Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Women & Men: A conference and on-line exhibit

I have very little background in art and while (as the expressions goes) I know what I like, I am not a print seller, print collector and print researcher because of my appreciation of art. I am more a social historian and am fascinated by prints because of what they tell us about the past. As I have mentioned a number of times in this blog, prints do not show us the past in a manner that is simply like opening a window and looking through the years to see earlier days. Prints do sometimes present accurate images of events, people and places in the past, and for that they are very valuable. But prints also tell us about how people in the past viewed their own times, for prints are not transparent or photographic images, but rather are pictures created in the context of both what the artists saw and knew about the subject, but also of the feelings and needs of the artists, publishers, and print buyers.

One of my favorite angles on looking at prints in this way is to think about what prints tell us about the attitudes of the print makers and buyers towards the different sexes. This is a fertile field for study and currently there are two terrific opportunities to explore this subject under the aegis of the American Antiquarian Society.

The AAS, which I have talked about in an earlier blog, has a very interesting on-line exhibit entitled "Beauty, Virtue & Vice: Images of Women in Nineteenth-Century American Prints." As explained in the introduction, to a great extent this exhibit focuses on what the prints tell us about the attitudes of the printmakers and print buyers. As stated "The images of women included in the present exhibit are especially useful for helping us understand the audiences for whom these prints were created. The repetition of certain kinds of representations of women reveals how mainstream society thought about women and suggests their place in the world. In some, for example, the presence of women is a code for hotly debated political issues—the abolition of slavery being perhaps the most notable. And like portraits and other images of great American men, images depicting accomplished women also evoked the changes that those women strove to enact."

The AAS is at the forefront of print scholarship and pedagogy and this, along with their other on-line exhibits, are terrific examples of how prints can give us texture and depth to our study of the past. In the same theme, the AAS will soon (Oct. 16-17) hold a conference in Worcester on "Destined for Men:Visual Materials for Male Audiences, 1750 - 1880."

This conference is somewhat a continuation of the subjects of the on-line exhibit, but here looking at how prints of women were aimed at a male audience. The conference will look at other print subject matter, but all with a focus on how the subject matter and style of many prints were affected by the intended male audience. I am particularly interested in the way in which nineteenth century American popular prints (by Currier & Ives and similar publishers) did and did not contain a "sexual" or "erotic" element, a topic which will be covered in at least a couple of the talks. I have planned to post a blog on that subject, but will now wait until after the conference, which is sure to give me new insight on this, and many other print topics. I will be attending and if any readers can, I certainly encourage them to sign up for what should prove to be a very interesting and enjoyable conference.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Print conservation & restoration

Back in June I posted a blog about prints that are found in old frames. One of the things I discussed was that many of these prints were in bad condition and needed "fixing up." I've had a number of follow up questions on this topic, so today I'll discuss in more detail the issue of print conservation and restoration.

The first thing to say is that for prints it is crucial that those with condition issues at least be conserved (the difference between conservation and restoration is that the former concerns not allowing the print to get worse and the latter with trying to take the print back to its condition before it started to deteriorate). I love the Antiques Roadshow and this program has been helpful in raising people's awareness of antiques and various issues related to antiques. However, there is one "lesson" people have learned which is sometimes misapplied to prints.

Anyone who has watched the program a number of times will probably have seen at least one segment where the appraiser comments that the item being examined was nice, but would have been worth considerably more had it not been restored. A table that would have been worth tens of thousands in "original condition," but now worth only thousands because it was cleaned and its patina lost. As a result of this, we often get people coming in to the Roadshow proudly showing us a print which they didn't restore because they wanted to preserve its value.

Unfortunately, the lesson about not restoring furniture does not apply to prints. The "problems" associated with furniture aging are not generally destructive of those objects; in contrast, the "problems" associated with the aging of prints often are destructive. Acid, mold, foxing, waterstains and many other problems one typically finds with prints will eventually cause those prints to be destroyed. Thus prints with aging issues, in contrast with furniture, do need to be conserved to retain their value.

A print that is acidic will have its paper continue to breakdown, eventually becoming brittle and falling apart. Foxing and mold will spread and will also lead to the eventual destruction of the print. Waterstains can cause the paper to weaken and eventually rot away. A print glued to a backing will be harmed both by the glue used, and also by being attached to a backing which likely will eventually fall apart itself, at the same time destroying the attached print.

What this means is that for almost all prints with condition problems, it is important to conserve them in order to preserve not only their value, but their existence. Sometimes the condition problems will not progress very quickly, so that the destruction of the print may be far off in the future, but these problems do not go away unless the print is conserved.

Restoration goes beyond conservation, by trying to return the print to its earlier condition and appearance. This is more a question of taste and value than conservation. One has to conserve a print for it to continue to survive, but once conserved a print needn't have its foxing spots or waterstains removed, the darkened paper lightened or whatever. Our usual policy is that "tasteful" or "moderate" restoration is desirable.

Certainly, in most cases, restoration increases the value of prints (again, unlike in many cases with furniture). For one thing, most conservation processes will restore the print at the same time, so if one sees a print with the appearance of condition problems, one assumes it is in bad shape. Also, one of the main purposes for which people acquire prints is for decoration and a print that has been properly restored looks better than one that hasn't.

Still, with prints some of the same factors come into play that cause furniture collectors to seek out antiques that don't look too pristine, that look like they are wearing their age. Many print collectors want their prints to look like antiques, not modern copies with bright white paper, etc. This means that any restoration done should be done with care so that the print is not over-restored. Foxing and stains can be removed and acidic paper lightened, but the print shouldn't end up looking bright white and spotless. Likewise, one can make repairs and fill losses, but there is nothing wrong with a print showing some signs of its age. This is a subtle matter and it is important before having any print restored that you and the restorer have the same idea of how you want the print to end up.

Conservation/restoration is a fairly expensive thing to have done. For a typical small folio Currier & Ives print, with just standard condition issues, it might cost about $150 to $200 to restore. Those prints with worse conditions issues (if they are laid down or badly stained, for instance) or prints of a larger size, will cost even more. This obviously means a serious expense for the owner of antique prints and it is something that is a regular concern for us at the Philadelphia Print Shop.

There are some prints where it just doesn’t make sense to spend the money to fix them up unless they have a lot of sentimental value. If a print is worth only $50 or so, then it seems ridiculous to pay $250 or more to fix it up. However, even if a print is worth only about the same as the cost of the restoration, or even a little less, it might make sense to fix up the print if you like it or it means something special to you. It is not always easy to find the same print in better shape, and antique prints do retain their value (assuming they do not deteriorate in condition), so it is reasonable to make the investment in preserving the print even if the value doesn't quite equal the cost.

Some people resolve this problem by trying to restore the prints themselves. We do not recommend that owners do this, as most of the means that non-experts use to "restore" their prints actually cause the prints harm in the long run. If the print is worth restoring, it is probably worth having a professional do it. If an owner really wants to do his/her own restoration, then do some reading and get the proper materials so that the job is done right. While we do not encourage non-professional restoration, a good resource for anyone interested in the subject is the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

A final few thoughts on this subject... First, you should keep this issue in mind when looking to buy an antique print. Many prints that you find in antique shops or at auction need restoration. You might, for instance, be able to buy a nice small folio Currier & Ives print at an auction for, say, $50, which might seem like a good deal when you know that a print gallery might sell it for $150. However, if you figure that you need to spend $150 or so to restore it, it becomes clear that this isn't such a good value.

Finally, we hate to see antique prints be destroyed by inaction. Certainly there are some prints of low value or that are relatively common where the cost of fixing them doesn’t make sense, but if you own an antique print that needs to be fixed and don’t want to pay to have this done, perhaps you should consider selling the print to someone who will fix it up and then buying something that doesn’t need any work. It is not good to simply ignore the issue of prints that have condition problems. Whatever value they currently have will leach away as the prints continue to deteriorate.

Find more information and antique prints here at PPS-West.com.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Zograscopes & Perspective Views

Zograscopes are optical devices used for viewing prints, probably invented around 1750. They were known in England as “optical diagonal machines” and in France as “optiques”. A zograscope consists of a mirror hinged with an optical lens attached to a bracket on top of a stand. The mirror can be angled so as to reflect the print through the lens, allowing the viewer to see an enlarged image of the print. Originally zograscopes may have been used simply for those who were short-sighted, who according to the conventions of the 18th century would not be seen in public wearing spectacles. A whole series of prints, called perspective views or vues d’optique, were developed to be viewed through zograscopes.

The lens of the zograscope enhanced for viewers the magnification and perception of three-dimensional depth of the scenes depicted. A mirror was used so that the perspective prints could be viewed when laid flat, and in these cases the images were viewed in reverse. It is therefore not unusual that the scenes shown were drawn in reverse, and there is also often a title printed in reverse along the top, allowing the viewers to quickly read the title. There was usually further text at the bottom of the prints which could be read by the operator of the optique for the benefit of his audience. This text often appeared in several languages, as the audience for these views was an international one.

The most characteristic feature of the perspective views is their emphasized linear perspective, done to further intensify the enhanced appearance of depth and illusionistic space in the prints when viewed through an optique. Another attribute of these prints is their bright, often crude hand coloring, applied boldly so to show the tints when viewed through the lens. The prints usually have a series of colors–blue, pink and yellow are common–crossing in bands from side to side, with bright highlights often including red.

The prints were exhibited by traveling showmen in the streets throughout Europe and also were collected by those in the professional and upper classes who had the optical machines at home. There was a great curiosity about the appearance of unvisited European cities and exotic locations in the further reaches of the globe, and these prints were one of the only ways the general public could get a look at the wider world. When displayed in the optique, the prints were able to transport the viewer into a far away place–an unknown city, or perhaps into the midst of a dramatic bit of contemporary history or to the distant past.

The height of popularity of the perspective views was in the late eighteenth century, when images of all parts of the world, as well as biblical and historical scenes, were issued in large numbers by publishers in England and on the continent. Zograscopes were produced throughout this period, but were being sold even as late as the second half of the nineteenth century, by which time they were probably more of a curiosity than a common item for every household of taste, as they were in the eighteenth century. Zograscopes have become quite uncommon and are often misidentified as “Georgian shaving mirrors,” but when found they still work wonderfully when used with original perspective views.
The perspective views are usually quite attractive and are terrific for both decorating and collecting. Their bright colors and intentionally striking designs, often with the visually interesting reversed writing, makes them wonderful decorative art that can be used in a period (i.e. eighteenth century) or modern setting. While some of the views, as discussed below, have fairly high value, many of the European scenes sell for very modest prices, making these some of our favorite prints to suggest for decorating on a limited budget.

For collectors, the subject matter makes them interesting. Most of the views are European, but there are views of all parts of the world. The images of Europe tend to be relatively accurate, as the audience would immediately recognize incorrect images. In contrast, foreign views--say of Asia or North America--are often simply made up, as the publishers assumed that the buyers probably would never visit the locations nor were that worried about accuracy. For instance, the view of Philadelphia is actually a scene of Greenwich, England, modified slightly and with the only thing about it relating to its alleged subject being the boldly printed title.
The North American views, of New York, Salem, Boston, and Philadelphia, tend to be quite desirable, though more as curiosities than views, and those of Asia or Africa are also quite collectible. The most desirable are the images of scenes from the American Revolution. While these are as inaccurate as the American views, they are contemporary images of the Revolution and, as discussed in a previous blog, have that immediate historical connection which gives them collector interest and value.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pricing antique prints: historical context

In a previous blog, I talked about how what I call the “value rankings” of prints with different subjects determines the difference in price between those prints all other things being equal. As I noted, rarely are all other things equal and today we’ll look at one factor besides the value ranking that can play a very large role in determining the price of an historic print. The value ranking of a print has to do with the public demand for its subject matter, compared to other subject matters; the value factor I will look at today relates to the print’s historic context. That is, prints which have a close connection of some sort with their subject matter will be worth more than those for which the connection is less close.

What makes the connection between a print and its subject close or not can take many forms, but the simplest is whether the print is contemporary to the subject depicted. Some prints show contemporary events or personages and some show events or personages that were in the past when the print was issued. Those which are contemporary (or near contemporary) generally have more value than those which show what was already a historical subject when they were issued.

For instance, a life-time portrait of Washington is worth many times more than a portrait issued in the mid-nineteenth century. This also explains why an 1866 portrait of Lincoln is worth considerably more than an 1862 portrait of Washington by the same printmaker, even though these two personages have essentially the same value ranking. The Lincoln portrait was issued shortly after Lincoln’s death, while the Washington portrait was issued long after Washington was no longer on the scene.

Similarly, a print of the American Revolution issued in the eighteenth century will be worth several times more than a similar image from the mid-nineteenth century. And even though the Civil War does not generally have quite as high a value ranking as the Revolutionary War, a Currier & Ives print of the Revolution is worth less than a similar one of the Civil War. The former is historical and the latter contemporary. And, even though the Revolution has a much higher value ranking than the Mexican-American war, Currier & Ives prints of the latter conflict, issued contemporaneously, are worth more than the firm’s prints of the war which took place a half-century before they were issued.

The main reason that this factor is so important in determining value is that the maker of a print with a contemporary subject has a privileged relationship with the subject that no future printmaker can have. The contemporary printmaker made the print when the subject was “happening” and so was part of his world in a way that a historical event or person is not part of a later printmaker’s world. The contemporary printmaker may have seen the subject in person, made a drawing ‘on-the-spot’ and certainly would have had a direct connection with the subject in a way that mattered, that is, not just as a part of the past. A contemporary printmaker understood and could picture the subject in a way that can never be duplicated by those in the future. This is a unique and important factor in printmaking, so such prints have an historical weight generally greater than any subsequent prints can have.

This is not to say that any “historical” print (one showing a subject from the past) cannot have its own important connection with its subject. For instance, while portraits of Washington have always been popular, there was a flurry of such prints published in the 1850s and ‘60s. This was because as the conflict between the slave and free states began to heat up, George Washington came be used by those in the North as a symbol of Union. The first President was a man who believed above all else in holding together the country he helped found and those in the North used images of Washington to represent his ideals of Freedom and Union. Of course, it also a nice irony that Washington was himself from the South.

Thus the prints of Washington issued just before and during the Civil War have their own connection to their subject. Not one of contemporaneous time, but one of Washington as a symbol with great relevance to those in the country in that turbulent period. Contrast this with a very late nineteenth or early twentieth century print of Washington. Washington was still a symbol as “Father of his Country” but this was not something that touched Americans as deeply at that time as it had half-a-century before. Washington’s image became almost pro forma, something felt about deeply as we feel the meaning of the American flag today when we see it used as a backdrop for a political advertisement. Lots of people around the turn of the century still wanted images of Washington for their school, home or office (as they do today), but these prints are pretty much iconic, without the specific, deep-felt meaning of Washington prints in earlier times.

What all this means is that while the mid-nineteenth century prints of Washington do not have the same historic connection as life-portraits, they still have an interesting connection with Washington that gives them extra value, over that of a later nineteenth-century portrait. So where a life-portrait of Washington might be priced at over $1,000, a mid-19th century print will be in the mid-hundreds, and ca. 1900 print probably around $100 (all other things being equal….).

There are other ways in which prints can have important historic connections with their subjects. They can be commissioned by the subject or someone with a direct relationship to the subject. They can be images which had a part in history, for instance campaign posters or political cartoons which had an impact on American political life. The prints can also be drawn by a participant in or direct observer of the event depicted, or someone who was directly connected with it, for instance as with John Trumbull’s prints of the Battle of Bunker Hill and the Declaration of Independence.

Generally people who purchase historical prints like them because they let the viewer make some sort of contact with a past event or person. The more closely the print is connected to its subject, the closer we feel to that subject, the more we feel like we are really “seeing” that person or event in a meaningful way. Thus those prints which we think are closely connected to their subject are (all other things being equal) worth more than those for which the connection is felt to be more distant. This value factor does, of course, apply mostly to historical prints, so in a future blog we’ll talk about other factors determining value for prints other than strictly historical ones.

Click here to go to next blog about pricing prints.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prints in restaurants

I took a trip to Washington DC over the weekend and ate in two restaurants which had interesting displays of old prints, so I thought I would write a quick blog on these two places, as well as start an occasional series of blogs on the topic of where one can see antique prints besides in institutions.

The first restaurant was Cracker Barrel, one of my favorite places to have breakfast when on the road. Every Cracker Barrel I have ever stopped in (and there are a lot!) has essentially the same decor: the walls and ceilings are filled with old objects like milk pails, rakes, lamps, and all sorts of other similar objects of the sort one would see if you visited an country antique store or outdoor antique flea market. In among these objects are also lots and lots of "pictures," also of the sort one would find in thousands of antique shops and markets around the country.

These pictures include many items that would be considered "ephemera;" advertisements, posters for various events, and the like. There are also lots of photographs of various sorts. And there are many antique prints in old frames. What type of prints? Every one that I have seen has been of the "decorative" or "frameable" type of print issued in the very late nineteenth or early twentieth century, prints like the chromolithographs issued by the Hoover & Sons firm of Philadelphia.

This makes sense, as one would suspect that given the huge number of prints needed to decorative the Cracker Barrels around the country, these prints were selected for being decorative and not terribly expensive. That is exactly what they are. It is interesting that while I haven't seen any antique prints in a Cracker Barrel that I would say had any kind of significant value, I also haven't seen any outright reproductions. I don't know anything about the various three-dimensional objects they have hanging, but all the prints I have seen are originals from no more recently than the very early twentieth century. As I have discussed in a blog about "decorative" prints, these can be wonderful objects for decoration. I enjoy visiting Cracker Barrel for the food, but also because of the authentic use of antique prints.

The other restaurant I visited over the weekend was definitely more up-market than Cracker Barrel, and, not surprisingly, the prints hanging on its walls were also more up-market. On Saturday night I had a superb meal at 1789 Restaurant, one of the best restaurants in the Washington DC area. I savored the meal, of course, but what I really enjoyed were the many antique prints hanging in all the rooms.

In the main downstairs dining room were prints mostly related to George Washington and views of Washington DC. These included some very nice Currier & Ives prints, a good number of the small steel engraved views from mid-nineteenth century, like those from Hinton's History and Bartlett's American Scenery, as well as a number of the large historical engravings which were so ubiquitous in the nineteenth century. Of particular note was one of my favorite Washington prints, John Smith's lithograph of "Washington and Friends after a Days Hunt in Virginia," and two rare and wonderful lithographed views: the Currier & Ives bird's eye view of Washington and a large view of Georgetown University.

In a side dining room were hanging, almost from ceiling to floor, prints and maps related to the Civil War, including some quite rare and interesting images. The bar area and the rooms upstairs had mostly British themed prints, including sporting prints, early nineteenth century caricatures, and of course, Vanity Fair prints.

Like with Cracker Barrel, all the prints in 1789 were authentic antiques and some would certainly be considered as "decorative." However, given that the rooms tended to have a single theme, and given that many of the prints hanging in 1789 are rare and valuable, the images in this restaurant can be considered as part of a print collection rather than simply prints used for decoration. It is my understanding that the prints were collected by the original owner and one certainly can sense his enthusiasm--and good eye--when one visits this wonderful restaurant.

I always enjoy looking at prints when I come across them in places like these two restaurants, and I probably can be a bit obnoxious when I lean over another diners table to get a closer look at an interesting print, but it is a wonderful thing to see antique prints used in this way. If any reader knows of a restaurant or other non-institutional place where antique prints are used for public display, let me know...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Proof" prints

What exactly does it mean when one says a print is a "proof." While the connotation of this term is clearly positive, it is not always clear what specifically it means. In the world of fine art prints the expression has a quite clear meaning. A proof is an impression of a print pulled prior to the regular, published edition of the print. Within this category there are a couple of sub-categories.

A trial or working proof is one taken before the design on the matrix (plate, lithographic stone or wood block) is finished. These proofs are pulled so that the artist can see what work still needs to be done to the matrix. The Otto Kuhler print above is a trail proof. Once a printed image meets the artist's expectations, this becomes a bon á trirer ("good to pull") proof, meaning that the artist has ok’d the matrix for printing.. This proof is often signed by the artist to indicate his approval and is used for comparison purposes by the printer.

An artist's proof is an impression issued extra to the regular numbered edition and reserved for the artist's own use. Artist's proofs are usually signed and are sometimes marked "A.P." (artist’s proof), "E.A." (Épreuve d'Artiste) or "H.C." (“Hors Commerce,” meaning outside the regular commercial run).

All this is well established, for with fine art prints there is usually a concern that the prints be run off exactly as the artist wants them and that the number of impressions be limited. In contrast, the meaning of “proof” is not nearly so clear for commercial prints. Commercial publishers realized that the positive connotation of the term meant that there was a financial advantage to offering so-called “proofs” for sale. Thus commercial publishers developed other types of proofs to offer to purchasers, generally at higher prices.

A proof before letters (Avant les lettres) is an impression of a print pulled before the title is added below the image. A scratched letter proof is an impression in which the title is lightly etched below the image. A signed proof is one where either the engraver or artist or both signed the print in the margin (that is, with a manuscript signature, not a printed one). The print of Lady Washington's Reception above is a signed proof before letters, with pencil signatures by both the artist and engraver. These are different ways in which publishers created "special" impressions of their prints, ones that were limited in number and so, in theory, worth more.

This is all fairly clear and there are examples of all these types of prints from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, the term “proof” ended up in the nineteenth century being used in a manner which essentially made it meaningless. One can find the term "Proof" on hundreds of examples of some prints, especially for the larger, steel engraved prints from the mid to late nineteenth-century. Indeed, for some of these prints we have found no examples without “Proof” engraved at the bottom. The print of Washington and Family above is one we always find with "Proof" printed in the bottom margin.

One assumes that the publishers of these prints did mean something by engraving “Proof” on these prints, but we have never figured out exactly what. It is obvious that the appearance of this label on the prints was meant as a sales tool, for the term has always been associated with limited numbers and higher value. However, so many prints have this term printed on them that “Proof” does not mean anything like the original meaning described above. It may be that these prints were intended to be “special” impressions issued in “limited” numbers, but certainly the numbers were not that limited nor are the prints really in any obvious way more "special" than the regular edition impressions (assuming there even was a regular edition).

So what does it mean when you find “Proof” in the margin of a mid to late nineteenth-century print? We get a queries about this all the time. The answer we have to give is “not much of anything.” We don't know what specific meaning this term was intended to have by the publishers (if anyone has ever seen anything from a publisher explaining their use of this term, I’d love to hear about it..), and it really doesn’t make any difference at all in price of these prints. I guess if there were two copies available of a print, one with "Proof" and one without, I'd pick the one with "Proof" on it if everything else was the same. However, if there were even a small difference in condition, I'd choose the print in better shape whether a "Proof" or not.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Library Company of Philadelphia

In past blogs I have talked about some of the top collections of antique prints around the country but I have yet to discuss any of the superb Philadelphia institutions with print collections. Today I’ll look at one of these, The Library Company of Philadelphia.

The Library Company is an independent research library which focuses on American society and culture. The Library Company is actually the oldest American cultural institution, founded as a lending library in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. In the early days of the colony, books were difficult to find, so Franklin convinced 50 like-minded citizens to form the Library Company and pool their resources to create a library they could all use. The Library continued to grow over the years, serving as the original Library of Congress when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital. In the 1950s the Library Company was transformed into a research library, serving as a fabulous resource for researchers, students, or anyone who has need for what is one of America’s great libraries.

The collections encompass rare books (including those acquired in 1731), manuscripts, broadsides, works of art, ephemera, photographs, and of course prints. A separate Print & Photographs Department was formed in 1971 to manage and help provide access to the graphics holdings which encompass approximately 75,000 (!) prints, photographs, maps, and original drawings and watercolors. These focus especially on prints and photographs by Philadelphians and images which document the history of Philadelphia, though the Library Company also has a strong representation of historical prints, portraits and political cartoons documenting wider American history from the 18th through early 20th centuries.

The Library Company is now a non-circulating library, but the staff make every effort to make their collections accessible to anyone interested. Readers can visit at no charge and there is a separate reading room for the Print & Photograph department. At the same time, the Library Company is working on making their collections available over the internet. There is a useful Library Company web site, and one can access descriptive records and many digital images of the collections through their online catalog WolfPAC and the digital collections catalog ImPAC.

Philadelphia on Stone: The First Fifty Years of Commercial Lithography, 1828-1878

What really is exciting to me is a three-year research project which the Library Company has undertaken. Called Philadelphia on Stone, the project, under the direction of Erika Piola, aims to research, document and publish the history of Philadelphia lithographers, artists and printers and the work they produced between 1828 and 1878. Included in this project is a survey of Philadelphia institutional holdings of lithographic views of Philadelphia and the production of a digital catalog of about 800 views. The starting foundation of this survey is the “Wainwright collection.”

Nicholas B. Wainwright was a local scholar who collected and studied lithographed views of Philadelphia before 1866. In 1958 he published the seminal Philadelphia in the Romantic Age of Lithography . This includes a history of early lithography in Philadelphia along with a descriptive list of 480 prints of Philadelphia. Many of the prints described were from the collections of the Library Company, which currently holds 285 of the prints in Wainwright’s work (all of which are available now for viewing online.)

Besides this survey and catalog of Philadelphia views, the Philadelphia on Stone project will result in an exhibition at the Library Company from March to October 2010 and a number of related public programs. The project will also generate an illustrated biographical dictionary documenting over 500 individuals involved in commercial lithography and a heavily-illustrated scholarly book with thematic essays on 19th-century Philadelphia lithography. As someone who works daily with Philadelphia views and the work of Philadelphia lithographers, the Philadelphia on Stone project is very exciting and I eagerly look forward to the results. In the meantime, though, there is much material already online and, of course, one can always stop by and explore the Library Company’s holdings first-hand.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Vanity Fair prints

I recently watched an episode, "They Do It With Mirrors," of the PBS Masterpiece: Mystery! series based on Agatha Christie's work. In one bedroom scenes there were two prints hanging on the wall which were immediately identifiable as caricatures from Vanity Fair. This was quite appropriate, as these prints are among the most commonly found prints hanging in homes in England and are also found in quite large numbers in this country. You will see these distinctive portraits hanging in simple black frames in homes and offices all over. These prints are probably familiar in appearance to most readers of this blog, but the history of these prints might not be so well known.

The prints in question are humorous caricatures of figures from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. They were issued in Vanity Fair, which from 1868 until February 5, 1914, was a weekly magazine of social, literary and political content, published to the delight of Victorian and later, Edwardian England. Most popular of its features were these wonderful full page caricatures of famous men and women of the day, prints that remain Vanity Fair’s great legacy.

Early on, in response to a charge by The Daily News that Vanity Fair caricatures were devoid of humor, Thomas Gibson Bowles, founder, owner and editor until 1889, described the caricatures which appeared in his magazine; “There are grim faces made more grim, grotesque figures made more grotesque, and dull people made duller by the genius of our talented collaborator ‘Ape’; but there is nothing that has been treated with a set purpose to make it something that it was not already originally in a lesser degree.” To publish with these visual caricatures, Bowles also wrote the accompanying biographical commentaries under the pseudonym ‘Jehu Junior.’ Bowles’ goal in writing these epigrams was to reflect in prose that which was presented graphically.

The prints from Vanity Fair are printed by chromolithography and they range in subjects from Kings and Queens, to scientists and artists, authors and sportsmen, lawyers and politicians, and figures from pretty much all other types of occupations. There are some very famous figures (such as Winston Churchill, Bernard Shaw, P.T. Barnum) and a large group of now virtually unknown "Men of the Day." Some of the images are fair staid, but many have a delightful verve and humor.

These prints are often called "Spy" prints, because many have that signature in the image. Spy, however, was the pen name for Leslie Ward, who was the artist who drew more of the Vanity Fair caricatures than any other artist (his portrait is below, on the right). Carlo Pellegrini (whose portrait is below, on the left), used the pen names of "Ape" or "Singe" or "JTJ," and he was the other artist whose work appears most commonly in Vanity Fair prints, but other well known artists' work also appears in these caricatures, including images by Max Beerbohm, Thomas Nast, and James Montgomery Flagg.

Here is a listing of the artists whose work appeared in Vanity Fair, along with the signatures they used:

Arthur H. Marks
Carlo Pellegrini
Alfred Thompson
Sir Max Beerbohm
Cuthbert Bradley
Adriano Cecioni
Francis C. Gould
James Jacques Tissot
Melchiorre Delfico
Prosper Comte d'Epinay
Sir Francis Carruthers Gould
James Montgomery Flagg
Harry Furniss
Godfrey Douglas Giles
F. Goedecker
Jean Baptiste Guth
Wallace Hester
Julius Mender Price
Carlo Pellegrini
Liberio Prosperi
James Jacques Tissot
Sir Max Beerbohm
Montbard or MD
Charles Auguste Loye
Thomas Nast
Jean de Paleologue
Qviz or Quizz
John Page Mellor
Sir Max Beerbohm
Walter Richard Sickert
Carlo Pellegrini
Sir Leslie Ward
Theobald Chartran
A.G. Witherby