Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nineteenth-century British sporting prints

We get a lot of email queries about the value of nineteenth-century British sporting prints. Prints of racing, fox hunting, and other types of field sports were very popular in Great Britain in this period and many top artist and printmakers produced a large variety of these prints, often in sets of four, six or eight. These prints were intended to be framed and hung in the home, office or club and they are among the most archetypical British prints from this period. They were hugely popular and remain so today.

The popularity of these prints means that they were made in large numbers, but also that many of the plates for these prints were preserved and over the years were used to make new printings (reprints); some of the nineteenth-century plates are in existence today and are still used to make new prints. The popularity of these prints extends even further, for many of these prints have been photomechanically copied and reproductions made. These two factors mean that when one sees a British sporting print the question must always be asked as to whether one is looking at an original strike, a restrike or a reproduction. (See earlier blog on this topic) While this issue does come up with other prints, I would say that there are no other prints for which this is more of an issue than with nineteenth-century British sporting prints.

In terms of decoration, it doesn’t really matter whether one has an early strike, a restrike or a reproduction, as all can be very attractive, with great action and bright color. However, in terms of value there is a significant difference between the three types of prints. The factors are complex in determining the difference in values between these different types of prints for any particular example, but a typical difference might be that an early strike would be worth about $1,200, a restrike maybe $600 and a reproduction $200.

So how do you tell? This is not an easy thing to do and usually even experts need to see a print “in person” in order to make a determination. The best way to tell is by the paper, but this is not something where I can lay out particular things to look for. As we are talking about nineteenth-century prints, the paper will be wove (cf. earlier post on types of paper), but paper from different periods has a different “feel” to it which you can get a sense of through experience. This, of course, is not a lot of help if you are not an expert and can’t show the print to someone who is.

Reproductions can usually be determined by the printing process. There are a number of different reproductive processes (these are discussed to some extent on our on-line reference library), but an examination of the printed surface under magnification can often establish easily if one has a reproduction or not.

The case is a bit more difficult for telling a restrike from an early strike, for both of these are made by the same process (and indeed, the same plate). In this case the easiest thing to do is to look at the quality of the impression. Printing plates usually wear over time, so that the finer details start to fade away on the printed surface. This happens even to plates that are steel-faced, as many of the still existing plates have been.

If you look at the impression of most restrikes, there will be a lack of fine detail and most will have a certain “flatness” to the image. On early strikes, the flanks of the horses, the trees in the distance, the clouds, and so forth, will have texture and detail that is in the printed image itself. In restrikes this texture and detail will be missing and often the printmaker will make up for this by adding extra details and texture in the hand coloring. One common characteristic of restrikes is that the color with be bright and heavily applied to hide the lack of detail/texture in the printed impression.

In terms of the British sporting prints we see in this country, the vast majority are either restrikes or reproductions. Some early strikes have made it over to this side of the Atlantic, but not that many. These prints have remained very popular in the British Isles and there are a lot of sophisticated collectors over there, so most of the really good, early British sporting prints never left there. Restrikes have been around since the late nineteenth-century and these are the prints that most American tourists purchased when visiting the British Isles (as they were available and priced reasonably) and many have also been sent over to antique dealers for sale here. Reproductions are also quite common here.

This means that whenever you see a nineteenth-century British sporting print in North America, the odds are, it is not an early strike. Our shop makes an effort to find early strikes and you can find them if you look hard, but most of the British sporting prints you see in this country will be restrikes or reproductions. There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with the restrikes and reproductions as long as you pay only the right amount for what you get, but this is something that one needs to be aware of if you are looking to purchase one of these prints. This also matters in that one should be willing to pay extra when you do find a good early strike, for unlike with the restrikes and reproductions, these are real collector prints.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Chris Lane- this helps to explain why the 3 prints in my series are not highly or deeply colored and don't have much hand shading in the hand painted water color. Very good to know!