Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Griggs, William

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1524649Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement, Volume 2 — Griggs, William1912Frank Herbert Brown

GRIGGS, WILLIAM (1832–1911), inventor of photo-chromo-lithography, son of a lodge-keeper to the duke of Bedford at Woburn, Bedfordshire, was born there on 4 Oct. 1832. Losing his father in childhood, he was apprenticed at the age of twelve to the carpentering trade, and coming to London when eighteen, he was employed as an artisan in the Indian Court of the Great Exhibition of 1851. He improved his scanty education at night classes at King's College and elsewhere, and in 1855 was selected to be technical assistant to the reporter on Indian products and director of the Indian Museum, then in the India House, Leadenhall Street.

His artistic tastes and keen interest in photography were encouraged by Dr. John Forbes Watson [q. v.], who became his chief in 1858, and at his instance Griggs was installed at Fife House, Whitehall, pending completion of the India office, in a studio and workshops for photo-lithographic work. He had familiarised himself with the processes of photo-zincography discovered by the director-general of the Ordnance Survey, General Sir Henry James [q. V.]. By careful experiment he found that the use of cold, instead of hot, water in developing the transfer left the gelatine in the whites of the transfer, thus giving firmer adhesion to the stone and serving as a support to the fine lines. He also invented photo-chromo-lithography by first printing from a photo-lithographic transfer a faint impression on the paper to serve as a 'key,' separating the colours on duplicate negatives by varnishes, then photo-lithographing the dissected portions on stones, finally registering and printing each in its position and particiliar colour, with the texture, light and shade of the original.

He greatly cheapened the production of colour work by a simplified form of this discovery, viz. by a photo-lithographic transfer from a negative of the original to stone, printed as a 'key' in a suitable colour, superimposing thereon, in exact register, transparent tints in harmony with the original. Opaque colours, when necessary, were printed first. So far from keeping secret or patenting these improvements, Griggs described and gave practical demonstrations of them to the London Photographic Society (14 April 1868). He was thus a pioneer in the wide diffusion of colour work and half-tone block-making, and helped to bring about rapid cylindrical printing. But for his 'brilliant and painstaking work, chromo-lithography as a means of illustrating books would be almost a lost art, like that of coloured aquatint' (Martin Hardie's English Coloured Books, 1906, pp. 255-6).

Griggs established photo-lithographic works at his Peckham residence in 1868, soon after the publication of his first notable achievement—the beautiful plates illustrating Dr. Forbes Watson's 'Textile Manufactures and Customs of the People of India' (1866), which was followed by those illustrating ' Tree and Serpent Worship in India' (1868), by James Fergusson [q. v.]. He also reproduced some of the Prince Consort's drawings for Queen Victoria, and was thereafter chromo-lithographer to her Majesty and subsequently to King Edward VII. Though the contents of the India Museum were dispersed between South Kensington and elsewhere in 1878, he continued to serve the India office till Sept. 1885, thenceforth devoting himself exclusively to his own business.

In reproductions of old manuscripts and letterpress texts Griggs was as successful as in chromo-lithography. His production of fifty copies of the 'Mahabhasya' (the standard authority on Sanskrit grammar), consisting of 4674 pages (1871), was carried out for 6000l. less than the estimate for a tracing of the original MS. by hand. More widely known, however, are his Shakespeare quartos, with critical introducions by Frederick James Furnivall [q. v. Suppl. II] and others, in 43 vols. (1881-91), which were sold at 6s. each, while the hand- traced fac- similes by E. W. Ashbee, superintended by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps [q. v.], had been sold at five guineas each.

On the initiative of Sir George Birdwood, who gave him constant encouragement, Griggs secured in 1881 the patronage of the committee of council on education for a series of shilling 'Portfolios of Industrial Art,' 200 of which have been issued, chiefly selected from the Chinese, Persian, Arabian, Sicilian, Italian, Russian, and Spanish specimens at South Kensington. Under an arrangement with the government of India, also negotiated at Sir George's instance, he issued from Jan. 1884 the quarterly 'Journal of Indian Art and Industry,' in imperial quarto (25.), which is still carried on by his successors in business. A notable work in the same field, edited by Colonel T. H. Hindley, was his 'Asian Carpet Designs' (1905) of 150 coloured plates, sold at 18Z. a copy. Nor was he less successful in illustrating such works as Dr. James Burgess's reports on the archaeology of Western India through a long series of years, and his 'Ancient Monuments of India' (1897 to 1911); Colonel T. H. Hindley's many works on the art and history of Rajputana; facsimiles of illuminated MSS. at the British Museum (1889-1903), and other works for the trustees; Sir Richard Temple's 'Thirty-Seven Nats' in Burma (1906); and many scientific works, such as Dr. M. C. Cooke's 'Illustrations of British Fungi' (2nd edit. 6 vols. 1884-8) and his 'Handbook' thereof (2nd edit. 1887). The fullest, though by no means a complete, list of Griggs's works is given in the 'Journal of Indian Art,' Jan. 1912.

Griggs married in 1851 Elizabeth Jane Gill (d. 1903), and in his later years was assisted in business by his two sons. The firm of W. Griggs & Sons was formed into a public company on 20 Dec. 1906. He was for a time managing director, but owing to ill-health resigned all connection with the company in January 1910.

He died at Worthing on 7 Dec. 1911, being buried in the Forest Hill cemetery. His second son, Walter, carries on an independent business on his father's lines.

[Sir George Birdwood's introd. to Relics of Hon. E. I. Co., 1909; Martin Hardie's English Coloured Books, 1906; Journ. of Photographic See. of London, No. 192, 18 April 1868; Photo-Chromo-Lithography, pamphlet by Griggs, 1882; Journ. of Indian Art, Jan. 1912, obit, by Col. Hindley; The Times, 8 Dec. 1911; Printers' Register, 8 Jan. 1912; information supplied by Mr. Walter Griggs; personal knowledge.]

F. H. B.