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George Baxter

George Baxter was born on 31 July 1804 in Lewes, Sussex, the son of John Baxter who was a printer, publisher and bookseller. He displayed great artistic talent whilst at school and upon leaving school was apprenticed to a wood engraver. In 1827 he married Mary Harrild, the daughter of Robert Harrild who was a manufacturer of printing machinery and with backing from his father-in-law, set up his own printing business. About this time George Baxter started to experiment with colour printing, and he published his first colour print "Butterflies" in 1829. Little of Baxter is then known until 1834 when he began to produce a number of colour prints which were used as frontispieces in books published by Robert Mudie. By 1835 Baxter had developed his method of colour printing sufficiently to apply for a patent. His process meant that colour printing could be achieved relatively cheaply and for the first time made colour available to all.

He died in 1867 after nearly 30 years of producing a range of colour prints covering a variety of different subjects to a very high standard. Now, more than 200 years after Baxter's birth, the importance, skill and beauty of Baxter's prints is still recognised by private collectors and museums around the world.

The Baxter Patented Process

Printing in colour had been experimented with since 1557 and a number of names can be cited as playing a key role in the development of colour printing. These include Hugo da Carpi, John Baptist Jackson, William Savage, Edward Kirkhall, Arthur Pond, George Knapton, Albert Durer and James Christopher Le Blon.

Despite experiments in colour by these early printers, most prints were still either monochrome or hand coloured in the late 1820s. This was very labour intensive and therefore very expensive. Baxter, however, brought together various methods of printing which enabled prints to be made in colour which were both effective and relatively cheap.

Baxter used wood and metal colour blocks in conjunction with steel key plates to produce his pictures using oil inks. The subject was first engraved onto a steel key plate and impressions of this plate were taken, from which the colour blocks were cut - a different block being produced for each different colour. The steel key plate would be used to print a monochrome picture and then the colours would be built up by printing from the colour blocks using the relief process. Some of the prints required only 8 different blocks but some involved as many as 20 different colours, each being superimposed on the other. Baxter was meticulous in his work (unlike some of his followers and imitators), taking great care that the colours were not applied out of register and would only apply two colours per day at the most, allowing each to dry between each pressing.

Baxter's Licensees

George Baxter produced large quantities of about 400 different subjects and brought colour printing to the masses. Although his work was initially used as book illustrations, he soon found a market for his prints as decorative subjects for the home and was a catalyst for many other printers who recognised the commercial potential of this type of work.

His work was widely used by the London Missionary Society and attracted great interest from the Royal Family, especially Prince Albert who encouraged Baxter to exhibit at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Despite this, Baxter's printing business ended in bankruptcy in 1865 after experiencing financial problems for many years. Baxter's skill and talent as an artist is unquestionable, but as a businessman he was unable to convert his talent into commercial success.

When George Baxter's original patent expired in 1849, he was only granted a five year extension and, due to pressure from his creditors and the need to maximise his income, he was advised to grant licences to use his patented process. These were offered for 200 guineas a year, and despite the fact that this represented a small fortune, several printers became licensees enabling them to produce prints by the Baxter Process. These included Abraham Le Blond, Joseph Kronheim, Bradshaw & Blacklock, Joseph Mansell, William Dickes and Myers & Co. Some of the work produced by these licensees is also of an exceptional standard such as the set of 32 ovals printed by Le Blond, whilst other works are of a lower standard than the meticulous works of George Baxter.

Since Baxter's Death

Baxter died in January 1867 after being struck by a horse drawn omnibus. Although the Licensees continued to use the Baxter Patented Process for a short time after Baxter's death, the process soon died out due to the introduction of chromolithography which was faster and cheaper to produce.

The appreciation and collection of Baxter prints is not just a recent occurrence. Baxter's work became particularly popular at the end of the Nineteenth-Century and the First Baxter Society was formed in 1895 after Dr Lawson Tait arranged an exhibition of his large collection in Birmingham in 1893. The success of the Baxter Society was severely damaged, however, when another Baxter exhibition organised by the Society was a financial failure and resulted in one of the Society's members having to sell his entire collection. The First Baxter Society folded.

Interest was rekindled a few years later by the publishing of several very detailed books on the subject by Courtney Lewis. Prices reached great heights in the 1920s and the Second Baxter Society was formed in 1921 and continued until the start of the second World War.

Today, prints by George Baxter and his Licensees are highly collectable. Baxter prints can still be found regularly at antique fairs, auctions, and shops around the country, with prices depending on rarity and condition. It is very difficult to quote meaningful prices but as a very rough guide a Baxter print could range from £5 to about £2000 for the rarest prints, whilst a Le Blond oval could cost between £5 - £120. Prices for all but the rarest prints are considerable lower than they were 10 to 15 years ago reflecting the general downturn in the market for Victorian antiques and collectables.

The New Baxter Society has been active for more than 25 years and as well as enabling contact and communication with other members, is a great source of information and encouragement to new collectors.

More about George Baxter

For more about George Baxter and his prints check out the following monthly features:

June 2017 - Print of the Month - Netley Abbey
March 2017 - Print of the Month - Eagle and Vulture
January 2017 Print of the Month - Hollyhocks
September 2016 - Print of the Month - Australia, News from Home
June 2016 - Print of the Month - The Seasons
March 2016 - Print of the Month - Cape Wilberforce, Australia
February 2016 - Article - The Death of Rev John Williams
January 2016 - Print of the Month - Winter
September 2015 - Print of the Month - Scene on the Mountain Tops
May 2015 - Print of the Month - The Holy Family
March 2015 - Article - Baxter Licences
February 2015 - Article - George Baxter’s Dinosaurs at the Crystal Palace and Gardens
February 2015 - Print of the Month - Warwick Castle
December 2014 - Article - A Generous Valuation of a Baxter Print
November 2014 - Article - Intaglio & Relief Printing
October 2014 - Article - Baxter’s Oil Colours
October 2014 - Print of the Month - The Rev. John Williams
September 2014 - Article - Baxter’s Colour Printing Methods
July 2014 - Article - Baxter and the Military
June 2014 - Print of the Month - Verona
March 2014 - Article - Prints on Music Covers
March 2014 - Print of the Month - The Lovers’ Letter-box
December 2013 - Print of the Month - Christmas Time
October 2013 - Article - Posthumous Baxter Prints!
October 2013 - Print of the Month - Convolvulus Scroll and Wreath
September 2013 - Article - Fake George Baxter Signatures
July 2013 - Article - Baxter Field - In Memory of George Baxter
July 2013 - Print of the Month - Crucis Abbey
May 2013 - Article - Isaac Frost's 'Two Systems of Astronomy'
March 2013 - Article - Baxter's Prints on Perforated Mounts
March 2013 - Print of the Month - Gems of the Great Exhibition No 4
February 2013 - Article - Valentine Cards
January 2013 - Article - “Vive L’Empereur!” Napoleon III, Baxter or Le Blond?
January 2013 - Print of the Month - A Boy with a Bird's Nest
December 2012 - Print of the Month - The Birth of the Saviour
November 2012 - Article - Wood Engravings
September 2012 - Article - Starr Collectors
August 2012 - Article - The Great Exhibition of 1851
July 2012 - Print of the Month - Funeral of the Duke of Wellington