Gaslight Style | Sheaff : ephemera

Gaslight Style

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One pronounced aspect of Victorian design was a great interest in creating the illusion of depth, particularly so with lithographers. Type, vignettes, products and design elements are made to seem multi-layered through the use of shadows, superimposition, dimensional banners and ribbons, turned-up faux page corners and choice of colors. Some have labeled this the "Gaslight Style" approach to design, for example Maurice Rickards: "Said to have derived from the play of lamps on three-dimensional street lettering [ i.e. storefront signage, etc. / ed ], the style appears to have originated in Germany, spreading, through the influence of German printing skills, throughout the world." (Collecting Printed EphemeraEncyclopedia of Ephemera, London 1988 p.116)  Rickards describes it at greater length in his (Routledge, NY 2000, pp.50-51): "Chief features of the style are heavily three-dimensional lettering with a vigorous rendering of tonal gradation and shadow effects. A characteristic treatment involved the use of a vignetted 'cloud-work' background against which lettering appeared in lighter tone, with heavy shadowing to hold outlines where these overlapped on to plain paper. A  wealth of heavy scroll- and strap-work, also rendered in three dimensions, filled in the interstices of the design. The style, for which at the time no specific name emerged, is thought to have been inspired by the chiaroscuro effects of gas lighting, and has subsequently received the designation 'gaslight style'. The engravers and designers of the time, regarding the style as the accepted norm, had neither name for it nor a need to name it. The style had a universal vogue, appearing in printed ephemera from the New World to Imperial Russia. It was used for labels, packaging, and display sign-writing, but it was in business stationery and security printing that it chiefly flourished.

Please check out the dozens of examples in the GASLIGHT images ALBUM . . . many are examples of more or less "pure" gaslight style, others display gaslight features mixed in with elements from earlier, concurrent or later styles. 


From Specimens of Theatrical Cuts: Being Fac-similes in Miniature of Poster Cuts, Ledger Job Printing Office,
Public Ledger Building, Philadelphia, George W. Childs, Proprietor, 1869









Original painted art for a Russian card or folder cover for quinine water, sold by Professor A.M.Ostroumov.

ClintonMills150RussellMorganBuildibng(Fox)150( This card is from the collection of George K. Fox )



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