Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Ice Capades For Printers

by Stephen J. Gertz

On February 5, 1814, a curious broadside, heretofore unrecorded, was published heralding printing on ice. In retrospect and out of context, it appeared as if a new process for printing had been invented, one that allowed for letterpress on sheets of frozen water, rather than sheets of paper, an evanescent endeavor guaranteed to pool into liquid illegibility upon thaw.

No, the announcement was not printed upon ice; it was printed on paper with presses that had been set up on the Thames River to take novel advantage of one of the occasions when the river froze over, allowing Londoners to carnival during these Frost Fairs, which dated back to the reign of Elizabeth I. The old London Bridge had a tendency to dam the river, slowing its current, and allowing it to completely freeze when temperatures plummeted. The Frost Fair was a holiday on ice long before Holiday On Ice.

Frost Fair on the Thames, 1814. Nat'l Maritime Museum, London.

"And this is what they did with the Great Frost. By February, as Lord William Pitt Lennox tells us in his Recollections, the Thames between London Bridge and Blackfriars became a thoroughly solid surface of ice. There were notices at the ends of all the local streets announcing that it was safe to cross the ice, and, as in times of Elizabeth 1, full advantage was taken of this new area and the public interest in it. As before, there now sprang up a Frost Fair. The people moved across the river by way of what was called Freezeland Street. On either side, crowded together, were booths for bakers, butchers, barbers and cooks. There were swings, bookstalls, skittle alleys, toy shops, almost everything that might be found in an ordinary fair. There were even gambling establishments and the ‘wheel of fortune, and pricking the garter; peddlers, hawkers of ballads, fruit, oysters, perambulating pie-men; and purveyors of the usual luxuries, gin beer, brandy-balls and gingerbread" (Priestly, J.B. The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency 1811-20).

Printers, who knew a money-making opportunity when it presented itself, saw action creating souvenirs, as above, for Frost Fair visitors, open-air escapades involving spins, axels, and Choctaw turns ice-blocked in blind.

Nirvana. Print on ice by Eszter Augustine-Sziksz.

Now, however, the Ice Capades for printers has become a reality. Eszter Augustine-Sziksz, a European printmaker, is actually printing directly on ice, resulting in startling imagery that haunts the imagination. 

14 Misremembered. Print on ice by Eszter Augustine-Sziksz.

 "Eszter Augustine-Sziksz...screen-prints photos of old ancestors from her grandmother’s photo collection on ice sheets.  During the printing process the ink freezes to the ice.  When the ice starts to melt under the image, the ink dissolves into water and starts to slowly fade away.  Her process, working and printing on ice allows her to step above everyday physical and chronological limitations.  She can freeze time and control when it starts to unfreeze or thaw" (Thaw to Spring Works, exhibition at Eggman & Walrus Art, Santa Fe, NM, March 16 - April 1, 2012).

Miss Printer, 1943.

[Thames Frost Fair 1814]. Printed upon the ice, on the River Thames, February 5, 1814. N.P. [London]: n.p., 1814. Small broadside (11.5 x 7.7. cm), printed on card stock with eighteen line of text.

Not in Guildhall Library of London; British Library; or Cohen's The Thames 1580 - 1980: A General Biblioigraphy.

Broadside image courtesy of John Drury Rare Books, currently offering this item, with our thanks.

Ice images by Eszter Augustine-Sziksz courtesy of Eszter Augustine-Sziksz, with our thanks.

A salute to Jane Austen's World for the Priestly lead. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email