Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Katie Durkin
2 min readOct 17, 2020

Sir John Tenniel (1820–1914) was hired by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) to illustrate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Though Tenniel initially refused the opportunity, he went on to illustrate several of Carroll’s books in the Alice series.

Released in 1865, the novel was originally a children’s book but is enjoyed by a much wider and older audience. I believe this is due to the themes within the book, following growing up, childhood and identity — it is far more relatable for adults in terms of this as they can relate to the identity crisis you have while growing up. However, the story is interesting for children due to the highly imaginative nature of the setting, characters and story.

In 1951, Disney released ‘Alice in Wonderland’ an animated film that follows the story based on the book. However, there are scenes within the film which did not appear in the first Alice book and scenes within the book that have been taken out. I was guilty of being more familiar with the the animated version of the story until I got the book for this project to fully understand the characters and the content of the Alice story.

As I am interested in the printing process, I completed research into how Tenniel created the illustrations for the book and how they were then made suitable for mass production.

Tenniel used pencil and ink to create his illustrations, these would be transferred (in reverse) onto wood-block using tracing paper. The wooden blocks were then taken to the Dalziel Brothers to be engraved. Once at this stage any altercations were costly but necessary for some of Tenniel’s illustrations.

To make the blocks suitable for printing, copper-plated moulds were made of each of the engraved wooden blocks to produce electrotype which was suitable for printing. This process ensured that the original wooden blocks would not deteriorate during printing. The copper-plated blocks needed to be re-made several times as the book was mass produced, however this process allows one-off illustrations to be continuously printed. Following release in 1865, the first 2000 copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were recalled as Tenniel was not happy with the print. He wanted a different printer to be used, the letterpress was reset however the electrotype blocks were re-used.

A centenary edition of the book was released in 1932. During the making of this book newer versions of the wooden blocks were engraved — these can be identified by the addition of Tenniel’s initials. These electrotype blocks were used in printing from here onwards, making the reproductions stand out from the originals.

*The information above is what I consider the information that would be put inside the presentation pack to correspond with John Tenniel’s illustrations.