Introduction to Early Prints of New Zealand by D.G. and E.M. Ellis

One of the first books from the back catalogue of our publishing company, Capper Press, a publisher of NZ histories, early travel and exploration books (as well as prints) to be converted into digital format is the standard reference work on early NZ prints by the founders of Avon Fine Prints, Don & Enid Ellis. We have not yet decided on the best way to make this classic introduction to collecting antique NZ prints available again (it has been out of print for 20 years), but while we sort through the myriad of ebook formats it's been a pleasure re-reading the author's introduction to Early Prints, first published in 1978.  Update: Since this article was posted we have listed for sale many prints from this book's author's collection in our antique prints gallery.


A print for the purposes of this work is defined as a commercially produced pictorial plate having no text on the verso, and no text other than title and imprint on the face. Illustrations as such are not included.

Date Limit
The date limit is 1875, except where the print concludes a series begun before 1875, or is thought of sufficient importance to warrant inclusion — a purely personal choice.

The Index is the key to the whole work. Entry is made from all information on the face of the print, and items may be traced under artist, title, engraver, publisher, etc. Subject entries are nominal.

Portraits, except as part of a series (e.g. the atlases to voyages) have generally been excluded, as they are already covered in Nan Kivell's Portraits ... (see Bibliography )

Natural History Plates
Natural history plates have been included in the form of a preliminary checklist only.

Artist's Prints
"Artist's Prints" are not included. Original etchings, engravings and litho-graphs produced by the artist himself in limited editions have been regarded as non-commercial.

Because photo-lithography, a purely mechanical reproduction process, had become common by the 1870's, the upper date limit was arbitrarily set at 1875. Some later prints have, however, been included: 1875, strictly enforced, would have omitted among others Barraud and Gully, which are the first names to come to many minds when New Zealand prints are mentioned.

Arrangement is basically chronological, except where adherence would break a series of related works: for example, Buller's History of the Birds of New Zealand is described in one section, though publication dates range from 1873 to 1905. It may be helpful to indicate the method of approach used to compile this checklist. Hocken's Bibliography of New Zealand Literature was consulted to identify all books mentioned as including illustrations, and these books were then examined. This meant that books in which illustrations were not specified could have been missed. Next, by courtesy of the Librarians, permission was obtained to examine both the picture and book collections of the Hocken and Alexander Turnbull Libraries. Finally, prints and books in a number of private collections and smaller institutions were examined. Most gaps were filled by this method, though there must still be omissions.

Purist cataloguing enters a print first under the final executor, i.e. an engraver is regarded as the interpreter and of- more importance than the artist. Nevertheless, it was decided to record the separately-issued print first under the artist's name where known, with additional entries for the engraver, etc. Prints in books are fully described in the entry under author and title of the book. In all cases the index is the quick reference key.

The entries show as closely as possible the wording which appears on the print: typographical limitations have precluded the use of dipthongs and superior letters. Oblique lines indicate line endings. Emendations have been kept to a minimum, and are indicated by the use of square brackets. Sizes in centimetres give height before width.

The word print is used as a generic term, and is to be understood as meaning the particular item under discussion at any time. Because of the difficulty of finding a single word to describe the craftsmen producing blocks or plates by various methods, the word engraver applies, regardless of whether the person concerned was engraver, woodcutter, lithographer, aquatinter, or etcher. Notes on artists, engravers, etc. have been included where possible, and this additional information is indicated in the index by the use of bold type for the reference number. Additional notes have been included for the author, as distinct from the artist, for several books: insight into the reason for the use of particular views may depend on knowledge of who wrote the book and why it was written.

It is often impossible to assign a print to a particular artist or engraver: during the nineteenth century it was usual for such firms as Day & Haghe, Smith Elder, and Hullmandel, to employ numerous engravers, several men frequently working on a set of plates for one book. The section at the end of the book is to be regarded as a preliminary checklist only for the natural history plates of New Zealand interest. The decision to include scientific plates at all was made reluctantly in view of the authors' lack of competence in these fields. Yet a dividing line was difficult to draw when such items as Buller's Birds, and Featon, Hetley and Harris' books on New Zealand flowers had clearly to be included. It is to be hoped that someone with the necessary training to identify New Zealand flora and fauna will take up the task at this point.

No compilation of this nature is the work of one person alone, and thanks are due to many. Whilst it must necessarily be an invidious act to single some persons out, special thanks are due to the Librarian and Staff of the Alexander Turnbull Library; Mr M. G. Hitchings of the Hocken Library, University of Otago, and his Staff; Miss P. French, Auckland Public Library; Miss Suzanne Mourot, Mitchell Library, Sydney; Sir Alister and Lady Mcintosh, and, above all, to Mr A. A. St. C. M. Murray-Oliver, who, in addition to locating rare material and giving advice over a long period, checked the final manuscript and made many valuable suggestions incorporated in the final text. The painstaking care and skill of the compositor and printer deserve specific mention. Without the help, information, and constant encouragement of these people, this book could never have been written.

D. G. and E. M. Ellis Christchurch

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