In a previous blog I talked about how we price prints, especially when there are no good historical price record to be found for the particular print in question. Our main modus vivendi in these cases is to compare the print to other prints where we do have established prices. Of course the question is, compares in what way? There are a number of criteria which determine the prices of prints and we try to find a comparable prints with established prices to see if the print in question is better in terms of these criteria, in which case it will be priced higher, or not quite a good, in which case it will be priced less.
Obviously, one of the most important criteria is the content of the print in question. Historic prints which show a person, place or event have their value primarily dependent on what person, what place or what event. So in comparing a print we're trying to price with one we have a price record for, we start by seeing which of the subjects of two prints has a higher “value ranking.”
The “value ranking” of a person, place or event is where in a ranking of values that subject falls relative to other subjects of the same sort. This hypothetical ranking is simply a function of popularity of the subject among the buying public. If many people want images of a particular person, place or event, it will be ranked near the top and if few people are interested in a subject, it will be near the bottom. This “value ranking” of the subjects is not dependent on the importance of the subject (there are many important individuals, for instance, whose prints do not sell for very much), but simply popularity.
So who are the most popular people? On the world scene, individuals like Napoleon, Jesus, and Simon Bolivar are both famous and heroes to many, so they come in near the top of the value ranking of portraits, whereas people like King John of England, Don Lope de Aquirre, and Marie Antoinette, though famous, tend to be looked on in a negative way, and so they rank well down in their value ranking.
In terms of American historical figures, there are two names that are at the top of the value ranking of portraits, significantly above any others, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Others near the top of the ranking are Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt. Figures who played a prominent role in American history, but whose prints tend to be well down on the value ranking are people like Henry Clay, Aaron Burr, and Winfield Scott. It is always interesting to compare people from the same period to see how their value rankings differ, and for the Civil War, while Lincoln is at the top, it is mostly Confederate generals, like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who are valued highly, while Union generals like Grant and Sherman are relatively less valued.
For maps and views of places, those showing American locations tend to be the most highly valued, though important foreign locations are also quite desirable, for instance cities such as London, Paris, Cape Town, and so forth. Within the world of American places, the value ranking of states is quite interesting to look at. This value ranking is reflected closely in the hierarchy of values of maps of those states.
At the top are maps of Texas. For the maps from any particular world atlas, the map of Texas will almost always be worth more than that of any other state. Again, not because Texas is more important (a statement many Texans would probably disagree with), but because lots of Texans love Texas and desire maps of their state. A similar thing applies to some other states, such as Virginia, where the fondness Virginians have for the “Old Dominion,” translates into maps of Virginia selling for more than most other states.
It is not just the popularity of the state which determines its value ranking. Another factor can be the shape of the state! I hate to say it, but Pennsylvania is a fairly boring shape—pretty much a standard rectangle. Compare that to Florida, with its swooping peninsular and delicate pan-handle, or Kentucky with its interesting hump-backed shape. I am convinced that maps of Pennsylvania would sell for more if the state had a more interesting shape and that Florida would not be so desirable if it were squared-off!
There are a number of other reasons for a state’s ranking in the list of values, but one other factor that is interesting is whether people identify with the entire state or not. For instance, in New York State, citizens of New York City tend not to identify with the state as a whole, only with the city. This cuts out many of the people who you might think of as wanting New York state maps, so that state is quite a ways down in the ranking. Similarly, Pennsylvania (again!) is ranked fairly far down in the state value ranking because those in the southeastern part of the state tend not to identify with the rest of the state, while those in the west often don’t like those in the east, and those in the middle often wish both ends would drop off. This means that there are not a lot of people who love Pennsylvania-as-a-whole, and so its maps are valued less highly than many other states
For cities and towns there is also a complex and varied calculus which determines how highly that place is valued. Maps and views of New York City are very popular and valuable, as there are lots of people with lots of money who want them. Philadelphia views and maps are also quite valuable, as are most of the big cities, though some cities seem to generate less positive vibes, so that we find that views of San Francisco almost always sell for more than views of Los Angeles, while views of Chicago are more desirable than those of Detroit (there are, of course, other reasons for these differences besides the cities’ positive vibes…).
In terms of events, probably the most desirable images are those of the American Revolution, followed by those of the Civil War. Wars always create interest, but whereas the French & Indian War prints are valued highly, and those of the War of 1812 are relatively popular, those of the Mexican-American are less so, and those of the Spanish-American War even less. This doesn’t mean there are not collectors for all these wars and that some images of each do not sell for a large amount; it is simply that all other things being equal, a print of the Civil War will sell for more than one of the War of 1812, which in turn will sell for more than one of the Mexican-American war.
In general, the value of other American historical events tends to reflect how well known they are today or whether the issues involved still seem to matter. There were plenty of disasters, assassinations, scandals, elections, treaties, and so forth, in American history which at the time were important and had many prints made of them, but which now are known by relatively few. Prints of these events are wonderful American documents, but the lack of recognition means that their relative value is fairly low.
It can be a lot of fun to see how different subjects—persons, places, events—compare in terms of their value ranking and to try to figure out why (why, for instance, do maps of North Carolina have a higher value than those of South Carolina?). Getting a sense of these value rankings is the start to figuring the price for any print. However, as I alluded above, the value rankings determine the difference in value of prints for different subjects all other things being equal. Of course, rarely are all other things equal, so in the next blog I’ll talk about some of the other factors which we need to take into account when assigning a price to print for which we have no good price records.
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