Whistler made only small changes to this plate until the final states. The first known proof shows work in both etching and drypoint, and drypoint was used in succeeding states to refine the figure of the dyer, the shading of the background, the steps and the reflections. Whistler apparently became dissatisfied with the dyer and his drapery, first reducing the work on the figure, next removing the figure and drapery, then redrawing at least part of the drapery and reflections, and, ultimately, sketching in a new figure. At that point, work on the copper plate ceased.
Whistler retained five impressions, including unique early proofs (, ) and a counterproof (), which were in the studio at his death.
The first proof appears to have been printed in black ink with rather uneven plate tone, but it has not been located (). Subsequent impressions were usually printed with deep plate tone, wiped to suggest reflections in the water (i.e. ). Apparently each early proof was a different state. The third state - dating from 1880, and obviously printed in Venice - was in black ink on ivory laid paper with the Venetian watermark of three crescents (). 6
6: See C. James, C. Corrigan, M.C. Enshaian, M.G. Greca (M.B. Cohn ed.), Old Master Prints and Drawings: A Guide to Preservation and Conservation, Amsterdam 1997, p. 53.
The fourth state also appears to date from about 1880, but later states appear to have been trimmed and signed with Whistler's butterfly between about 1885 and 1887. They are printed in dark brown or brown/black ink, also with plate tone; one of three known fifth states, for instance, has an 'RK' countermark (), and another was on 'antique' (pre-1800) laid paper with the Arms of Amsterdam watermark (). A sixth state in black ink also has this Amsterdam watermark (). It is possible these were printed in response to repeated pleas from print dealers for impressions of The Dyer. 7
7: e.g. E.G.Kennedy to Whistler, 4 February 1888, GUW #07155.
Most impressions, except the working proofs kept by Whistler, were trimmed to the platemark and signed on a tab with his butterfly and 'imp.' to show that he had printed them. However, three heavily inked impressions of the eighth state are not so signed, and although one is trimmed to the platemark (), the other two are not (, ). They look like fairly rough impressions, possibly printed by an assistant, possibly proofs. One is in dark brown ink on cream 'antique' laid paper (), but another is heavily inked and printed on fine ivory laid paper ().
Impressions of the ninth and tenth states appear to be experimental proofs, unevenly inked. There are ninth states in brown ink on cream (), ivory laid () and thick ivory laid paper () the latter with the Strasbourg Lily 'F1' watermark. Two of these are signed with a small butterfly that may date from the 1890s (, ).
Finally, an impression of the final state was printed in dark brown ink on off-white laid paper with the watermark 'HARRIS & McM[URDO] / 1814' (), and a counterproof of this taken on what is now buff, probably darkened, paper (). No further work was done on the plate.