Thursday, June 23, 2011

Multi-view prints

In previous blogs I have discussed my interest in what I call “novelty prints”, and mentioned the amazing collection of Richard Balzer. Many prints fall into this novelty category because there are multiple ways of looking at them. Today I will discuss prints which are structured in a three-dimensional manner so that they look different depending on the angle at which you view them.

We recently acquired a very interesting example of this sort of print, which you might call a “two-way” or “accordion” print (I have never come across one of these before, so do not know if there is a proper name for this sort of print). This print was issued in Paris sometime in the nineteenth century and it is a hand colored lithograph, but of definitely unusual form.

This print has the shape of an accordion, so that if you angle it to the left, you see an image of a flower vase, and if you angle it to the right, you see portraits of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. It is a little hard to tell how it was put together and I have not wanted to take it out of the frame, as it appears quite fragile, but as best I can tell this print was created by taking three prints (the vase, and then the two portraits), cutting them into strips, then pasting them on a backing sheet folded into the accordion shape.

A similar type of print appeared in the nineteenth century in America, but these add a third view, so that you see one image if the print is angled left, one image if angled right, and one image if viewed straight on. Richard Balzer calls these prints “triceniums.” These are made using three prints, two of which are cut into strips and glued back to back. These double-sided strips are then stretched on their sides, and spaced a couple inches apart above the third print. If you look at the print straight on, the strips do not block your view of the print at the back, but when viewed at an angle you see one of the other two prints.

All the triceniums that I have seen use Currier & Ives portraits related to the Civil War. They have had either George Washington or Abraham Lincoln as the print when seen straight on, and various generals (such as Grant, McClellan, Scott and Sherman) used as the two angled prints. Years ago one of these, with Lincoln used as the print at the back, hung in the Ford Theater in Washington, but I am not sure it is still there.

I have also seen a “southern” version with Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (which I did an on-air appraisal of in an early Antiques Roadshow show), and I have been told by a fellow print dealer that he has seen a Currier & Ives tricenium with flower images.

All the ones I know of, at least those produced in America, use Currier & Ives prints. So were these published in this form by Currier & Ives? I have looked for years for any sort of advertisement or mention of this sort of print as being published by Currier & Ives themselves, but have never found any. Currier & Ives prints were ubiquitous around the time of the Civil War, and the firm did sell their prints to print sellers, bookshops, and framers around the country, so it is certainly a reasonable possibility that these prints were put together by a reseller and not Currier & Ives themselves.

Until someone finds a reference to these prints being sold or produced in the nineteenth century, the question of who put these together will be something we cannot answer. If anyone knows of any such reference or comes across one, I’d love to hear about it! I would also be keen to hear of any other examples of these multi-view prints, either using Currier & Ives prints or those by other publishers. These are a lot of fun and very little research has been done on them, something it would be nice to rectify.

7 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I had not heard of multi-view prints before. Other than having an antique value, they make for a very interesting conversation piece.

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  2. What a great collection. Thanks for sharing the information on these great collectibles.

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  3. Coming late to the party on this one...just came across the post. These are intriguing! It's interesting to think of these along side other print manipulations like glass transfer prints. I'd love to see a body of research around Currier & Ives examples, as their ubiquity seems to have landed them often in some sort of altered form. I am so curious - who was making these? and who was buying them??

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  4. Who was making them is an interesting question. I suspect it was the firm themselves, as they did anything they could think of to make money, but I have yet to find any advertisements listing this sort of print as for sale by the firm. It could have been a framing shop that came up with the idea, but until we find some sort of printed or written documentation, we can only guess.

    Who was buying them, I assume the general public. Prints were popular decorating items and these interesting versions would have made great decoration and conversation pieces.

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  5. Thank you so much for the information on these prints. I have been collecting them for over 20 years and have never found anyone that could even tell me what they were called until now. I currently have six of them in my collection and I appreciate any information that you have.

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  6. I got a Jefferson Davis and stone all Jackson curier&ives appears to b really old on back it says little gallery handmade

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  7. MY mother recently acquired a multi-view print. It has an angel from front view then what we think is Jesus with a child from one side and possibly Mary from the other side.

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