Prints are defined by their reproducibility, but the monotype is self-destructive, its printable design effaced after one or two passes through a press. Since the printmaker neither etches nor engraves into the plate, but merely draws or paints directly onto its surface, the transfer of ink from plate to paper can only truly be made once (as the ‘mono’ in monotype suggests). When the ink has been transferred, the design on the plate is lost. This prevents further reproduction, beyond one or two fainter ‘cognates’ or ‘ghosts’, and perhaps a ‘counterproof’ taken from the newly printed image, from which a faint echo of the original can be made. All matrices degrade over time, even the most durable woodblocks. A copper plate can sustain as many as three thousand impressions in its lifetime. Steel plates, which came into use in the early 19th century, might wear out after printing in the tens of thousands. But the case of the self-consuming monotype, with its tiny image family of three or four, is extreme.
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