Litho stones

In the early days of map printing at Bartholomew, lithographic artists would draw maps directly on the stone using litho ink.

A lithographic image occupies the top half millimetre of a stone. To re-use the stone, Bartholomew's stone polishers would undertake the laborious process of removing the image by hand.

Removing an image from stone

Until the 1920s, the process involved scrubbing the surface of the stone with various grades of abrasive brick. A coarse brick would be used first and the bricks would gradually get finer in texture until a flat, smooth surface was achieved. The whole process could take an experienced stone polisher up to 12 hours.

In 1926, a tool called a levigator was invented. A levigator is a heavy steel disk, with a handle. It sped up the process, cutting the time taken to remove the image by about half.

Surviving litho stones in Edinburgh

Bartholomew began to phase-out their lithographic stones during the 20th century, largely due to the invention of off-set lithography, which rendered the stones obsolete. There is a story that a rock garden, somewhere in Edinburgh, is made out of fragments of Bartholomew's discarded lithographic stones.

Few of Bartholomew's litho stones survive and the National Library of Scotland is home to just one — a relatively small stone with a map of Illinois on the surface.


Go to Litho Stone Polishing Room page