Most of the squeezes in the IAS collection are historic objects in their own right: Professor Benjamin Meritt created the heart of the collection during a year in England and Greece in 1935-36. Nowadays we may look at that fact, think about the state of photography at the time, and assume that, while squeezes had their use then, they are no longer useful or necessary. If you made such an assumption, though, you would be going astray!
Squeezes are still made and used frequently today by epigraphists. Even with the substantial improvements to conventional photography, a photo cannot capture the three-dimensionality of an inscribed surface, and solutions for 3D scanning tend to be expensive, ungainly, and time-consuming. Squeezes are still the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to make a portable reproduction of the surface of an inscription.
Making a squeeze requires relatively few tools, but those tools can be difficult to source. The main tool is the “squeeze brush”, a large brush made from the hair of horses or boars. The squeeze brush is used to strike wetted squeeze paper – acid-free, long-fiber filter paper – into the depressions in an engraved surface. The only other tools you need are a sponge to clean the surface, and water and a bucket to wet the paper!
Unfortunately, the making of squeeze brushes is a dying art, practiced at this point mostly by a few older artisans in Greece. For well over a century epigraphers have jealously guarded “good” squeeze brushes, and that tendency will only increase as they become more rare. The filter paper can also be difficult to source, and you may require different weights and sizes for different projects.
The making of squeezes is a somewhat esoteric practice, passed down from senior to junior epigraphers in a very informal manner. Stephen Tracy, Professor Emeritus from the Ohio State University and Krateros Project advisor, has taught many currently practicing epigraphers. Professor Tracy was kind enough to help Project Manager Aaron Hershkowitz and Princeton Classics Professor Harriet Flower lead a squeeze-making seminar at Princeton in October 2021. (You can see a picture from that event at the top of the page!)
Instruction from an expert like Professor Tracy is necessary, because precise technique must be used to produce an accurate squeeze. One must take care to strike the paper that covers the inscription vertically and not at an angle, or a tearing of the paper could result. The striking process should also start in the middle of the inscription and then work outwards to avoid the formation of air bubbles under the paper.
We are very fortunate to have a video of Charalambos Kritzas, former Director of the Epigraphical Museum in Athens, demonstrating how one makes a squeeze! His narration is in Greek, and so we have provided English subtitles. Enjoy!