'Fine lines'

In the 1980s, the University of Edinburgh produced a film called 'Fine lines', which explored the dying art of copperplate engraving in a mapmaking context. It featured Bert Bremner, one of Bartholomew's copperplate engravers.



Traditional copper engraving skills — a 1970s demonstration.

An engraver usually worked at a clopping desk, usually adjacent to a window.

A light diffuser reduced glare both from the sun and reflections from the copper plate.

A drawing is cut into transparent foil which is then dusted with rouge powder.

Placed onto a wax-coated copper plate it is burnished to make the powder stick.

Guidelines and letter shapes are scratched before engraving begins.

The 'graver' is pushed forwards and to the left, always away from the body.

Then the plate is turned and the strokes need to complete the letters are added.

Once the lettering has been completed the guidelines and scratches are smoothed off. There's LOTS of polishing … and the word is complete.

Stamps are used for specific symbols such as towns and other settlements.

A double graver allowed parallel lines to be made in one cut … very useful for doing roads!

For large capital letters, the wide lines had to include minute parallel lines to control the distribution of ink during the printing process.

Corrections were done by hammering the copper smooth and then re-engraving many times over the years — as the back of some old plates show.

To print, dampened paper was laid over the inked copper plate.

Blankets ensured that even pressure was applied as the plate passed through to produce the finished print.


Go to Engraver's Room page