of the process,
   Berté developed the process in his        generally using the brightest inks on
native France in the late nineteenth         complementary papers. Some are shown
century. He emigrated to the USA amid        on these pages and front cover.
rumours that his business dealings
were less than circumspect. One version         Ink manufacturers began producing
of the story claims that he used his         water-based media for use with the
experimental process to create prints        system, but many also developed matt-
which he sold as original artworks, and      ?nish oil-based inks to achieve the Jean
left France in disgrace, accused of forgery  Berté e?ect using traditional letterpress.
or ‘passing o?’. Whatever the truth          One of the most popular in the UK was
may be, by 1926 he had registered an         Winstone’s ‘Matoyl’, which imitated the
American patent and within a year had        heavily pigmented matt ?nish of Berté
issued licences to over 100 printers in      watercolour inks. Although it is often
that country. The distinctive ?at colours    described as a process which exclusively
were achieved by printing from a rubber      used water-based inks, this is only

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