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Nineteenth Century Wood Engravers at Work: Mass Production of Illustrated Periodicals (1840–1880)



This paper traces the labour processes and working conditions of wood engravers in France and England during the 19th century as the process of production of the illustrated periodicals became increasingly industrialized. It argues that the bulk of 19th century wood engravers should be considered as one of the first classes of proletarians in the mass media industry. The paper first looks at the general socio-economic conditions from which 19th century wood engravers emerged as proletarians. Second, it examines wood engraving workshops, wood engravers' working conditions, their training and type of production. Lastly, it discusses the hierarchical relations between editors-publishers and wood engravers, the wood engravers economic conditions, their socio-cultural attitudes towards their work and the control exercised on them in the labour process. With the industrialization of the production of illustrated periodicals, wood engravers formed a class of waged workers who owned no means of production, had little autonomy or creativity in their work and sold their labour power to fabricate illustrations. Workshops operated as factories, training apprentices to mechanically reproduce fragmented segments of illustrations in an assembly-line type of labour and based on a rigid hierarchy in which engraver-apprentices were at the bottom.