Remembering John C. Moss, inventor of the photoengraving process

January 5, 2018 /Photography NewsBorn 180 years ago today, on 5 January 1838, John Calvin Moss was an American inventor credited with developing the first practicable photoengraving process in 1863. 

Advertisement by the Moss Photo-Engraving Company. Moss left this company and established the Moss Engraving Company in 1880 with himself as sole owner. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Advertisement by the Moss Photo-Engraving Company. Moss left this company and established the Moss Engraving Company in 1880 with himself as sole owner. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Photoengraving, also known as photo-chemical milling, is a process of engraving using photographic processing techniques. The full form of photoengraving is photo mechanical process in the graphic arts, used principally for reproducing illustrations. The subject is photographed, and the image is recorded on a sensitized metal plate, which is then etched in an acid bath. In the case of line cuts (drawings in solid blacks and whites without gradations of color), the photoengraving is done on zinc, and the result is called a zinc etching. In the case of halftone cuts, the work is done on copper. The halftone effect is accomplished by photographing the subject through a wire or glass screen, which breaks the light rays so that the metal plate is sensitized in a dotted pattern; the larger dots create the darker areas, the smaller dots the highlights. The finer the screen, the greater the precision of detail in the printed product. 

Advertisement by the Moss Photo-Engraving Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Advertisement by the Moss Photo-Engraving Company. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
In 1852, William Fox Talbot patented some of his pioneering work for a prototype of photoengraving. During the 1880s photoengraving techniques had developed further and by the end of the century the process had dramatically improved the look of newspapers and enhanced advertisements with better graphics. 

Moss Engraving Advertisement, ca. 1885. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
Moss Engraving Advertisement, ca. 1885. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
John C. Moss, who studied the work of Daguerre and that of Nic√©phore Niepce, a French doctor who produced the world’s first photograph, invented the first practicable photo-engraving process in 1863. Moss attributed his wife's help (Mary A. Bryant) to much of his success. Their work led to a revolution in printing and eventually to the mass marketing of newspapers and magazines and books which combined photographs with traditional text.

Moss died at age 54, in 1892.


  1. Lutz Matschke says

    Greets to thee ones that work with all these processes in the pixel bouring Era!
    Lutz Matschke

    Paolo says

    This is a dying art that we can never get back, no matter how much we try and how many workshops we create or attend.

    Jane J. says

    Very interesting

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