In 1880, Messrs. Churchill and Sim reported favorably on some consignments of Indian boxwood, concluding with the remarks that if the wood could be regularly placed on the market at a moderate figure, there was no reason why a trade should not be developed in it. Notwithstanding these prospects, which seemed promising in 1877 and 1880, little or nothing has been accually done up to the present time in bringing Indian boxwood into general use, in consequence, as Mr. Gamble shows, of the cost of transit through India. The necessity, therefore, of the discovery of some wood akin to box is even more important now than ever it was.
First among the substitutes that have been proposed to replace boxwood may be mentioned an invention of Mr. Edward Badoureau, referred to in the Gardeners' Chronicle, March 23, 1878, p. 374, under the title of artificial boxwood. It is stated to consist of some soft wood which has been subject to heavy pressure. It is stated that some English engravers have given their opinion on this prepared wood as follows:
It has not the power of resistance of boxwood, so that it would be imposible to make use of it, except in the shape of an electro obtained from it, as it is too soft to sustain the pressure of a machine, and would be easily worn out. In reply to these opinions, Mr. Badoureau wrote: "My wood resists the wear and tear of the press as well as boxwood, and I can show engravings of English and French artists which have been obtained direct from the wood, and are as perfect as they are possible to be; several of them have been drawn by Mr. Gustave Dore."
Mr. Badoureau further says that "while as an engraver he has so high an opinion of the qualities of compressed wood as a substitute for boxwood, as the inventor of the new process he considered that it possesses numerous advantages both for artistic and industrial purposes." In short, he says, "My wood is to other wood what steel is to iron."
The following woods are those which have, from time to time, been proposed or experimented upon as substitutes for boxwood, for engraving purposes. They are arranged according to their scientific classification in the natural orders to which they belong:
1. Pittosporum undulatum. Vent.--A tree growing in favorable situations to a height of forty or even sixty feet, and is a native of New South Wales and Victoria. It furnishes a light, even grained wood, which attracted some attention at the International Exhibition in 1862; blocks were prepared from it, and submitted to Prof. De la Motte, of King's College, who reported as follows:
"I consider this wood well adapted to certain kinds of wood engraving. It is not equal to Turkey box, but it is superior to that generally used for posters, and I have no doubt that it would answer for the rollers of mangles and wringing machines." Mr. W.G. Smith, in a report in the Gardeners' Chronicle for July 26, 1873, p. 1017, on some foreign woods which I submitted to him for trial, says that the wood of Pittosporum undulatum is suitable only for bold outlines; compared with box, it is soft and tough, and requires more force to cut than box. The toughness of the wood causes the tools to drag back, so that great care is required in cutting to prevent the lines clipping. The average diameter of the wood is from 18 to 30 inches.
2. Pittosporum bicolor, Hook.--A closely allied species, sometimes forty feet high, native of New South Wales and Tasmania. This wood is stated to be decidedly superior to the last named.
3. Bursaria spinosa, Cav.--A tree about forty feet high, native of North, South, and West Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, in which island it is known as boxwood. It has been reported upon as being equal to common or inferior box, and with further trials might be found suitable for common subjects; it has the disadvantage, however, of blunting the edges and points of the tools.
4. Swietenia mahagoni, L. (mahogany).--A large timber tree of Honduras, Cuba, Central America, and Mexico. It is one of the most valuable of furniture woods, but for engraving purposes it is but of little value, nevertheless it has been used for large, coarse subjects. Spanish mahogany is the kind which has been so used.
Ilex opaca, L. (North American holly).--It is a widely diffused tree, the wood of which is said to closely resemble English holly, being white in color, and hard, with a fine grain, so that it is used for a great number of purposes by turners, engineers, cabinet makers, and philosophical instrument makers. For engraving purposes it is not equal to the dog-wood of America (Cornus florida); it yields, however, more readily to the graver's tools.
6. Elaeodendron australe, Vent.--A tree twenty to twenty-five feet high, native of Queensland and New South Wales. The wood is used in the colony for turning and cabinet work, and Mr. W.G. Smith reports that for engraving purposes it seems suitable only for rough work, as diagrams, posters, etc.
7. Euonymus sieboldianus, Blume.--A Chinese tree, where the wood, which is known as pai'cha, is used for carving and engraving. Attention was first drawn to this wood by Mr. Jean von Volxem, in the Gardeners' Chronicle for April 20, 1878. In the Kew Report for 1878, p. 41, the following extract of a letter from Mr. W.M. Cooper, Her Majesty's Consul at Ningpo, is given: "The wood in universal use for book blocks, wood engravings, seals, etc., is that of the pear tree, of which large quantities are grown in Shantung, and Shan-se, especially. Pai'cha is sometimes used as an indifferent substitute. Pai'cha is a very fine white wood of fine fiber, without apparent grains, and cuts easily; is well suited for carved frames, cabinets, caskets, etc., for which large quantities are manufactured here for export. The tree itself resembles somewhat the Stillingia, but has a rougher bark, larger and thinner leaves, which are serrated at the edge, more delicate twigs, and is deciduous." In 1879, a block of this wood was received at the Kew Museum, from Mr. Cooper, a specimen of which was submitted to Mr. Robson J. Scott, of Whitefriars Street, to whom I am much indebted for reports on various occasions, and upon this wood Mr. Scott reported as follows: "The most striking quality I have observed in this wood is its capacity for retaining water, and the facility with which it surrenders it.
This section (one prepared and sent to the Kew Museum), which represents one-tenth of the original piece, weighed 3 lb. 4½ ounces. At the end of twenty one days it had lost 1 lb. 6¾ ounces in an unheated chamber. At the end of another fourteen days, in a much elevated temperature, it only lost ¼ ounce. In its present state of reduced bulk its weight is 1 lb. 10 ounces. It is not at all likely to supersede box, but it may be fit for coarser work than that for which box is necessary." Later on, namely in the Kew Report for 1880, p. 51, Mr. R.D. Keene, an engraver, to whom Mr. Scott submitted specimens of the wood for trial, writes: "I like the wood very much, and prefer it to box in some instances; it is freer to work, and consequently quicker, and its being uniform in color and quality is a great advantage; we often have great difficulty in box in having to work from a hard piece into a soft. I think it a very useful wood, especially for solid bold work. I question if you could get so extreme a fine black line as on box, but am sure there would be a large demand for it at a moderate price." Referring to this letter, Mr. Scott remarks that the writer does not intend it to be understood that pai'cha is qualified to supersede box, but for inferior subjects for which coarse brittle box is used.
Mr. Scott further says that of the woods he has tried he prefers pear and hawthorn to pai'cha.