Monday, May 11, 2009

Collecting Antique Prints; part 4

A collector can be distinguished from an acquirer by the approach he or she takes to collecting. There are three components to a collector’s approach: criteria, knowledge, and preservation. In a series of earlier blogs I discussed the various criteria that a collector needs to develop and today I will look at the last two components of a collector's approach.


Collectors must be able to knowledgeably apply the criteria established for their collections. One cannot be considered a serious collector unless a substantial effort is made to acquire knowledge of the prints being collected. The collector must understand the nature of his or her collection, of the potential group of prints which fall within the scope of the collection, and of particular prints within that group. Knowledge of the history and arts of the era when the prints were published also adds greatly to the understanding and enjoyment of the collection.

The beginning collector should develop considered answers to these questions: Why am I collecting–-for profit, for scholarship, for fun, to develop a collection for posterity, or for some other reason? What sort of collection do I envision–-one that is for display, that is comprehensive, that contains highlights within a certain theme, or some other type of collection? What theme will I use, and what are the elements of that theme? With the answers to these questions, the collector must decide what criteria are appropriate to his or her collection, and how rigorously to apply them.

A collector needs to have knowledge of the kinds of prints which fall within the scope of his or her theme. Only by having some knowledge about the universe of appropriate prints can a collector know which should be chosen for significance or scarcity and which are marginal to the collection. A collector also needs to know what he or she is seeing when presented with a particular print. Is it an original, a restrike or a reproduction? Is it in good condition, relative to what can be expected for this type of print? Is the color original, or added later? These questions can be answered by a knowledgeable and honest dealer, but there are likely to be many cases when the collector will come across a print and no assistance is available. A collector should try to gain as much practical knowledge about individual prints as possible so to be able to answer these questions independently.

There are many different sources of information for the collector of historical prints. Primary research, using prints in one’s own collection and in public collections, is an excellent way to gain knowledge, but this can be difficult for the private collector. More convenient sources of information are public exhibitions, seminars, lectures on relevant topics, and collecting organizations. Reputable print dealers can also be a significant source of information for collectors. Most print dealers allow browsing through their inventory and are pleased to discuss topics related to antique prints. Finally, there is a growing number of good reference books about historical prints available through print dealers and in libraries, though many specific subjects have not yet been covered.


Along with an effort to gain knowledge and apply relevant criteria appropriately, a collector must be concerned about the preservation of items in his or her collection. Antique prints must be treated as valuable artifacts, physical vestiges of history of which we are as much care-takers as owners. Paper artifacts are fragile and susceptible to a myriad of destructive forces; considerable thought and effort should be dedicated to their preservation. A collector should have restored any prints which are in need. The prints should be stored and displayed in a manner which meets minimum conservation standards, and injurious atmospheric conditions and ultra-violet light should be avoided as much as possible. (To read more about the preservation of antique prints, see previous blog)

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