The art of transferring from stone, writings or drawings made thereon; which is quite of modern invention. Unlike other kinds of printing, this is strictly chemical, and is in consequence called in Germany, chemical printing. A drawing is made on the stone, either with ink containing oleaginous matter; or with chalk, containing similar substances, but in a more concentrated and indurated state. The drawing is then washed over with water, which sinks into those portions of the stone that are untouched with the grease of the drawing. A cylindrical roller, charged with printing ink, is then passed all over the stone, and while the drawing receives the ink, the rest of the stone is preserved from it by the water on account of the greasy nature of the ink. This art is said to have been invented by mere accident, by Alois Senefelder, of Munich, who being an author, and too poor to publish his works, tried various plans, with copper-plates and compositions, with a view to becoming his own printer. In the course of his experiments, he found that a composition of soap wax, and lamp-black, formed an excellent ink for writing with on plates; as, when dry, it became firm and hard, and resisted aquafortis.
He wanted facility, however, in writing backwards on the plates; and that he might exercise this at less expense, he procured some pieces of Kilheim stone, as a cheap material, on which, after polishing their surfaces he might practise. Having been desired by his mother to take a list of some linen about to be sent to be washed, and having no paper at hand, he wrote it out on a piece of stone with his composition. When he was afterwards about to efface his writing, it occurred to him that impressions might be obtained from it; and after he had bit in the stone with aquafortis, diluted with ten parts of water, after letting the fluid stand five minutes over it, he proceeded to apply printing ink to the stone, for which purpose he first applied a printer's ball, but after some unsuccessful trials, he made use of a thin piece of wood covered with fine cloth, and with this he perfectly succeeded in taking impressions. It appeared to him that this new mode of printing was of very considerable importance; and he therefore, though with great difficulties, persevered in improving it, and in attempting its application to practical purposes.
He soon found that it was not necessary to have the letters raised above the stone; but that the chemical properties which keep grease and water so effectually separate from each other, were quite sufficient for his purpose. He afterwards bestowed much labour and assiduity in constructing the proper press, and other apparatus for printing. The first essays to print for publication were some pieces of music executed in 1796; afterwards he attempted drawings and writings. He still however found great difficulty in writing backwards, and this led him to think of the process of transfer; and the use of dry soap, which was found to leave permament traces which would give impressions, naturally led to the mode of chalk drawings. In 1799, after having made many improvements, Senefelder obtained a patent privilege for the electorate of Bavaria. In 1803, he introduced his discovery into Vienna, where he obtained a similar grant for ten years. The invention spread, though slowly, into France and Italy, but it was not brought over to England until 1801, when M. Andre d'Offenbach, a merchant in London, succeeded in introducing it only to a very limited extent.
While the war lasted, the employment of the lithographic art was chiefly confined to the quarter-master general's office at the Horse Guards, where it was used for printing the plans of battles, and maps of the seat of war. After the peace the art was revived, and there are now in England, as well as in all parts of the continent, numerous establishments, where it is practised with great excellence; and it is difficult to say at the present time, whether the German, French, or English artists, have obtained the pre-eminence. We shall now proceed to explain the several processes of the art.