George Baxter

George Baxter (1804 – Jan 11, 1867) was an English artist and printer based in London. He is credited with the invention of commercially viable colour printing.

Though colour printing had been developed in China centuries before, it was not commercially viable. However, in early years of the 19th century the process of colour printing had been revived by George Savage, a Yorkshireman in London. It was to be Savage’s methods upon which Baxter, already an accomplished artist and engraver, was to improve. In 1828, Baxter began experimenting with colour printing by means of woodblocks.

Baxter was born in 1804 in Lewes, Sussex, and was the second son of John Baxter, a printer. At 20 Baxter was illustrating books printed by his father; at 23 Baxter moved to London to be apprenticed to Samuel Williams, a wood engraver. In 1827 Baxter set up business on his own and married Mary Harrild, daughter of Robert Harrild, a printing engineer and a friend of Baxter’s father. Baxter now began to experiment with his own methods of colour printing – his first known colour print, Butterflies, was published in 1829. Baxter’s experiments first bore commercial fruit in 1834, with two small vignettes published in Mudie’s “British Birds”.

In 1835 Baxter was granted Patent No. 6916 – Improvements in Producing Coloured Steel Plate, Copper Plate and other Impressions, which outlined the combined intaglio and relief process he would continue to use for the next thirty years. Baxter’s original patent ran for 14 years; after the renewal of his patent in 1849 for another five years he began to sell licenses for the use of his printing process to other printing firms.

Baxter prints bear an imprint such as “Printed in Oil Colours and Published by G. Baxter, Patentee, 11, Northampton Square” or “Baxter Patent Oil Printing 11 Northampton Square”. The house at 11 Northampton Square in Clerkenwell, London, was Baxter’s home and workshop from 1844–1860. The site is marked by a plaque on the modern building at that address.

Despite his technical excellence and the general popularity of his prints, Baxter’s business was never profitable – his process was laborious and it seems likely that his perfectionism prevented him from completing many of his commissioned works on time. In 1860 he held a sale of all his stock and equipment, most of which was not sold. Eventually he sold his plates and blocks to the printer Vincent Brooks, who later republished some of Baxter’s images. Baxter was declared bankrupt in 1865 and died in 1867, after an accident involving a horse omnibus.

It is estimated that Baxter himself printed over twenty million prints during his career.