I'd always thought that colour printing was a 20th century invention, but I was wrong. Within the last few weeks, I've found several Victorian books with stunning colour plates. My most recent discovery is an 1871 title called Aunt Friendly's Book of Gifts.
The illustrations are remarkably vivid, but the book's main surprise is it's depiction of popular nursery rhyme characters:
In this picture, Humpty Dumpty isn't a large egg with limbs, but an ordinary boy (if wearing a red fez and green jerkin counts as ordinary). On another page, there is a conventional illustration for See-Saw, Margery Daw, but instead of Johnny, it is Janey who shall have a new master.
And in this plate, Little Bo-Peep is a boy. The remaining illustrations are quite conventional, but it is so unusual to see engravings from this time with colour:
The cliffs remind me of Sussex, but why is the young man carrying a crossbow?
I've found even earlier titles with good quality colour plates, which makes me wonder why it took roughly a century before colour illustrations became the norm rather than the exception.