Thursday, August 27, 2009

Allegories of Washington & Lincoln

Another wonderful, thoughtful blog from Kelli Lucas:

A couple of weeks ago, Victoria wrote a great post about traditions of allegory in Western art. As I’ve been researching an image in our inventory of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I’ve been thinking a lot about the particularly American set of symbols and icons that appear in popular prints. Puzzling out how those symbols have been portrayed in the past and how they came to be is a great way to unravel a little bit of American history.

From the beginning, Thomas Jefferson and other framers of our early federal documents aligned the new nation with classic republics, borrowing even classical architectural styles to express ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (visit Jefferson’s University of Virginia for the most famous examples). Early purveyors of national iconography did the same, piling classical references one upon the other. One Philadelphia artist, John James Barralet, used classically draped goddesses in Greek klismos-style chairs to symbolize the bounty and freedom of the new republic, where Hermes (Mercury) leads merchants and immigrants to the throne of Liberty. Advised by Athena (Minerva), goddess of wisdom, she sits in welcome at a pristine, colonnaded temple of justice and self-determination and receives the new arrivals with a cornucopia of produce, displaying the judicial scales which would ensure their free and equal pursuit of happiness. Greek and Roman characters, elements, and symbols were adopted to communicate new American ideals and characteristics.

As the nineteenth century progressed, Protestant Christianity became the dominant framework for American narrative of origin, replacing characters of Greek mythology with characters of the Old Testament. Bible passages were applied liberally to public speeches, and public schools were well-supplied with copies of Protestant Scripture. Popular culture and religious culture mingled in the celebrity of people like author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote the wildly popular Uncle Tom’s Cabin and whose family tree was famously populated with Christian ministers and moralists. As historians like Nathan Hatch and Mark Noll have documented (more eloquently than I can in the scope of this post), popular and political culture became infused with Protestant statements of morality.

To make matters more complex for those interested in the progression of American visual culture (including print enthusiasts like us), popular Protestantism did not simply replace the Early Republic’s allegorical vocabulary of Classical imagery; rather, it layered atop the Classical stratum a drape of Protestant canonry. These layers are perhaps most evident in the nearly sacred iconography of George Washington. In a nation whose dominant, sometimes virulently anti-Catholic religion brooked no saints and no idols, Washington became like a federal deity. Cast as the father of his nation, he took on a nearly Abrahamic role in young nation’s mythology. To Protestant patriots, Washington was the one with whom God established the nation-building covenant: that his descendants would be greater in number than the stars. Scenes of allegory took on biblical casts: in a print published at his passing, George Washington, crowned with a Classical laurel wreath, journeys to heaven carried by angels, familiar symbols from Christian imagery. As though he were a chosen one borne to his eternal reward, Washington lifts his eyes toward heaven, spreading his hands to receive blessing.

Fast forward a few generations, and up comes came Abraham Lincoln: the mingled embodiment of both the Protestant work ethic and the classic American promise of opportunity. Republican campaigners literally sang his praises, lauding his adolescent wood-chopping abilities and humility of character. Following his assassination, Lincoln was elevated to a Messianic role: if Washington was the nation’s father, Lincoln was seen as its savior, and was termed exactly that by Currier and Ives in the subtitle of a print they published of the two presidents (Conningham: 6510).

After Lincoln passed, enterprising print pirates used the same image as was used to memorialize Washington decades earlier. Engraving Lincoln’s head where Washington’s had been, they ascribed to the martyred president the same divine approval as had been ascribed to the first president. Lincoln was the bearer of a sort of new covenant – the one whose Union-focused perseverance would redeem the wayward nation. He was the martyr, a Messiah-like figure whose death proved his virtue.

In 1865, Stephen J. Ferris participated in this trend, producing an image that was published by Philadelphian J.A. Arthur. Educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Paris, Ferris was a highly-trained and influential Philadelphia artist whose paintings and prints were exhibited throughout the and Europe. His image demonstrates that even fine artists took part in the elevation of Lincoln to American icon through the pairing of the sixteenth president with the first. In a shaft of heavenly light, Washington lifts Lincoln through the clouds to his eternal rest, where a crown of laurels awaits him and confirms his achievements as the Preserver of the Union. Like many images pairing the two, this was so popular as to be reproduced in cartes-de-visite form and copied by at least one amateur artist working in charcoal (see images below).

Harold Holzer is the historian who has most fully developed these ideas in his excellent article, “ ‘Columbia’s Noblest Sons’: Washington and Lincoln in Popular Prints (Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 15.1 (1994): 47 pars. 19 Aug. 2009 ),

In that work, he discusses the development of the pairing of the two presidents and examines how Lincoln came to achieve equal status with Washington in the heart and memory of the American Public. He examines the progression from campaign poster to memorial print, explaining how artists and print publishers responded to public demand to create an iconography of American heroes. Layering images from the early republic’s classical symbolism and Messianic, Protestant themes, they produced a group of pictures that encapsulates the complex layers of nineteenth-century American ideology.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

American Antiquarian Society

From time to time I will be posting blogs about institutions which hold important collections of antique prints. I have already written about the Library of Congress, the Amon Carter Museum, and the Connecticut Historical Society. Today I will write about the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), which has an American print collection second to none. It is a relatively unknown gem of a research institution located in Worcester, Massachusetts and one that is near and dear to my heart.

The AAS was established in 1812, founded by Isaiah Thomas and others in order to "encourage the collection and preservation of the Antiquities of our country, and of curious and valuable productions in Art and Nature [that] have a tendency to enlarge the sphere of human knowledge." They wanted to use these collections in order to "aid the progress of science, to perpetuate the history of moral and political events, and to improve and interest posterity." This intent still forms the basis of the AAS as an independent research institution. As stated on their web site, the AAS’s purpose is to collect, organize and preserve the records of the lives and activities of the American people from the colonial era through the Civil War and Reconstruction, and to make these collections available for research so as to further the study and understanding of our past.

The collections of the AAS include books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, broadsides, manuscripts, music, local histories and graphic arts. Much information on these collections is available on the AAS web site. The collections are intended to be used for study and the collections are available for on-site study by experienced researchers. The collections are also often used by other institutions for exhibitions and the like (for instance a few items were borrowed for Panorama of Pittsburgh which I curated last summer), and the AAS further promotes its goals by offering fellowships, educational programs, producing publications, and exhibitions. The AAS is very active on-line, helping produce Common-place, an “interactive journal of Early American Life” and on-line exhibits such as Beauty, Virtue and Vice (which will be the subject of a future blog).

It is the graphics collection at the AAS which is of most interest to me, and as I said, it is in the first rank of American graphics collections. The Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts is Georgia B. Barnhill, one of the leading print scholars in the country. She has lectured and published widely and is known for her insightful and entertaining talks. From when I first got involved with antique prints, Georgia has always been one of my inspirations and all those who are interested in American prints are blessed both for the AAS and that she is the curator of its amazing graphics collections.

I asked Georgia to answer a few questions, which she graciously agreed to do.

The print collection at the AAS is one of the best in the country. How was this put together?
The collection of prints at the American Antiquarian Society has been in formation since the founding of the institution by Isaiah Thomas in 1812. One of his early acquisitions was a copy of every single sheet ballad available at a printer's shop in Boston in 1814. Many of the ballads are illustrated with relief cuts so the collection is both textual and pictorial. The most significant early collection to come to AAS was the bequest of the Reverend William Bentley of Salem, Massachusetts. At his death in 1819, there was no institution in Salem to absorb his collection and it came to Worcester. He was one of the founding members and his collection that came to AAS was rich in drawings and prints of colonial figures. Foremost among the bequest was the woodcut portrait of Richard Mather. The collection of prints was enriched by Isaiah Thomas's collection as well as those of residents of Worcester in the nineteenth century. Clarence Brigham, librarian for over fifty years from about 1910 to 1965 focused on acquiring prints by Paul Revere and other colonial Boston engravers. One generous member in those years was Charles Henry Taylor who was very interested in the history of American lithography. The collection of books illustrated with lithographs as well as independent prints was due to his generosity. More recently the collection received funds from Jay and Deborah Last that enabled me to add to the collection in significant ways. The collection is particularly strong in political prints, portrait prints, city views, landscapes, depictions of historical events, and architectural subjects.

How did you end up as the graphic arts curator?
I came to AAS in 1968 without an advanced degree, but with a general background in art history that fortuitously included a course on the history of prints. After several years, I was offered an opportunity to compile a descriptive bibliography of books and articles on American prints. That was my formal education, and a good one. Within a two year period, I went from a rank amateur in the field to a curator with a great deal of knowledge at my finger tips. Several years ago, the American Historical Print Collectors Society published a revised version of that original bibliography with the literature current to 2000. At some level, I must have realized in the early 1970s that early American prints was a good field and I have happily been researching American prints and illustrations ever since.

How can people get access to the collection?
They can access this collection by using the Society's online catalogs. Engravings issued before 1821 as book and periodical illustrations or as independent prints are in the Catalogue of American Engravings. This union catalog was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Getty Trust, and several other foundations and generous supporters of AAS. Lithographs can be located through the online catalog. Using the term "Lith?" will limit any search to lithographs. There are not any links to digital images at this point. Beginning in the fall of 2009, engravings published after 1820 will be cataloged together with engravings found in literary annuals and gift books. In due course, scans of these items will be linked to the catalog records.

Scholars access the collection remotely, but most successfully by visiting the Society's library in Worcester, Massachusetts. Most researchers who come to AAS are academic scholars; a few are from museums. Prints serve various functions in research. Often they are the subject of the research project; sometimes, they enhance our understanding of an historical moment. Fashions in academic scholarship change from year to year or decade to decade. Right now we have several scholars interested in political prints. But there is always interest in the works of Paul Revere.

How does the AAS support print research?
There is an active fellowship program for scholars interested in visual culture funded by Jay and Deborah Last, Diana Korzenik, and the American Historical Print Collectors Society. Information on the fellowship program is available on the AAS website. The topics of our current research fellows include slavery and abolitionism, type faces, early political prints, ruins, book illustration, the Mississippi River in the public imagination, ancestry and identity, race and photographic humor, sensationalist images and the theatre, games and toys in public libraries, and French and American artistic exchanges.

The future for the use of prints at the Society is bright. In 2005, we initiated the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC). In the spring of 2008, AAS received a two year grant from a foundation that has allowed the Society to undertake ambitious programming to exploit our collections and to provide enhanced access. In October, we will hold our third CHAViC conference--Destined for Men: Visual Materials for Male Audiences, 1750-1880. Access to collections has included the cataloging of individual prints and collections and the creation of inventories of large archives. The collections page of the AAS website provides additional information. Inventories of drawings, cased photographs, work by David Claypoole Johnston, photographs of Native Americans are among the fully illustrated collections. AAS also has an active online exhibition program. The two most recent exhibitions are Big Business: Food Production, Processing & Distribution in the North, 1850-1900 and Beauty, Virtue, and Vice: Images of Women in Nineteenth-Century American Prints.

Our efforts reach museum staff, academic scholars, graduate students and members of the public. We hold an annual five-day summer seminar on Interpreting Prints for Teaching and Research and incorporate pedagogical information on using prints in our programs for middle and high school teachers. AAS also sponsors a website for teachers which is richly illustrated with prints from the collection. In short, prints are at the center of much activity at AAS.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Antiques Roadshow: San Jose

The 2009 tour of Antiques Roadshow has come to an end, as the crew and appraisers head back to their homes after a final successful stop in San Jose. The weather was beautiful and a good crowd appeared with the usual mix of items, from the ridiculous to the fabulous. At the Print & Posters table we saw a wide range of prints, with some really wonderful things coming in. There were not as many unusual things as I saw in Raleigh, but still I was pleasantly surprised by some items brought in.

I had hoped that in San Jose I would see some California lithographs or at least some local views, but nothing of that sort came in (these prints are really rare, but I had hoped!). I also had anticipated that I would finally see a top-end Dutch world map from the sixteenth century. I did see one of these, but unfortunately it was a reproduction and not an original. Both the owner and I were disappointed, but it was a good teaching opportunity and I showed the owner how the map didn’t have a centerfold, that the there was no platemark, and that it was not printed on “laid paper,” all of which is evidence that it wasn’t an original. (You can read more about these and other ways to verify an antique map on the Roadshow website in their “Tips of the Trade” section.)

I had also guessed that I would see some good western maps and in fact I saw two great folding maps, both worth five figures. One of these was a dramatic folding map of the United States from 1833 that includes a diagram of an eagle imposed over the geographic information. This is quite a rare and unique visual map that I had not seen in person before. The other map was a folding map of California from shortly after the Gold Rush. One of the rarer and more desirable maps of the state.

Neither of these maps, however, was taped to appear on the show when the new season starts in 2010. Why, when they both were graphic, important, and valuable? This is because the owners were both sophisticated collectors who knew exactly what they had and pretty much knew the current value. As I discussed in my previous Roadshow blog, appraisals where we are able to teach the owners something new about their objects make the “best television” and there really wasn’t anything new I could tell these owners, other than perhaps a more up-to-date value. I was delighted to see these maps and enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm with the owners, but these items were not taped for the show.

I have also mentioned in the previous Antiques Roadshow blogs how most cities seem to have a “typical” type of print that shows up more than at other cities. This did not happen in Raleigh, but San Jose played true to form. The type of print which we saw a large number of (I would guess we saw about 40 over the course of the day) were what we call “tourist prints” from the beginning of the twentieth century. These are hand-colored aquatints or etchings that tend to show scenes from European villages or landscapes. They are usually immediately identifiable by their somewhat “soft” appearance, pastel colors, and indecipherable signature.

These were produced by publishers who hired art students or “commercial” artists to create these prints to be sold to tourists who wanted to take something home with them from their trips around Europe. (One of these publishers was Sidney Z. Lucas, the subject of my previous blog) They are nice prints, but almost never by an artist who is of note. They were made of most tourist villages in Europe and were produced in large numbers between about 1910 and 1940. The prints are originals and are usually quite attractive, but because they are not done by noted artists and were issued in large numbers, they have only “decorative” value.

As I said, the signatures are almost always impossible to read and people bringing these to Antiques Roadshow always want us to tell them who the artist was. We usually cannot, both because the artists are obscure, but also because we can’t read the signatures either. I am convinced that this incomprehensibility of the signatures was intentional to make the prints seem “special” or “artistic.” If the print was clearly signed by, say, “Jacques Pepin,” who no one knows, that isn’t very exciting, but when a print is signed by “squiggle-squiggle” then it seems more exciting or artistic, and potentially valuable. In any case, we see lots of these at every Antiques Roadshow stop, but there were far more than usual in San Jose.

I did get taped with a wonderful print, but I will not discuss what it was, so as not to ruin the “surprise” when the segment airs next year. I will, however, describe what happens at the Roadshow once a print is selected for taping. As I explained in the last Roadshow blog, when a print comes in I think is worth taping, I call over a producer, who talks to me, the owner and looks at the print. The producer then gives the thumbs up or down.

If the print is selected for taping, then the owner and print are taken off to the “Green Room.” This is a place where they can wait in comfort until it is time to tape the appraisal. There is food and drink there, and television monitors so the people waiting can watch those appraisals that are being taped. During the wait, the owner will have make-up put on so he or she will look their best when the cameras are rolling. The length of the wait at this stage can vary, but I would say my experience is that it lasts between about 20 to 40 minutes (it depends on how many appraisals are lined up in front of this one).

In this time, the appraiser is also made-up and gets a bit of time to do any extra research necessary and can check up on some of the facts (what were the exact years that firm was making those prints?...). The appraisers on Antiques Roadshow come across as so knowledgeable and with an amazing number of facts at their fingertips and people often ask me how we do it. Well, I have to admit that we do often look up of specific facts before the appraisal, but still, the appraisers carry around most of the information they present in their heads.

Anyway, when it’s time to tape the segment, the owner and item are taken out to the center of the set (which is in the middle of the circle of tables where the appraisers sit). The item is put onto the table, stand, easel or whatever so that it can be taped and the owner and appraiser put on their microphones.

In the center of the set, there are three taping “stages” with one set of cameras. On one stage the cameras will be taping an appraisal, while at the stage just counter-clockwise, the owner and appraiser, who just finished, will be un-miked, the proper paperwork filled in, and the stage cleared. At the stage on the other side, the next appraisal is getting ready. As soon as one appraisal is done, the cameras are swung to the next stage and the whole process will start again, one rotation clockwise. This continual appraisal process goes on all day, so that the producer can get 50 to 55 appraisals to be used in the three episodes that will be shown beginning the following year.

The whole procedure has been refined over the 14 years that Antiques Roadshow has been going and while there are always some glitches, it is an amazingly efficient process. Of course, it only works because the staff and crew of Roadshow are great and most of the appraisers have been on the show for a number of years, so we are all used to the process. I think that many of the people who come to have something appraised at the Roadshow enjoy seeing how the program is put together as much as getting their item appraised.

So, with the last stop of the 2009 summer tour over, this is the final of my “behind the scenes” blogs about the show until next summer. The appraisers' jobs are almost done (we do have to check the transcript to make sure we didn’t make any inadvertent mistakes), but the producers' jobs have really just started. They have to go through the many hours of tape and put together three one-hour episodes from each stop. It may seem like a long time between now and January 4th, when the season premiere will broadcast, but the Roadshow producers will work very hard to get the new episodes ready and think January will be here all to soon.

I hope that now when you watch the show you will have a better understanding of how Antiques Roadshow is put together. I saw some wonderful things this summer, some of which will appear in next year’s episodes, and talking to the other appraisers I know lots of other fascinating appraisals will be shown. Check out Roadshow’s website or watch your TV listings so you don’t miss the new season when 2010 comes around.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sidney Z. Lucas

Sidney Z. Lucas was an art entrepreneur who was responsible for a large number of prints which generate many questions to our shop as well as on various antique forums on the internet. Lucas' prints are those either issued by “Camilla Lucas” or the “Paris Etching Society.” His prints can also be identified by a circular or triangular symbol with the initials “SZL.” Some of the details are uncertain, but the general story of Lucas and his prints is as follows. [Addition Jan. 2010: Lucille Lucas, daughter of Sidney Lucas, has left a comment to this blog correcting some apparent errors in this blog and adding some extra information. Please make sure to read this comment...]

Beginning in the 1920s and lasting until the 1960s, Sidney Lucas owed The Old Print Center in New York and ran a gallery named the Camilla Lucas Gallery, named after his mother. He was in the business of both wholesale art publishing and retail art sales, dealing with modern and contemporary prints as well as reproductions of prints.

As another venture, Lucas formed the Paris Etching Society, where he traveled to Europe and commissioned prints by primarily French and Flemish artists. These were all original, hand-colored aquatints or etchings and they were usually signed, and sometimes titled, in pencil by the artists. Supposedly the runs for these prints were between 350 and 500. These prints can be identified either by a “Paris Etching Society” imprint or the initials “SZL” inside a triangle or circle.

These prints were sold out of Lucas’ gallery in New York, as well as galleries around the country. Most of the artists who produced prints for Lucas are of no particular note and indeed it is often impossible to read the signatures, or even if they are legible, to find out much about the artists. The prints typically have a “soft” feel to them and are colored with pastel shades. The fact that the artists are not of the first rank, that the prints were run off in fairly large runs, and that there are lots and lots of these prints floating around means that they have only “decorative” value. They are attractive, original prints, but generally not collector prints.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Looking forward to last Roadshow of season

It has been a number of weeks since my last Antiques Roadshow taping (in Raleigh, NC). My partner, Don Cresswell, did his three stops in the subsequent weeks and now it is my turn again. I am sitting in my hotel room in San Jose, CA, looking forward to a good day tomorrow at the Convention Center. The enthusiasm of the public for the Roadshow seems to continue unabated as the crowds have been excellent at each stop. With good weather predicted, it should be another very busy and fun day for all us appraisers.

I am always surprised by what comes into any stop that Antiques Roadshow makes around the country (cf. my blog on the Raleigh stop as an example), but I do often play the game of trying to guess what may come in before each stop.

One thing I have found is that we sometimes get more interesting items at some of the smaller cities (like Raleigh, Madison), as opposed to the larger cities (like New York, Boston). I think this is because the larger cities tend to have a lot of antique dealers and so a good number of people with antiques have already taken their prized possessions to a local dealer. There are still, of course, many fabulous things at the big cities, but owners in the smaller cities do not have as many opportunities to get expert opinions on their items and the draw of having so many of the most knowledgeable antiques authorities come to your home town can be a huge incentive to bring your prize to the Roadshow.

So what do I think will come in tomorrow? I am hoping some good western maps. Maps tend to be the most interesting, and thus valuable, if they show areas that were being explored and developed when the map was issued. The American west was in a continual process of discovery and settlement throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and many maps were made of it at that time. These are usually very interesting maps and I hope one of more of those will come in.

There were also a lot of terrific nineteenth-century views done of the American west, with a thriving California lithography industry producing some of the most interesting. I'd love to see a bird's eye view of San Jose, San Francisco, etc., or a gold-rush lithograph made in California.

One thing I haven't seen at any Antiques Roadshow visits I have been an appraiser at is a really good early Dutch world map. I don't know why, but I suspect one might just come in tomorrow. I'll see tomorrow and with any luck, you'll be able to see when the San Jose shows are run in 2010! Stay tuned for my report on the San Jose Roadshow to follow...

Prices of Antique Prints

One of the most common questions we get at the Philadelphia Print Shop is how we price our prints. What makes one print worth, say, $1,200 and another $200? Where do we get the prices we put on the prints and maps for sale in our shop? This is, of course, one of the services I feel the Print Shop provides for those interested in antique prints, viz. putting fair values on prints and maps, and it is a legitimate question as to how we come up with our prices.

My partner and I spend a lot of time pricing prints. We try very hard to put fair prices on the items we sell. We would be bad businessmen if we sold prints too cheaply and we always have to keep in mind how much we will have to pay if we need to go out and replace a print being sold. On the other hand, we have been successful for over a quarter century in part because of our reputation of having fair prices on prints; we try just as hard not to over-price prints as we do in trying not to under-price them. It may be a surprise, but we do not price our prints and maps based on what we buy them for; we price them on what we feel is a fair price, irrespective of what we paid.

So how do we come up with our prices? One thing which makes it a bit difficult is that there are very few and very limited available price guides for antique prints. There are some Currier & Ives price guides, but frankly these are of relatively little use to us. There are probably about 8,000 different Currier & Ives prints and there is no way that any guide can give reasonable prices on that many. Also, condition and quality of color (and margins) are very important for pricing Currier & Ives prints, and the price guides don’t really take this into account. And besides this, prices on Currier & Ives prints change regularly, so as soon as a guide is printed, it tends to be out of date. The function which the price guides do serve is to give you the relative values of different Currier & Ives prints. If one print is valued at $100 and another $1,000, those prices themselves might not be accurate, but at least it gives you an idea that the latter is worth a lot more than the former.

There are data bases of print prices that appeared in dealer catalogues (Lawrence’s) and also for the prices that prints sold for at auction (Gordon’s). However, these data bases also have fairly limited use. One problem is that there is a considerable variation in the quality/condition of prints that are sold by dealers or that come up at auction. With some things (such as stamps) one can find values on those items in “mint“ condition, but other than for modern prints, one rarely comes across antique prints in “mint” condition. So almost every print sold or auctioned will have some condition problems and it is often difficult to figure out what problems these were so that the recorded price can be adjusted. Furthermore, like with the Currier & Ives price guides, because prices change all the time, many of the prices you do find will be considerably out of date.

The most serious problems with these price data bases, however, are the result of the combination of the vast universe of antique prints and the very limited market for these prints. There are a huge number of different prints that were published from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries and many of these have been issued in a multitude of variations or editions. Only a small percentage of this enormous number of prints is sold any one year by a quite small number of prints dealers and in relatively few auctions with any significant number of prints. There are a lot of prints sold occasionally by book stores, antique shops, flea markets and many other outlets, but these are not sales that get recorded in the data banks. The data banks do and can only reflect a very small percentage of the universe of antique prints being sold at a small number of venues.

One of the consequences it that you will often either not find the print you are looking for in the data bases or you will find only the wrong edition or variant. Another issue is that the few records you do find are often based on sales at venues with quite different characters. There are auctions which tend to get very high prices and others where prints go cheaply. Likewise, there are some dealers who put prices on prints that are very “up market” and others who tend to price in order to move things as quickly as possible. Unless you know which is which for the auctions and dealers, the prices you do find in the data bases cannot be used to deduce what a “fair” price is. That is, what an antique print sells for cannot be assumed to be a “fair market price.”

This means that while one can occasionally find a good value from one of these data bases, this is the exception rather than the rule. The only prints and maps for which there are often reliable price records are those that are prominent enough that they come up at major auctions or from print dealers with some regularity and where their desirability and fame is enough to ensure a fair market price. This can include some of the large folio Currier & Ives prints and some of the most famous and desirable maps.

Finding fair market prices for maps is easier than for most non-map antique prints. There are two sources for prices on antique maps: the web site and the Antique Map Price Record, which is available on CD from MapRecord Publications. There is a significantly smaller universe of antique maps than of general antique prints and there are a lot more antique map dealers than antique print dealers (at least who issue catalogues and put their items on the web), so these map price guides are significantly more useful that the print price guides or data bases.

The prints for which there are the most regular, reliable price records are the first edition Audubon prints from Birds of America. These have come up enough and in public enough auctions that there is something of an established price for these prints. There is always, of course, some variation in the pricing of Audubon prints, but there are enough public records of sales of these prints that it is fairly easy to determine a range of fair prices for them. In fact, really all the various Audubon prints (the Bien and octavo edition birds and all the quadruped prints) have a fairly good price track record. There are quite a number of dealers who sell Audubon prints of all sorts and they do come up at prominent auctions regularly. Ron Flynn keeps track of these sales and issues a regularly updated Audubon price guide.

Audubon prints and antique maps, with the good availability of price records for them, are the exception when it comes to antique prints. For most antique prints it is very difficult if not impossible to find a record of a fair market sale. So, again the question is, how do we at the Print Shop come up with our prices? There is no simple answer to this. As I noted above, we try very hard and spend a lot of effort to make our prices fair. In this and a series of blogs to come I will try to explain the reasoning that goes into how we price our prints.

One advantage we have is that our data base of prices is much larger than is available to the public. We have records of the prices at which we have sold prints for over a quarter a century. We have also not only collected catalogues by antique print dealers over the years, but my partner and I have been browsing shops, auctions, and every other venue for antique prints during this same time frame, filing away in our minds the prices we see. This means that for a very large selection of prints either we know what we sold it for previously or we know what someone else has asked for it.

This information isn’t enough by itself. As noted above, historic prices have two problems. First, prices change over time, and secondly, different dealers or auction houses have different pricing policies. We therefore have to adjust any historic price we know in order to take these factors into account. We obviously keep a sharp eye on the nature of the print market, so we have a good idea of how market prices are changing; this allows us to adjust a price from, say, 2005 to the current time. Also, we know which are the dealers or auction houses that tend to get “up market” prices and which are the dealers or auction houses where prints over sell for under what we consider a “fair market price.” (The issue of what defines a “fair market price” will be the subject of a future blog). So again we can adjust an historic price depending on the source for that price.

Of course, as should be clear from my comments above, there are many instances of prints where we cannot find any historic price record. What do we do in these cases? How can we come up with a fair market price for a print where there is no track record on what it has sold for? What we do is compare the print in question with other prints where we do have a good idea of a fair market price. Using a fairly complex calculus, we compare the importance, visual appeal, scarcity, desirability and so forth of the print to other prints which have similar importance, visual appeal, scarcity, desirability and so forth and then adjust the price higher or lower depending on the outcome of this calculus.

This may be a bit confusing in theory, but in a series of forthcoming blogs, I will discuss these various factors and how they affect value. Theses blogs will, I hope, give you not only an idea of how the Philadelphia Print Shop prices prints, but how you can do your own figuring of values.

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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.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The tales of maps

Another posting from Kelli Lucas:

Chris has done a great job in other posts on this blog of talking about what makes a map valuable from a connoisseur's perspective. But for a beginning collector (whether "young" or not), these things might only make a difference if the map is valuable from a personal perspective. Or for a person looking to give a map as a gift, it's sometimes difficult to know what will make a map interesting and special to the recipient. What will make the purchased object something that will be enjoyed over the years, hung on the wall and appreciated?

When a person comes in with an interest in antique maps, he or she is often ready to take a map home - but has no idea which one to pick! With maps of locations all over the world and across centuries, it's sometimes difficult to narrow a wide selection like ours to one single map. It's important to understand the things that Chris has explained in other blogs: how to understand why one map is worth $500 and another is worth $50 will make spending either amount more satisfying. But beyond objective, connoisseurial criteria, the choice often comes down to one single, defining factor: storytelling.

In my experience helping our customers in the shop and at antiques shows, very often, the choice comes down to the story. In fact, my favorite part of working at the Philadelphia Print Shop has always been the tales people tell when they look at antique prints and maps. I'm not speaking metaphorically or symbolically: people literally start recounting memories of childhood vacations when they see maps of the Grand Canyon, or of college dormitories when they see maps of Philadelphia. A young woman buying a map for her husband will excitedly pull out a map of the county where he grew up and point out to me the township where he went to elementary school, tracing the road where he lived, pointing out where her in-laws still own the same house. Or a grandfather visiting our shop for the first time might stumble on a map of North Carolina in the 1870s that shows precisely the town where, according to his genealogical research, his ancestors farmed after the Civil War, and with the map in hand, he will unfold his family's tale for me. Maps act like narrative prompts, helping people string together facts about themselves and their loved ones.

This is where it gets fun: if you're looking for a map for yourself or for a loved one, you can start to think through your (or their) stories. Think about where you (or your loved one) have grown up, vacationed, or attended school. Maybe you want a map of a place you've always wished to see (there are lots of antique maps that cost substantially less than a plane ticket and hotel!). Maybe you and your best friend have talked for years about the tour you'll take of the French countryside, or of the adventure you'd love to have in the Andes Mountains. Do you love Japanese food? Then how about a map of Japan to hang in your dining room? Or perhaps you are especially fond of wines of 's Mosel region. There are antique maps of that, too! One of the best parties I ever hosted ended wonderfully with an atlas spread out in the living room as my guests took turns finding maps of places they had visited on study-abroad trips in college. I could have made a birthday-gift list for a half-dozen friends just based on the conversations from that night!

To offer examples (and as an excuse to introduce some of our staff here at the Philadelphia Print Shop), I asked my co-workers to pick maps of important, story-worthy places in their lives... This story comes from David T. Moore, assistant to the partners.

If you look at the highest magnification of the William Scull map of Pennsylvania (London, 1775), you can barely see (illegible on the web, very clear on the actual map!) writing directly above the "B" in Bucks County and just below the section fold. That writing says "Walter McCool's," meaning McCool's tavern. McCool, my 5th great-grandfather, was an Ulster Quaker immigrant, who first had a mill in Bucks County, opening the inn about 1748. By the period of the Revolution he had relocated to Whitemarsh Township in (then) Philadelphia County, now in Montgomery County since it was carved out from Philadelphia in 1784. The tavern has existed off-and-on since then, now known as "McCool's at the Historic Red Lion Inn" in Quakertown.

Thanks, David!

These are the sorts of stories that make antique maps interesting to me - the stories that connect a person to a piece of paper, and to the other people who have connected themselves to that same piece of paper throughout time. And at its core, the study of history is just that: the study of the stories people tell about themselves, the places they've been, and the people and objects they've known there.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nature Printing

In previous blogs I have described the three major types of printmaking processes: relief, intaglio and planographic. Today I will talk about an uncommon process, “nature printing.”

Nature printing is not a single process, but includes any printmaking procedure where actual natural specimens—such as a plant or insect— are used to make prints. The earliest known attempt at nature printing was by Leonardo da Vinci who printed images of plants by inking the plants and then pressing them by hand onto the paper. This process was used infrequently into the eighteenth century, but proved generally unsatisfactory because of the problems of getting uniform impressions and wear on the specimens, which limited the number of prints possible.

In the nineteenth century a new approach was tried, where the specimen was not used directly to make the print, but instead it was used to make a printing plate of wood or metal, from which the print was then made. The most practical process was developed in 1853 by Alois Auer in Vienna. It involved laying the item to be illustrated on top of a plate of soft lead. The specimen was then covered with a hard steel plate, and this sandwich was run through an intaglio printing press. The pressure forced the image of the specimen into the soft lead. The ink could then be applied to the lead plate and prints made from this. It was also possible to transfer the image to a copper plate by electrotyping and a reverse plate made from that for printing.

This process was most successfully used by Henry Bradbury, who used it to produce large nature prints for Ferns of Great Britain & Ireland in 1855 and The Nature-printed British Sea-weeds in 1859-60. These images are not only very decorative, but each print precisely and delicately traces the image of the plants, capturing the detail of nature itself almost “first hand.” Another interesting example of nature printing was Sherman F. Denton’s use in 1900 of actual butterfly wings to make the prints for As Nature Shows Them: Moths and Butterflies of the United States. Denton created the prints by pressing wings into the pages. He recorded that he had to collect over 50,000 insects in order to produce his work!

It is interesting that towards the end of the twentieth century there was a resurgence in interest in nature printing, resulting in the formation of the Nature Printing Society in 1976. You can read more about this society and nature printing on their web site.