Friday, June 25, 2010

New season of Antiques Roadshow

I am sitting in a hotel room in Billings, Montana, just about to head off for the appraisers meeting for the second stop on this summer's Antiques Roadshow tour. Earlier this month, my partner Don Cresswell went to San Diego for the first stop. He saw the usual mix of good and bad items and was taped with a terrific map. I hope you will all be able to see this taping when the 2011 Antiques Roadshow series runs, beginning next January.

I arrived in Billings yesterday and was able to visit the Battlefield of Little Bighorn, which was quite a fascinating and moving experience. It was exciting and enlightening to see the actual site and get a good idea of the actual events (the National Park Service does a terrific job with exhibits and signs, etc.) of this legendary episode in the sad history of the relationship between the United States and Native Americans.

This battle was almost immediately obscured by myths that developed around Custer and the events which transpired exactly 134 years ago today. Part of the myth making, of course, came through the propagation of prints of the battle. As I have written a number of times in this blog, the relationship between actual events and the way they are depicted in prints, as well as the impact that prints have on history are subject that I am particularly interested in. I plan to write a blog soon on the subject of printed images of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

On that subject, there is one print, or more specifically a series of prints, of the battle which are more common and had more influence than any other. Those are the prints that were issued by Anheuser-Busch as advertisements for Budweiser beer. I would be very surprised if any reader of this blog has not seen this famous image somewhere, even if not one of the original prints. The print was first issued in 1896 but was revised and continued to be used to as late as 1962. The earlier examples have quite a bit of value, whereas the later ones do not. This is one print I would love to see come in tomorrow at the Roadshow, for it has a very interesting history and is graphically terrific.

So what else might come in for me to see tomorrow? As I wrote last year, I enjoy trying to guess what I might see. Even though Billings is quite a small city and not surrounded by a very large population base, I could see some unusual things. I would expect I might see some good folding maps, as these were often used by those who traveled out to this part of the world in the second half of the nineteenth century. There might be some interesting views of western settlements or perhaps nearby Yellowstone, such as the great series of prints by Thomas Moran.

There also could be some good western art. Most of what we think of as "western art" is more recent than the 19th century. At that time, the west was not as glamorous as it later came to be; it was a rough and dirty and primitive life out here and not many of the general public wanted images of that life nor were there many artists out here making prints of it. There are some good prints done, however, and I hope I might get to see a print by some of the work of, say, Karl Bodmer or George Catlin.

I'll write up a report of my experience next week and with luck you'll get to see one treasure that comes in when the 2011 season runs...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Indian Target Practice

One of the things I love about my profession of antique print & map seller is that I am always running into "new" old prints which I have never seen before and about which there is little or nothing written. It is always a treat to find such an item and then to try to figure out what was going on with it. We recently acquired just such a print, an image of an American Indian with a target stuck right in the middle of his face!

We have never seen anything like this and it seems pretty clear that this is an ephemeral print intended for use as a target. It could be for archery, but given the size of the target, I assume it was for rifle practice. The publisher is J. John & Moser from Magdeburg, Germany, who made postcards and other ephemeral items late in the nineteenth century or right at the beginning of the twentieth. This print appears to be a wood or wax engraving with hand color. It has "No. 2208" in the bottom left corner, so it seems that the firm did other similar prints, maybe a whole series of decorative targets for a German/European audience.

From our experience, the fact that an "Indian target" would be produced in Germany is not at all surprising. The Germans had long been interested in the American west and its "wild Indians." Throughout the nineteenth century, German visitors--tourists, scientists, and artists--traveled about the American west. Prince Maximilian of Wied and Karl Bodmer are probably the most famous, but there were many others such as Rudolph Cronau, who in 1881 was sent to the United States as a special correspondent for the German newspaper Die Gartenlaube. His assignment was to produce a series of articles documenting American landscapes, cities, Native Americans, and life on the frontier, a subject ever popular in Germany.

It fascinates me to look at this print and think about how the image of the Indian with a target drawn in the middle of his face reflects German attitudes to Native Americans (and probably that of many others at the time). I can just imagine a marksman dreaming of being on the frontier of America and taking aim at the wild Indian about to attack him. I suppose I may be reading too much into this print, but it certainly is a wonderfully thought-provoking image.

Friday, June 11, 2010

AHPCS Pittsburgh Meeting

On May 20 to 22, the American Historical Collectors Society held their annual conference in Pittsburgh. The conference, run superbly by Marilyn Bruschi, was filled with good company, interesting talks, and visits to some of Pittsburgh excellent institutions.

On Thursday we visited the Senator John Heinz History Center. The history center is the largest history museum in Pennsylvania and even includes the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. We had a couple of interesting presentations by the Anne Madarasz, the Museum Division Director, and David Grinnell, the chief archivist. The library, archives and museum include a large number of rare views and books on Pittsburgh history and I spent many, many hours there researching Panorama of Pittsburgh. It was fun to get to revisit the History Center and for other members of the AHPCS to see what a great resource and fun museum it is.

At the end of the afternoon, we were the guests of Bruce Wolf at the famous Duquesne Club, founded in 1873, which has an impressive collection of paintings by local Pittsburgh artists, especially David Gilmour Blythe. The centerpiece in the visit was the viewing of the remarkable 1859 bird's eye view of Pittsburgh by James T. Palmatary. This is the only known example of this print and it was "discovered" and researched by Bruce, with help by AHPCS member John Reps.

Friday was a very busy day filled with exhibitions and lectures. We started at the Carnegie Museum of Art, where we heard scholarly lectures on natural history illustrations in 19th century museum journals, by Bernadette Callery, and on sheet music covers by Mariana Whitmer, from the Society for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh. While I know a reasonable amount about both subjects, I found the lectures filled with interesting facts and insights. Following, I presented a lecture about one aspect of views of Pittsburgh I noticed while writing Panorama of Pittsburgh, viz. that an awful lot of these prints were simply copied from previously issued prints. This happens everywhere, but seemed particularly common in Pittsburgh.

After lunch, we were treated to viewings of a number of wonderful exhibits at two of Pittsburgh's great institutions. We started at the Carnegie, where we viewed an interesting exhibit on "Sixteenth Century Tapestries and Related Prints," and an exhibit I particularly enjoyed on "Cariacature, Satires and Comedy of Manners," featuring prints by Hogarth, Daumier and Francisco Jose de Goya. Amanda Zehnder, who put together this thoughtful, fun and visually excellent exhibit, gave a personal tour, which was universally enjoyed. Following this we went to another Pittsburgh gem, the Hunt Botanical Library at Carnegie Mellon University, were we hear Lugene Bruno talk about botanical printmaking and were able to visit the library and its current exhibition. These exhibits are still up and I highly recommend them to anyone near Pittsburgh.

After this exhausting day, AHPCS members had the chance to explore some of Pittsburgh's superb restaurants and a number of us took the incline up to the top of Mt. Washington, where the view of Pittsburgh is unsurpassed. Unfortunately, I had to leave early the next morning before our visit to my favorite Pittsburgh institution, the Frick Art & Historical Center, the sponsoring institution for both the exhibit and book, Panorama of Pittsburgh. I was especially sorry to miss the presentation by George Nama, a friend who happens to be the most knowledgeable expert on Pittsburgh prints, as well as a terrific artist in his own right. I heard reports that his talk was wonderful, which would make it a fitting end to a wonderful annual conference!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Denver Here We Come!

My blogs have slowed down considerably since I was doing two a week until fairly recently. I have not even quite managed once a week, which is my current goal. There are a number of reasons for this, including presenting a paper at the recent AHPCS conference (that conference is the subject of my next blog, which I hope to get up soon), and the BIG NEWS, which is that I am moving to Denver!
My wife has accepted a terrific job offer from Denver Childrens Hospital and I am tagging along for the ride. Since I have too much fun in this business and with the Print Shop to do anything else, we are going to open a branch in Denver, "The Philadelphia Print Shop (West)." We should be opening sometime in the autumn and plan to locate in Cherry Creek North, which is a very nice shopping district in the city of Denver, not too dissimilar to where we are located in Philadelphia. Our shop in Chestnut Hill will, of course, remain as our primary location, but I'll be taking a good variety of material to Denver with an emphasis, naturally, on western material.
Denver is a wonderful city and my wife and I are really looking forward to the adventure of moving away from the East Coast. I hope anyone from that part of the country will come by and visit. We'll be making a more formal announcement once we have the shop opened, but if I am a bit tardy in posting my blogs, at least now you'll know why!