The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 39, September 27, 2009, Article 4


Bird & Bull Press has published a new book by Mark Tomasko titled The Feel of Steel: The Art and History of Bank Note Engraving in the United States. It is available from George Kolbe and Oak Knoll Press - the text below is taken from their web site. Mark supplied the images. Congratulations on the completion of this publishing project - Mark has studied this area for many years, and this high-quality book (retailing for $600!!) is a fitting record and tribute to the high art of quality engraving. -Editor

Tomasko Feel of Steel Title Page First edition, limited to only 150 numbered copies. Those interested in printing and finely-printed books are familiar with and knowledgeable regarding the history and practice of letterpress printing. But we are much less familiar with the process of intaglio, which produces printed images from engraved metal plates.

The "feel of steel" is that tactile experience one gets from a well-printed intaglio plate. The collector of antiquarian books knows the engraved portraits and illustrations which commonly appear in many 19th and early 20th century books. Such work was often done by artists who may also have been skilled designers and engravers of bank notes and even the coins of the U.S. Mint.

Tomasko Feel of Steel Frontispiece The creation of high quality intaglio work is a far more demanding discipline than letterpress printing. As described in this book, the training of engravers required a long period of work and study. Intaglio was a much slower and more costly process but it produced magnificent images that could be achieved in no other way.

This book is a companion to the previous The Private Typecasters, in that it also deals with an almost-vanished graphic procedure. The intaglio process remains an essential and attractive part of the history of the printed image. The pictures on bank notes and securities, termed "vignettes", were the work of the highest class of engravers in the profession, and have long been prized by collectors.

A nine-page insert of original engraved prints includes fourteen such vignettes. These have been printed from old engraved plates especially for this book by Michael Bean, a retired Bureau of Engraving and Printing plate printer, who also printed the frontispiece, Atlantic and Pacific United 1865. This portrays an allegorical female representing the transcontinental railroad. This handsome engraving is one of the largest vignettes used in security documents in the nineteenth century.

There are 32 pages of color illustrations and four engraved samples tipped or bound in. Caught up in the wave of intaglio, the book printer tried his hand at "printing intaglio by letterpress" and his two prints form a very modest addition to the work.

We are delighted to be able to sell this informative and engaging work by an author as knowledgeable as Mark Tomasko. For years Mark has been engaged in collecting, writing, and research, documenting the people (engravers, designers, vignette artists, and others), the process, and the bank note companies. Mark has written numerous articles on the subject of bank note engraving, given talks, and done a number of museum exhibits, ending up as one of the primary historians of this art.

The Feel of Steel is a 177-page small folio printed by letterpress on Zerkall moldmade paper and quarter bound in morocco with Japanese cloth sides.

Mark Tomasko adds:

Bird & Bull Press is one of the country's leading private press printers. The book is printed from metal type on Zerkall mold-made paper. B&B books are quite collected by fine printing people, including leading research institutions. It is an edition of 150 copies, and contains, beyond a number of colored illustrations, a few "samples" (bank note, stock certificate, and wine label). Bound in the back is a portfolio of vignettes and portraits printed for the book, with descriptions.

In terms of the text I do not spend much time on the pre-Civil War era. I concentrate on American Banknote's existence and particularly the small companies that started to appear in the 1870s-1890s and subsequently. There is some unusual information, such as ABN's 1859 Russian sale, their Italian Bank Note Co. effort, etc. There is quite a bit on the process.

The books are sold by B&B Press, not me, and I receive no financial benefit from the sale of the books. A decent portion of the edition was sold by B&B to standing subscribers at the outset.

For more information, see: or contact George Kolbe at

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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