Monday, June 29, 2009

The Kelloggs of Hartford: their lithographs and a new reference book

I am thrilled to be able to say that an important new reference book has just been published, Picturing Victorian America. Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Harford, Connecticut, 1830-1880. This book, edited by Nancy Finlay and published the Connecticut Historical Society, fills a large gap in reference material about nineteenth-century American lithography.

From about 1830 until the mid-1870s, four Kellogg brothers from Hartford, Connecticut, in various partnerships, published probably at least as many as 4,000 popular prints. While their output is considerably smaller than the approximately 8,000 prints issued by the firm of Nathaniel Currier/Currier & Ives, the Kelloggs were their chief competitors. The Kellogg’s prints were typical of the popular print style: colorful, affordable and with images covering much the same range of topics as those of their New York City counterpart. Subjects included portraits, historical events, scenes of daily life, views, religious themes, politics, sports, military, animals, sentimental images and any other topic that might be of interest to the American public. (More information on the firm can be found on our web site)

Nancy Finlay, the editor and author of one of the essays, has previously written a number of articles on the firm, and other references have appeared from time to time (including my article “The Kellogg Menagerie of Civil War Cartoons” from The Magazine Antiques, July 2006), but this excellent new book is the first comprehensive study of the Kellogg family and their copious output. Eight essays explore various aspects of the firm, their business, and nineteenth century lithography. The book is lavishly illustrated, with over 100 color illustrations and more than 1,000 b&w images. Besides the excellent essays, the book contains a wealth of other useful information, such a dating guide to the prints, biographies of the Kelloggs, a timeline of the firm, and an illustrated checklist of over 1,000 Kellogg prints. The book is available for $65 and it is a terrific value and an invaluable reference for anyone interested in nineteenth-century American lithography.

Nancy is the curator of graphics at the Connecticut Historical Society, which has a graphic collection of over 200,000 prints and photographs, including the largest collection of Kellogg prints in existence (over 1,100). Other important holdings in the CHS are prints by Amos Doolittle and Richard Brunton, drawings by John Warner Barber, and numerous 19th- and 20th-century views of Connecticut. Access to these collections are available through the research center (One Elizabeth Street in Hartford), where selections from the collections are also on view in permanent and changing exhibitions designed for adults and families. More information on the CHS and its collections are available on the society’s web site.

In anticipation of the publication of this wonderful volume, I asked Nancy to answer a few questions. I am most grateful to her for supplying the very interesting responses below…

How was the print collection formed?
The very first Kellogg prints to enter the CHS collection were donated by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg themselves in the 1840s. At that time, the Kellogg shop was right across the street from the Historical Society, which was located in the Wadsworth Atheneum. Although we’ve purchased a number of important Kellogg prints over the years, most of the collection has been the gift or bequest of collectors such as Samuel St. John Morgan in the 1940s and 1950s and more recently James Bonnette and Michael Shortell.

How can researchers access the collection?
The Research Center at The Connecticut Historical Society is open 12-5:00 Tuesday through Friday and 9-5:00 on Saturdays. Prints in the Graphics Collection may be viewed in the Research Center during those hours; no appointment is needed. However, I always enjoy meeting with print collectors and other researchers who are working with the Graphics Collection. If you want to be sure that I’ll be available to talk with you, or if you’d like me to have material ready for you in advance, you should give me a call at 860-236-5621 ext. 236 or send an email to Nancy_Finlay@chs.org.

Are your prints accessible on line?
Currently, a few of our Kellogg prints may be viewed on our website, www.chs.org and a few more are included in our digital library at www.cthistoryonline.org. Our complete Kellogg collection should be accessible online early this fall when our new online museum catalog goes live. Stay tuned.

How did you end up at the CHS?
I was born in Connecticut and had a summer job just down the street from CHS when I was in college. I used to visit CHS on my lunch hour. In the late 1990s, when I heard that CHS was looking for a graphics curator, I knew this was where I wanted to be. The Kellogg collection was no small factor in my decision to come here.

How did you become interested in antique prints?
My first love was European prints. I first became interested in 19th-century American prints when I was working in the Graphics Collection at Princeton University. Leonard Milberg was one of our big donors and Dale Roylance and I organized a major exhibition of his American landscape prints. I think it was Dale’s and Leonard’s enthusiasm for artists like William James Bennett and John Hill that first got me excited about their prints.

What are your favorite prints?
I have lots of favorite prints. I especially like the landscape prints that E.C. Kellogg produced in the early 1850s when he was working on his own. An example is "Plainville, Conn., from the South West," which is on the cover of Picturing Victorian America. It presents such an idyllic view of a small Connecticut town in the 19th century. It’s also a really fine example of color lithography. It makes you wish that the Kelloggs had done more with color printing. They really didn’t do very much.

What print was the biggest surprise when you came across it?
Probably "Blind Man’s Buff," an early D.W. Kellogg print. It’s based on a painting by the rococo artist Jean-Honore Fragonard. The Kelloggs used lots of European sources, including works by contemporary artists and old masters, but it surprised me that they would reproduce a Fragonard. It’s just a little risqué, but perhaps they didn’t see it that way.

Some of your prints must have been acquired in poor condition. Do you have a program in place to conserve those that need it?
I’m so glad you asked! We have an ongoing conservation program and have just received a major grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the treatment of our Kellogg collection at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. It’s a two-year project and will begin in September 2009.

What do you see in the future for the CHS print collection?
I’m focusing right now on building a strong 20th-century print collection for CHS. We’re also collecting some 21st prints. CHS collected contemporary prints during the 19th century, when they acquired prints directly from the Kelloggs, for example. Then they got distracted by the Colonial Revival and didn’t acquire much contemporary material for quite a long time. It’s important to document the present before it becomes the past, to make sure that strong collections exist to serve the needs of future researchers.

How do you think the Kellogg prints compare to those by the more famous firm of Currier & Ives?
Unlike Currier & Ives, the Kelloggs didn’t do a lot of large folio prints. They specialized in small-format prints and marketed them largely to the lower middle class. If you compare Kellogg prints to similar small-format Currier & Ives prints, they hold up very well. Many of their prints, such as their Civil War cartoons, are extremely clever and original, and many of them are technically very accomplished, especially some of their prints from the mid-1840s.

What does a study of the prints of the Kellogg firm teach us?
It teaches us a lot of different things. They demonstrate very clearly that not everything in the 19th century was happening in major urban centers like New York and Boston. The Kelloggs were very much in the forefront in the development of the popular print in America. You can actually trace the evolution of the typical “Currier & Ives” print by examining the Kelloggs’ early work. The same thing was happening in other places, too, at about the same time. Everyone pretty much knew what everyone else was doing.

How many total prints do you think were issued by the Kellogg firm?
A lot more than we suspected at first. We now know of almost 2000 different prints that were issued between 1830 and 1880. There probably were at least 4000 prints, perhaps 5000. The Kelloggs also did a LOT of book illustrations, and we’re just beginning to learn about those.

Now that the Kellogg book is out, what is the next project you are working on?
I’ll never entirely stop working on the Kelloggs. I’d like to produce a complete catalogue raisonne of their work and put it online. And I’d like to find out more about their relationships with Hartford printers and publishers. Michael Shortell, who did so much work on our Kellogg project, is compiling a database of Hartford printers and publishers. He discovered account books from the firm of Belknap & Hamersley that include references to the Kelloggs. They tell you how big the editions were, how much they were paid, exactly what they did. I am working on some other projects, too, involving late 19th- and early 20th-century book design and Hartford architecture. I’d like to do something with Nelson Augustus Moore and his family, too. Moore was a photographer as well as a painter, and almost all of his children were also artists. I never run out of ideas.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Prints from 19th century illustrated newspapers.


Many nineteenth-century prints were “frameable” prints issued as separate sheets, and many others were published as parts of portfolios, books or magazines. One of the most common type of nineteenth-century print, however, is the wood engraved image from the illustrated newspapers that were published from the 1840s to the end of the century. These prints were issued in the tens of thousands and are fairly common in print shops, flea markets, bookshops, and at auctions. The fact that they were issued in newspapers and their relative lack of scarcity means that they are often dismissed by print collectors, but they are in fact wonderful antique prints the worth of which is obvious when one judges them for what they are, not for what they are not.

Newspapers illustrated with wood engravings became hugely popular beginning around the middle of the nineteenth century. The advent of these journals followed a number of developments which made it practical to produce a newspaper filled with illustrations. First, wood engraving was a relief process, so the images could be printed from the same presses, and even on the same page as typeface. Secondly, procedures were developed which made it quick and easy to go from a manuscript drawing to a print, and then steel facing allowed for the production of thousands of images from the engraved woodblocks.

The first of this type of newspaper was The Illustrated London News, founded in 1842, and the first American illustrated newspaper was Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, founded in 1851, its name changed to Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion in 1855. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper appeared in 1855, followed two years later by the most successful of all the American illustrated newspapers, Harper’s Weekly. Many other illustrated newspapers appeared in different countries and an article in The Graphic (London), December 6, 1890, depicted the mast heads of twenty-three illustrated newspapers from around the world.

The success of these newspapers lay in their illustrations. These images were wide-ranging in their coverage of events, places, things and persons of interest to the readers, and they were extremely timely in their appearance, often being issued within two weeks of when the images were first drawn. Readers found it new and exciting to be able to have, within days and at an affordable price, a first-hand view of a disaster from across the country, to gaze on an image of a just constructed bridge, or to see contemporary pictures of far-away cities or countries.

The prints produced in the nineteenth-century illustrated newspapers were comprehensive in subject and ubiquitous, with the most successful weeklies having press runs of well over 100,000 for each issue. The fact that these prints were “merely” illustrations in a newspaper and were issued in huge numbers has led some to dismiss them as unworthy of study or ownership. This is a real mistake.


The quality of the engraving is generally very good and many of the drawings were by skilled artists. For some important American artists, illustrated newspapers gave them a start on their careers and many of their important images were published in this format. Artists such as Theodor R. Davis, F.O.C. Darley, Charles Graham, A.B. Frost, and Frederic Remington all produced fine images which were intended to be produced as illustrations for newspapers. Thomas Nast is one of the most influential American artists of the century, both for his prototype images of Santa Claus, but also for political cartoons, which not only created the classic symbols of the Democratic and Republication parties—-the donkey and the elephant-—but also had a huge impact on the politics of his time-—Nast's political cartoons in Harper's are credited with helping to bring down “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall.

Another figure who produced an important body of illustrated newspaper prints was Winslow Homer. Like Thomas Nast, Homer gained his early experience as a Harper's staff artist working on the Civil War battlefield. He then went on to produce a series of classic images of American life in the 1860s and 1870s. These prints were not simply copies of paintings, but were images originally drawn by Homer specifically to appear as wood engraved illustrations in Harper’s Weekly. These are “original Winslow Homer” prints, which while more expensive than most other newspaper illustrations, are still very affordable.

Beyond the artistic quality of the prints that appeared in these newspapers, they are also important because they often are the most accurate and current images done of their subjects, and in some cases these are the only contemporary images of the people, buildings, and events depicted. There were often separately issued prints of the most famous individuals, the most spectacular disasters, the most substantial new structures, the most significant political events, and the most populous cities, but there were thousands of people, events, structures, towns and cities for which illustrated newspaper prints were the only contemporary images ever done.

One area of particular interest to me are images of sports such as baseball, football, cricket, polo, rowing, and tennis in the earliest days of their development. With very few exceptions, there are no separately issued prints of these sports from before about the turn of the century. However, illustrated newspapers were filled with such images. Like Homer's prints, the sports prints from the newspapers tend to sell for more than other subjects, but they still are both affordable and some of the earliest images one can own of these sports.

Our understanding of nineteenth century America would be far poorer without the existence of the prints from illustrated newspapers. Though in the past often dismissed by scholars, they are now being appreciated for their documentary importance and more and more print references on particular topics (such as my recent publication, Panorama of Pittsburgh , on nineteenth-century views of Pittsburgh) are taking these prints into account. Also, whatever subject from this period one is interested in, there is likely to be at least a few reasonably priced images one can find. These are thus images that print collectors should be aware of and they can be wonderful and affordable prints to add to ones collection.

Two excellent sources of information on these newspapers are Frank L. Mott’s A History of American Magazines, Vol. II, 1850-1865 (Cambridge, MA, 1967) and David Tatham’s Winslow Homer and the Illustrated Book (Syracuse, 1992).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Numbered prints

There is a lot of confusion over what it means to have a “numbered” print, so I will discuss the issue in today’s blog. What people usually mean when they say that a print is numbered, is that the artist or printer or publisher has indicated that the print in question was the Xth print out of a total of YY made. This is usually indicated with a pencil notation in the margin in the form X/YY.

So, for instance, if Thomas Willoughby Nason produced a total of only 200 impressions of his print of “Upland Pastures,” then he would mark the fifth print that he pulled from the woodblock as “5/200” and the eighty-ninth he pulled off the block as “89/200” and so on. This was intended as an indication to a potential buyer that there was only a limited number of these prints made (200) and that this one was one of the official group (number 89).

It is important to realize that this numbering is really only a marketing stratagem, not something that has anything to do with the intrinsic quality or value of the print. Artists numbered prints simply so that buyers would know that the run was limited and that their print was one of the official run. The presence of numbering does not in itself make the print any more or less valuable, it just allows us to have knowledge of a couple of important facts about the print.

It is, however, quite clear that for prints by artists who did number their prints (and there are many who didn’t), it is important to have the number on the print, for that does tell us those important facts. While it is true that if Nason did not number his prints they would still be just as valuable, for those prints he did number, you want to make sure you have an impression with the numbering. Where a particular print was numbered by the artist, any impression without a number is probably one that is a reproduction or a later restrike, not from the original series, and that of course means that impression has considerably less value.

There a number of reasons why prints are not numbered. First off, numbering of a print is a relatively modern notion. It was only in the late nineteenth century, with the etching revival, that prints began to be numbered. Before that time there was no need to number prints---all prints were run off in limited numbers. Printing processes were such that huge runs of prints could not be made and also there wasn’t a large enough market that anyone would run off more than a relatively limited number of impressions. Before the mid-nineteenth century, no one worried about there being a huge number of impressions of any print, so why would anyone bother to number theirs? It is much like how now-a-days television broadcasts from around the world often are noted as being either “Live” or “Recorded earlier.” Fifty years ago, no television broadcast of an event from overseas could be shown live, so no one would have thought to bother to label a broadcast as “Recorded earlier.” Likewise, before the later nineteenth century, no printmakers would have thought of numbering their prints.

A second reason many prints are not numbered is that the numbering of prints is really limited to “fine art” prints that were intended to be marketed to discerning collectors who cared about such things. Most prints, as discussed in an earlier blog, are commercial prints that were not aimed at a collectors market and for those prints there was no reason to bother to number them. Most of these prints were, of course, issued in far greater number than the fine art prints which were numbered, but some of these are very rare today and, as discussed earlier, scarcity is not that important a factor in the value of most of these prints.

Finally, many modern, fine art printmakers just didn’t bother to number their prints. This could be for a number of reasons, such as the possibility they didn’t want to limit how many impressions they could run off, or they didn’t feel that it would help sell their prints, or whatever. Many modern prints are official impressions from a limited series even though they lack numbering. What is important for those who are purchasing modern, fine art prints is that you know whether the series in question was numbered. If you are looking at a print from a series that was never numbered, then the absence of a number means nothing, but if the series was numbered and the one you are looking at does not have one, you should either avoid that print or make sure you are paying only an appropriate price for such an impression.

The discussion above refers only to numbered prints in the usual sense of an indication that a particular print is impression X out of YY made. Many antique prints have just a single number of them, and one of the most common queries we get on our web site or at Antiques Roadshow is what this type of number means. Are these “numbered prints?” No; these are not what is usually considered a numbered print. These single numbers which appear on prints are what is called “stock” or “catalog” numbers, for they are the number of the print in a stock list or a print catalog issued by the printmaker. The same stock number appears on every example of that print. This number was used so that if you are a framer or printseller and you want to order prints from the publisher, you just put in an order for print #26 or three copies of #12 and two of #48, and so on.

A stock or catalog number is typically a single number that appears on the print, usually somewhere along the bottom. These numbers appear on quite a number of the mid-nineteenth century prints by publishers such as Currier & Ives or the Kelloggs, and also on many of the later decorative prints from the late 19th or early 20th century, by such publishers as J. Hoover & Sons. This means nothing about the print other than at one time it was listed in a stock list or catalog and identified by the publisher with the number. It adds no value to the print and is unrelated to the fine art “numbered prints” discussed above.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Prints as historical evidence: Lincoln’s deathbed

The assassination and death of Abraham Lincoln on April 14th and 15th, 1865 sent a shock throughout the nation, generating an intense desire by the American public to find out details about this tragedy. Printmakers, both for illustrated newspapers and for separately-issued prints, met this public interest with an outpouring of images. As there was no television nor internet at the time, and as there are few photographs of any of the events surrounding Lincoln’s death, these prints provided the public at that time with their only visual assess to the assassination and its aftermath. Similarly, today these prints provide us with some of our very few contemporary images of these events. As with all historic prints, the question must be raised as to how accurate these prints are, that is, how can we judge these prints as historic records of the events portrayed.

The two most popular subjects for contemporary prints were images of the assassination itself and of Lincoln’s deathbed. Today I’ll consider prints of the latter. After Booth shot Lincoln, he was carried to a first floor bedroom of a boardinghouse owned by William Petersen, which was located across the street from Ford’s Theater. There Lincoln lingered for many hours, dying early in the morning of the 15th. Throughout the night a regularly changing group of mourners paid their respects. The prints made of Lincoln's deathbed are supposed to show the scene shortly after he breathed his last.

A boarder in Petersen’s house took a photograph of the deathbed shortly after Lincoln’s body was removed. This shows a small room with four prints hanging on the wall, none of which are easily identifiable. Within three weeks, on May 6, 1865, Harper’s Weekly published a wood engraving of Lincoln’s deathbed. A comparison with the photograph seems to indicate that this image is fairly accurate. The room size, location of the door, wall paper and placement of the prints match the photograph. The Harper's image has more detail in some places, for instance showing more clearly the four prints on the wall. According to George Townsend’s account (from The Life, Crime, and Capture of John Wilkes Booth, 1865), the three large prints on the wall are John Frederick Herring’s ”The Village Blacksmith” (seen at the far left), Rosa Bonheur’s “Horse Fair” (seen over the head of the bed), and Herring’s “The Stable” or the “Barn Yard,” and one can actually recognize these images in the Harper's engraving.

According to Townsend's account, there were twenty-four people present at the time of Lincoln’s death. Given the size of the room (around 10 x 15 feet), this is probably an exaggerated total. The Harper’s engraving shows only twelve people, all of whom-—except Surgeon-General Barnes-—are listed by Townsend as being present. All the details of the Harper's print match up very well with what we know about the scene. No source is given for the image, but it seems reasonable that it was drawn-—perhaps from memory—-by an eye-witness or an artist who visited the room and talked to some who were there. Whatever the source, everything about this print indicates it is a close rendering of the actual scene.

The same cannot be said about other images of the scene that were issued as separately-issued prints. The earliest to be published seems to be a Currier & Ives print, “Death of President Lincoln” (Conningham: 1500). This was copyrighted April 26, 1865, which means it was probably drawn about the same time as the Harper’s image. This print matches some of the details of the Harper’s print, but differs in a number of ways. The small size of the room is correct and the same number of mourners are included. The three larger prints on the wall are shown, with the “Horse Fair” even more recognizable, but the “Village Blacksmith” is shown reversed and the other Herring print is the wrong size and appears to be the wrong print. Robert Lincoln, some of the cabinet members, and General Halleck are all correctly shown as present, but Mary Todd Lincoln is also depicted as present, which is incorrect. Rev. Phineas D. Gurley, who was present, recorded that he broke the news of Lincoln's death to Mrs. Lincoln “in the parlor below.” Also, Tad Lincoln, shown crying in his mother’s lap, was never brought to Lincoln’s bedside.

As Harold Holzer has pointed out (Lincoln Seen & Heard, p. 63), Currier & Ives very shortly afterwards issued a variant issue of this print, also entitled “Death of President Lincoln” (Conningham: 1501). While the scenes are very close, it seems like the later print was from a new stone, for the frames of the prints on the walls are quite different. The main change, however, is the switching of two heads from those in their first print. The head of the gentleman sitting on the far side of the bed has been switched to someone else's. (In the second version of the print, this figure is identified as the Surgeon General; I do not know how this figure is labeled in the first version, nor why the face was changed--if anyone knows, please let me know!), and also the second man standing at the foot of the bed has been modified. In the first version, this was (accurately) General Halleck, but in the second version, Vice President Andrew Johnson appears in his stead. Johnson did visit Lincoln's deathbed, but only briefly, and he was not present when Lincoln died. However, Johnson was then the new President and Currier & Ives likely felt that the print would be better received if he was shown as present.

Interestingly, Currier & Ives issued a third deathbed print, “Death Bed of the Martyr President, Abraham Lincoln” (Conningham: 1471). A number of changes have been made, most making the print less accurate. There are now 15 mourners in the room, and three figures—-including Mary and Tad—-are shown just outside the door. Johnson is depicted even more prominently here, standing by himself next to Lincoln’s head. Interestingly, the room has been reversed and the prints moved. Over the head of the bed is now a shelf upon which sits a clock showing the time of Lincoln’s death (7:30 am) and two prints are shown on the side wall. Herring’s “The Stable” is shown correctly, but now “The Horse Fair” is next to it, with no sign of the “Village Blacksmith.”

One of Currier & Ives chief competitors, as popular print publishers, was the Kellogg firm of Hartford. Like Currier & Ives, the Kelloggs issued a deathbed scene, “Death of Abraham Lincoln.” This is unlike any of the other prints of this scene, for the Lincoln is shown face-on from the end of the bed, with the eighteen mourners shown to either side. The wall paper looks accurate, and many of those who were actually present are included, but others who were not present, such as Tad Lincoln, are included and the layout of the room is incorrect.

Alexander Hay Ritchie was one of the leading American engravers of historical scenes; in 1865-66 had engraved a large print based on Francis B. Carpenter’s important painting of “The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet.” Perhaps the success of that print inspired Ritchie to paint an image of “The Death of President Lincoln,” which he then engraved and in 1868 published as a large print which he hoped would sell as well as the other had.

The image is interesting for its similarities and differences to previous prints. The room appears to be larger and the number of mourners has grown to twenty-six. However, Ritchie said he personally visited the room at Petersen’s and the wall paper, bed, rug and prints on the wall all seem pretty correct. Indeed, the three main prints on the wall all appear to be in their correct locations and they are quite clearly depicted in this engraving). Also shown is a fourth print, as had been described by Townsend. Though the number of mourners in Ritchie's image is probably exaggerated, Townsend did list just two less, so perhaps this print is not too far from historically accurate. Certainly the print was praised by a number of people who were at the death scene and no one at the time complained about its inaccuracy.

It is not clear how successful was Ritchie’s engraving, but this didn’t stop another artist of historical scenes, Alonzo Chappel, from trying his hand at producing an other large engraving of “The Last Day of Lincoln.” Chappel produced a large painting which showed the room, now grown substantially in size, filled with forty-seven mourners! Chappel did want his image to be accurate, so he based the portraits of all the mourners on photographs he convinced everyone to pose for. Though the painting was made with the intent of producing an engraving based on it, and though Chappel actually signed up many subscribers for the engraving-—including Robert Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant--it seems that a print was never actually produced. There was, however, a key produced for the engraving which included a reduced version of the image and a listing of all the pictured mourners.

Though all the portraits in Chappel’s painting and intended print are based on life photographs, this is the most distorted image of Lincoln’s deathbed, for the room has grown far too big and there were never that many visitors in the room at one time. However, it is interesting to note that this image was praised particularly for its accuracy. For instance, the Washington Sunday Herald wrote of Chappel’s painting that “The greatness of the picture lies in its correct transcription of an actual scene and perfect portraiture of American men.”

I think that this indicates something about the way that such historical scenes were understood by viewers at the time, something which we need to keep in mind when we view these prints. Today, with photographs and video of almost any major event being readily available, we expect our images of these events to be accurate. Indeed we make special note when they are modified, for instance the famous photographs of Chairman Mao swimming when he was in fact too ill to do so.

In the 19th century and before, however, there were few photographs being made and so any images available to the pubic were based on drawings. The “news” prints issued in the illustrated newspapers were, to a great extent, intended to be accurate renderings of the events pictured, but I think that viewers at the time understood that separately issued engravings and lithographs were not to be taken as absolutely accurate portrayals of the events. These prints were understood to be as much symbolic or representational as “true to life.”

Separately issued historical prints were intended, certainly, to provide information about the events depicted, showing the basic situation and participants, but viewers expected the artists to take artistic license in putting together the scene. The printmakers understood that the public wanted the “whole picture,” not just a realistic “snap-shot” that a photograph might produce. For instance, in a battle scene, the intent was sometimes to show all the major events of the battle even when they never would have taken place within a single scene as the print might show. Similarly, with a view of a city, the artist would be expected to show all the major buildings and bridges, even if some could not in fact be viewed from the particular vantage point used for the drawing. Or, in the case of Lincoln’s deathbed, the public was probably more interested in seeing all the important figures who were on the scene at some point, rather than just the happenstance of who was in the room when Lincoln breathed his last. Print publishers often bent the literal truth in order to depict a more "complete" image and viewers at the time would have understood this.

Likewise, viewers also understood that the prints often had a symbolic role that was at least as important as the reportorial role. Prints of important events often were intended to convey a message, not simply to provide a “snap shot” of the event. For instance, no one thought that the cabinet all stood or sat in exactly the poses shown in Carpenter’s “The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet;” viewers realized the intent was to show the “essence” of the event, not the literal truth.

One print of Lincoln’s deathbed, that shows the symbolic intent very explicitly, is L.N. Rosenthal’s lithograph “The Last Moments of Abraham Lincoln,” where angels and George Washington look down on Lincoln from a bank of clouds hovering just over the bed. It is interesting that despite this print being the most blatantly symbol of the Lincoln deathbed scenes, it is also one of the most accurate. The room is about the right size (even accounting of the bank of clouds), there are only twelve mourners—-all of who were probably there at Lincoln’s death-—, the bed is the right kind, and you can even make out Herring’s “Village Blacksmith” on the wall.

Another clearly symbolic image, “Death Bed of Abraham Lincoln,” was published by John L. Magee. This was a mourning print for Lincoln, but also one that offered hope. Reverend Gurley is shown giving Lincoln last rites; this never happened, but it offered salvation not only for Lincoln but also for the nation. Also, the fictional hand-shake between Lincoln and Andrew Johnson gave blessing to the transfer of the Presidency and legitimacy for the new administration.

In future blogs I will examine further the issue of using antique prints as historic resources. The subject of this blog was inspired by the Smithsonian’s Online Conference Series session on “Lincoln’s Deathbed: Images of a Martyred President.” A recording of Pam Henson’s session on this topic is available on line at the Smithsonian’s web site.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Young Collectors and Antiques

Another interesting blog by our "young" Kelli Lucas...

One of the biggest anxieties among antique dealers is that young people don’t seem interested in antiques – that no new collectors are coming up to take the place of the old guard as they pass out of collecting. As someone still classified as part of that “young” demographic, I see a lot of confusion among my peers about how to incorporate “antiques” into their daily lives.

Antiques Roadshow has done a lot in the last decade to educate people, convincing them that antiques are not just the province of the extremely wealthy. But for a generation increasingly buried in student debt, any collecting foray beyond Ikea can seem inaccessible. They may feel destined for a lifetime of plexiglass-framed posters and Poang chairs, uncertain of how to personalize their space beyond the pages of the latest West Elm catalog.


The thing for young, would-be collectors to remember is that their journey beyond Ikea’s blue walls begins with a single step – or, in this case, a single print. Bringing even one antique print or map into your home can start you on the path to crafting your own unique aesthetic, where old, new, and gently used co-mingle to express your style. A botanical print of your favorite garden plants, cleanly framed in basic black, can add oomph to a dining room, where (if you’re like me) your furniture might be the “gently worn,” not-quite-antique castoffs of family and friends. Does your home office still sport a particle-board desk? Hanging an antique map of your home state above your computer monitor can anchor the space – and you. After all, you are a product of the history represented in the map as much as of the current era that makes the particle-board desk practical – why not let your home reflect the blend?

This sort of pleasant mixture shows up fairly regularly on Design*Sponge, a marvelous design blog that I’ve mentioned here before. Their Sneak Peeks posts are narrated by the home’s residents, who usually describe a blend of family pieces, personal designs, budget-friendly purchases, and – our favorite – treasured antiques. Take a look at some of the variety here and here to get ideas of how people are decorating with antiques in ways that are unique, expressive, and accessible.

Apartment Therapy is another great stop on the internet for anyone looking to decorate outside the catalog-furniture box. They highlight apartments around the country, generally designed with a budget in mind by people who don’t mind mixing influences to make a space their own. Take a look at (these posts to see wall charts and nautical maps integrated into chic, livable rooms.

Chris has written some great posts on this blog about the why’s and wherefore’s of (print collecting. It always pays to learn more about what you’re buying before you buy it, and he offers great tips for understanding what you see when you look at an antique print or map. For readers of this blog who fall into that “young” demographic, the “Young Collectors” column at the Maine Antique Digest is also a great read. Columnists Andrew Richmond and Hollie Davis fit that category themselves and have some great ideas of how to access a world of shops, shows, and auctions that can seem overwhelming or intimidating. They also have a blog, which details their own forays into the antique world as they look here, there, and everywhere for pieces to live with in their Ohio home.

With an adventurous spirit and a willingness to mis-match now and then, “young” collectors will find antique prints, accessible, enjoyable, and wonderfully suitable for even the most eclectic décor.

Monday, June 15, 2009

California as an island


Old maps are filled with inaccuracies--rivers running a wrong course, cities placed incorrectly, coastlines lacking bays, and mountains, lakes and islands missing completely. The mistakes in old maps are one of the primary aspects which makes them interesting to us, and much of the history of cartography is the history of the correction of these errors. One category of cartographic error consists of what are called ‘geographic myths.’ These are geographic features that appear on the map but not on the earth; cities where none ever were, islands where there are but waves, lakes and rivers where there is dry land, and kingdoms of non-existent kings. Geographic myths populated most areas of the world and the history of exploration is filled with expeditions in search of chimeras that existed only on the map.

There were many reasons for the creation of these myths.... Delusions: many of the non-existent cartographic features came from beliefs with no real evidential basis, deriving from folk tales, legends, lies and hypotheses. Illusions: some myths were derived from the mis-perception of evidence. A cloud on the horizon might be seen as an island, or a native village perceived as a large, rich city. Confusions: other geographic myths were the result of evidence being jumbled or misinterpreted. A cartographer might misplace a lake from one region to another or an explorer might see a bay as a long-sought-for strait.

Once ‘on the map,’ geographic myths were very hard to get rid of. As Henry R. Wagner said, “There is nothing that has such an air of verisimilitude as a map.” Failure to find one of these non-existent places or first-hand evidence that one of them was non-existent would not always lead to their banishment from the map. They would often simply be moved to another place or the evidence would be ignored. Some of these myths lasted for over a century despite evidence of their imaginary nature. Whatever their source or longevity, these geographical myths had a profound impact on the history of exploration and the story of discovery cannot be told without an understanding of these cartographic features.

The "delusions, illusions and confusions" are one of the things I most enjoy about old maps, so I will, from to time, post blogs on some of these geographical myths. Probably the most famous of them is California shown as an island.

The earliest maps of North America showed California as a peninsula, based on the reports of Francisco de Ulloa who explored the Bay of California in 1539. The famous maps by Gerard Mercator and Abraham Ortelius showed a correct depiction of California in the late sixteenth century, but that was to change early in the following century.

In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino sailed up the California coast, and Father Antonio de la Ascension wrote a journal of the voyage. Ascension claimed that California was separated from the American continent by the “mediterranean Sea of California.” It is not clear where Ascension got this notion, but this claim led to the mapping of California as an island beginning in 1622 with a small map on the title page of Antonio de Herrera’s Descripcion de las Indias Occidentales. The first folio maps to show this myth were by Abraham Goos’ in 1624 and by Henry Brigg’s in 1625. However, it wasn’t until the more important commercial Dutch publishers accepted the insularity of California that this notion achieved universal acceptance. The first of these influential insular renderings was by Jan Jansson, whose map of North America from 1636 graphically displayed this myth, and this was soon followed by all other major publishers such as Nicolas Sanson, Guillaume Blaeu, Pierre Duval, and Herman Moll.

California was depicted on maps as an island for over 100 years, even after Father Kino established its penisularity about 1705. Beginning with Delisle’s map of America in 1722, some cartographers began again to show a peninsular California, but many cartographers continued to depict it as an island. Finally in 1747, Ferdinand VII of Spain issued a royal edict declaring California as part of the mainland, and soon after that insular California finally disappeared from the map.

This geographical myth adds much interest to any of the maps showing it and these maps always sell for a premium over maps showing the more correct peninsular California. There are a couple good reference books available on the topic if you wish to learn more: Glen McLaughlin and Nancy H. Mayo's The Mapping of California as an Island, and Dora Beale Polk's The Island of California, the latter of which is the best available history on this topic.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chromolithography

Today’s blog is about chromolithography. Chromolithography is a type of lithography, but in many ways it is a very different printmaking process. Chromolithographs are among my favorite types of prints, so I must apologize that this blog will be rather long-winded…

Strictly speaking, a chromolithograph is a colored image printed by many applications of lithographic stones, each using a different color ink (if only one or two tint stones are used, the print is called a “tinted lithograph”). The advantage of chromolithography, of course, is that this allows the production of colored prints without the cost, time, and risk of hand coloring. The skillful use of chromolithography allowed for the creation of images with every imaginable color and with an appearance that sometimes closely copied that of original watercolors and oil paintings.

The wide-spread use of chromolithography in America began following the Civil War, and in the next half decade millions of chromolithographs were made and sold throughout the country. These prints became a customary decoration in homes everywhere, and indeed the last half of the nineteenth century has been called the period of “chromo civilization” in America. At the end of the century and into the early twentieth century, chromolithography was primarily used to create “cheap and cheerful” colored images, and these inexpensive and simple prints created a bad name for this process, giving “chromos” a reputation as the poor man’s prints.

It is true that one of the main attractions of chromolithography was that it allowed for the inexpensive production of thousands of color prints, which brought bright and attractive images within the reach of the masses. However, chromolithographs were much more than this. Many chromolithographs were elaborately made, using upwards of 20 or more stones to create a rich and sophisticated image. Many chromolithographs were intended to duplicate watercolors and paintings, allowing the middle class to hang “art” in their home at an affordable price. At the same time, many artists used chromolithography to create prints that very closely followed their artistic vision and which allowed them to earn significantly more income than they could from selling just their original watercolors and paintings.

Chromolithographs were one of the most important artistic elements in the life of many Americans in the later nineteenth century, with published guides lecturing homeowners on the virtues of chromolithography and encouraging the use of these prints for the decoration of the home and education of the family. I think that chromolithographs have been too much neglected and unappreciated, and we are on a campaign to correct this by featuring these important prints at antique shows, having an entire section on the subject on our web site, and I have often promoted these prints on Antiques Roadshow.


Though something of a simplification, one can group chromolithographs into three basic types. First are the chromos used primarily as book illustrations or inexpensive "art." These can run from very fine quality (such as Owen’s Grammar of Ornament) to colorful, workmanlike images (such as late nineteenth century natural history book illustrations) to “cheap and cheerful” (like the many inexpensive prints intended for framing from the 1890s). Generally these chromolithographs were printed in the thousands and so are generally available today at reasonable prices. While not really “fine art” nor “collectible,” these can provide very nice prints for decoration.

The second type are sometimes called “French style” chromolithographs. These are prints which are intended to duplicate watercolors or paintings using translucent inks which create an image that has an airy texture and a soft blending of colors. This process can create lovely images which often look much like the original artwork.

This type of print became very popular with artists in the 1880s and 90s. In this period a number of series of this type of chromolithograph were published with prints of sporting images by American artists, intended for framing and designed to help generate income for the artists and publishers. Among the most famous of these series are Alexander Pope’s Upland Game Birds and Water Fowl of the United States, Frederic Cozzens’s American Yachts, Their Clubs and Races, A.B. Frost’s Shooting Pictures, and the portfolio Sport, or Fishing and Shooting, with prints by a number of important American sporting artists.

These prints could be kept as a “book,” but really they were issued mostly in portfolios (loose prints with covers) rather than bound as books. The primary intent was for these prints to be framed and that is how most of them survive to today. These prints sometimes were issued with titles printed on them, but more often the prints were published with the paper trimmed to the images, with any title on the cover or a separate label. These prints were intended to be framed so that they looked like original paintings or watercolors and they can still be used to that end. [ Click here to see an Antiques Roadshow appraisal of prints from A.B. Frost's sporting portfolio ]

The final type of chromolithograph is my favorite. These are prints that were intended to duplicate oil paintings (sometimes called the "German style'). The inks used were heavy, oil-based inks which when applied in several layers give a texture like that of an original oil painting. These prints were almost never printed with any text on them (though sometimes the title or a name might appear unobtrusively at the bottom of the image), they were usually issued with no margins, and often mounted either on a canvas backing or a board. They were also almost always sold in a frame (sometimes quite elaborate) without glass. Altogether this makes their appearance very close to that of an oil painting.

These prints are the ones that were designed to be sold to the middle classes so that they could hang these faux paintings in their home and benefit both from their sophisticated look and from being able to enjoy and learn from the artwork. Many fine paintings by American artists were issued in this format, such as Frederick Church’s Niagara Falls, Albert Bierstadt’s Sunset, Jasper F. Cropsey’s American Autumn, and Thomas Moran’s Grand Canyon of Arizona. It was as much through the chromolithographic copies of these and other seminal American paintings, as opposed to the exhibition of the original work, that this art was disseminated to the general public.

The leading proponent of this sort of chromolithograph was Louis Prang of Boston. Prang's chromos, which were "sold in all Picture stores," were highly praised and became hugely successful. Prang did more to create the market for chromolithographs in America than any other publisher, and his work also greatly shaped the output of other publishers around the country.

Prang's initial success came from his many small prints ("art bits"), which were collected by the public and usually kept in albums. He also developed a market for color printed specialty items like Christmas cards, which he is credited with inventing. Beginning in the late 1860s, Prang launched a magazine, Prang's Chromo: A Journal of Popular Art, and he began to issue chromolithographic copies of American paintings, which he called "Prang's American Chromos." He later expanded his output to include European paintings such as Correggio’s Magdalena. His first great success was with Eastman Johnson's Barefoot Boy, and eventually he issued about 800 chromolithographs of this sort, establishing an oeuvre unmatched by any other American chromolithographic publisher.

There were other publishers who issued these oil-like chromolithographs, such as Charles H. Crosby, Colton, Zahm and Roberts, F. Tuchfarber, and the British firm of Thomas McLean. And there were also many firms which issued other types of chromolithographs, ranging in quality from poor to top notch. We try to carry in our shop as many chromolithographs as we can, both images by important American artists and charming anonymous genre prints. It is interesting that when we hang a good quality art chromolithograph in our booth at an antique show, it is not infrequently mistaken for an oil painting (as, of course, was the original intent). What is sad is that when I explain that no, this is not an oil painting, but instead it is a fabulous example of chromolithography, the viewer often loses interest. To me, the chromolithographs are as interesting and attractive as the oil paintings, and certainly are more affordable.

I’ll keep beating the drum for chromolithographs and hope an appreciation of these fine prints will spread. Towards that end, there are some excellent reference books that one can read on these prints. The seminal work, and the one which really began the renaissance in appreciation of chromolithographs, is Peter C. Marzio’s terrific The Democratic Art . Katharine M. McClinton’s fine The Chromolithographs of Louis Prang and Jay Last’s The Color Explosion are also books anyone interested in the subject should read.