Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Prints

Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of my favorite holiday, today I'll do a brief survey of prints of the turkey, which Benjamin Franklin thought should have been our national bird. In our neck of the woods these birds have made a significant come back and it is great to see them as I drive around the woods of Pennsylvania. You can also see them in print, as they have been pictured on paper for over four centuries!

As it happens, the first print of a turkey was also the first printed image of a North American bird. This was in an engraving published in 1591 by Theodor De Bry based on drawings by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues made while he was part of an attempted French settlement in the American southeast. Beginning in 1562, the French explored the coast from northern Florida to South Carolina. They tried to found a colony, under the command of Rene de Laudonnaiére, at Fort Caroline, but in 1565 they were massacred by the Spanish, who considered Florida to be their territory. Subsequently, to keep the French away, the Spanish built nearby a colony of their own, St. Augustine, thus founding the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States.

There were only two survivors of the massacre, Laudonniére and the artist Jacques Le Moyne. In 1590 publisher Theodor De Bry began a series of volumes about early explorations to the New World and his second volume was about the French expedition, based on the words of Laudonniére and with engravings based on the water colors of Le Moyne. The print just above shows the French when they explored the Port Royal River. It includes depictions of native flora (grapes and gourds) and fauna (deer and turkeys). The latter image (detail at top) is the first printed image of any North American bird.

In 1606, Dutch mapmaker Jodocus Hondius wanted to include a regional map of the American southeast in his edition of the Mercator Atlas. The best maps of this region available were those in the first two volumes of De Bry's Voyages, one of the Florida region and one of the "Virginia" region. Hondius put these two maps together to create his important "Virginiae Item et Floridae." For information and decoration, Hondius included a few images from the two De Bry volumes, including portraits of Indians, vignettes of Indian towns, and small images of the deer and turkey from the Port Royal print.

Other than incidental appearances like this, the turkey does not seem to have been illustrated in print again until the early 19th century. Mark Catesby, who published the first natural history or American flora and fauna in 1731-43, and who included over 100 engravings of American birds, did not show the turkey even though it must have been fairly common. Perhaps it was considered too ordinary. Even Alexander Wilson, who followed Catesby's work with the first American ornithology in 1808-1814, did not picture the turkey. This was corrected in Charles Lucien Bonaparte's American Ornithology; or the Natural History of Birds inhabiting the United States, not given by Wilson, which was issued in 1825-33, after Wilson's death in 1813. Bonaparte's print of the turkey, shown here, is a lovely engraving by Alexander Lawson after a drawing by Philadelphia artist Titian Ramsay Peale.

The next major ornithological work on American birds was, of course, John James Audubon's mammoth Birds of America, a large folio work containing 435 hand-colored aquatints, mostly by Robert Havell, issued 1827-38. The very first print in the work was Audubon's great image of the male turkey cock (below left) and Audubon also included a plate of the female and young (above). These are without question the greatest of all turkey prints and the male turkey print is often among the most expensive of all Audubon's prints. In 1860, a second folio edition of Audubon's Birds of America was attempted, this time published using chromolithography. The advent of the Civil War basically killed off this expensive project before it was completed (as many of the subscribers were from the South), but not before a second edition of the male turkey print was produced (below right).

All of these folio Audubon prints are expensive, but since that time there have been many other prints of turkeys and most of those are considerably more affordable. Among the best of these are the octavo edition prints that are smaller versions of Audubon's folio prints. The first-edition octavo Audubon prints are somewhat expensive, though very collectible, but the later editions are also very attractive and definitely more affordable.

In the later part of the nineteenth century natural histories using chromolithographed prints began to appear. These were usually issued in fairly large numbers and this means that these prints tend to be relatively inexpensive, though they are also bright and colorful. Thomas Gentry included a nice image of turkeys with their eggs (above) in his 1882 Nests and Eggs of Birds of the United States and even an 1899 book on poultry breeding included a charming image of a pair of turkeys (below).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Black bordered prints

If you look at enough old prints, you will from time to time come across an interesting print with a black painted border or background. These are typically large folio, brightly colored and of somewhat crude in appearance. I have been quite interested in these prints and have tried to figure out the story behind them. Though I'm sure I don’t have the whole story, I think I have a reasonable handle on their history.

Most of the prints you find of this sort are by a New York publisher, H. Schile, who produced prints around the 1870s, including the wonderul "Across the Continent" pictured above. It is likely the Schile was a German immigrant and he certainly aimed his prints at the recent immigrant population, much of it German. By 1860, about 1.3 million German-born immigrants lived in the United States and the flow continued over the next couple decades, the 1880s being the decade of heaviest German immigration in the nineteenth century. Many of these immigrants from Europe settled in New York City and while few became rich, they were generally hard-working people who established a modest yet comfortable life style. In their neat apartments and homes they would naturally want decoration and Schile designed his prints both to reflect the culture and history of the New World, but in a style which they would find familiar..

Of Schile and his prints, Harry Peters, in his American on Stone, says the following:

“Though often German in source or character, often bearing titles in foreign languages, for the convenience of immigrants, and invariably and outrageously crude in conception, composition, drawing and lithography, Schile’s prints are undoubtedly American in spirit, because they so vividly represent the ‘melting pot’ from which they came for which they were made.” (p. 358)

“If the families of the trim, white isolated houses of New England had their Kellogg sentimentals, the swarming tenements of New York had their Schile heart throbs, and though the craftsmanship was miles apart, the essential appeal was the same.” (p. 359)

The black bordered prints seems to be in a style that was familiar and appealing to the immigrants, so many of Schile’s prints were issued in that format (some of his prints appeared both with and without the black borders).

Another German immigrant publisher who produced prints with the black borders was the New York publisher Max, Jacoby & Zellner. Among their prints were a series of hunting scenes (ripped off from Currier & Ives images), as well as views such as a print of Niagara Falls. Some of their prints have the indication that they were made in Germany.

Another publisher who produced hunting prints with black borders (also mirroring Currier & Ives images) is E. Foerster Company, supposedly of New York. I can find no information on this firm, which is not listed at all by Peters, so it is at least possible that Foerster was a German publisher trying to branch out into the New York market, with the prints made in Germany, as seems to be the case with the Max, Jacoby & Zellner prints which Foerster’s prints look much like.

There is a wonderful view of the Whirlpool near Niagara in the Penney Collection (at the Castellani Art Museum) which has a black border and which is listed as being produced by F. Silber of Berlin. Silber was a German publisher who did sell a number of prints (including some with black borders) in this country, so it seems not unlikely there was a similar Germany-New York connection for both Max, Jacoby & Zellner and Foerster. Such a connection may also apply to Schile’s prints, but I have not seen one that indicates it was produced in Germany.

In any case, these are very attractive and unusual prints, the study of which gives us some insight into the home environment of immigrant Americans in the second part of the nineteenth century. It is a subject I continue to try to learn more about, so if any reader has come across an example or has any further information, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Colton advertising prints

Advertisements, especially those from the nineteenth century, can provide some of the best and most interesting views of American sites. Designed to catch the eye, the images in advertisements are usually quite attractive and advertisers often wanted to show their store, factory, or city. In the exhibit of nineteenth-century printed views of Pittsburgh, Panorama of Pittsburgh which I curated in the summer of 2008, some of the most exciting images were advertisements and the Library Company of Philadelphia, in their project Philadelphia on Stone, features many of the incredible body of Philadelphia advertising prints from the period.

Most of these prints are separately-issued broadsides, intended to be put in a window or pasted to a wall. There is, however, a wonderful group of large Philadelphia advertisements which were issued in an unusual atlas by the Colton cartographic publishing firm of New York. Founded by Joseph Hutchins Colton in 1831, the firm began atlas publishing with a two volume General Atlas in 1855. A year later the firm issued a second edition in one volume. That same year, in 1856, they published the first volume as a separate Atlas of America. What is of particular interest, however, is that they also produced a special commercial edition entitled Colton's Atlas with Business Cards of the Prominent Houses in Philadelphia. Commercial Edition.

What made this version of the atlas special was that it included not only the maps, but also numerous advertisements for Philadelphia firms. Most of these were single page advertisements with wood engraved illustrations, though Colton offered the option of a business paying a premium to get a single page "business card," illustrated with lithography or chromolithography. A number of firms took advantage of this, and some of the larger Philadelphia businesses even purchased double-page, illustrated advertisements.

In the introduction to the atlas, the firm stated that this edition of the atlas was limited to one thousand copies, "and distributed gratuitously, for the interest of the advertisers therein, to leading Hotels and Steamers, throughout the country…" The atlas was successful enough that the Colton firm tried to do the same thing the following year, in 1857 producing Colton's Advertising Atlas of America. This edition had advertisements primarily from New York businesses. However, the response from New York businesses must have been lukewarm, for very few full page advertisements were included and the most elaborate print is for the New York agent of Allsop's Pale Ale, a print lithographed not in this country, but instead by Day & Son of London.

Back to the Philadelphia atlas, probably the most attractive image in the atlas is the print of a passenger locomotive engine by the Richard Norris & Son company. This is one of the best American train prints of the period, a chromolithograph by A. Brett of Philadelphia.

One firm, Cornelius & Baker, paid for two double-page advertisements. This business manufactured lamps, chandeliers, gas fixtures and the like, and they had two factories, just about two miles apart. They paid for an advertisement for each factory, chromolithographed by Philadelphia lithographers Wagner & McGuigan. Interestingly, these factories were connected by a private telegraph line, only the third such line in the country.

There are many other full page, and partial page advertisements in this atlas, but I'll mention only one more of special note. This is the print of Joseph Ripka's Mills in Manayunk, also lithographed by Wagner & McGuigan. Joseph Ripka, "Manufacturer of all descriptions of Plain & Fancy Cottanades For Men & Boy's Clothing," had set up his mills in Manayunk in 1831 and by the time of this print he was the largest cotton manufacturer in the United States. What makes this print of particular interest is that it is not only a wonderful advertising print, but also an excellent view of part of Philadelphia. Manayunk, now a popular residential and shopping section of Philadelphia, is shown with interesting detail and at the top of the ridge behind is shown the then small rural community of Roxborough.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cartographic Reference Books

The number of print reference books available to collectors and scholars has grown considerably in the last decade or so. The largest increase in number of references related to prints has occured in the field of cartography. When we first went into business in 1982, there were a few basic, mostly general cartographic references, but now there are hundreds and hundreds of such references, with more coming out each year (the photo above is just about 1/5th of our map reference library).

There are still quite a number of good general references, but the real growth has been on subject specific books. Maps of the world, different regions, from different periods or cartographers, and so forth have all been studied and references printed on these topics. While not every topic a collector might focus on has its own reference work (for instance, I collect maps of Oxfordshire and there is no work on this particular topic), but most collectors will find some good references that to some extent focus on their area of interest (there are, for instance, a number of good books on British county maps).

The granddaddy of cartographic references is the series of volumes currently under production by the History of Cartography Project. This multivolume reference (currently three volumes have been issued) is planned to cover the entire history of cartography in great detail. This has and will continue to provide the baseline from which all other cartgraphic references will start.

In the latest issue of The Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society, Bert Johnson wrote up the results of a survey the society made of its members asking about cartographic references: which volumes they thought were most useful or special in some way. It is well worth reading the article, as it does highlight some of the best references both currently in print and out of print. Washington Map Society member Joel Kovarsky maintains a listing of what he considers to be the best cartographic reference books, which can be seen on his website.

One of the books mentioned in both the Portolan article and by Joel is Barbara McCorkle's New England in Early Printed Maps 1513 to 1800 , an excellent tome detailing the maps of New England from this period, listing different states, giving sources and locations of copies, and including many illustrations. This is a prototype of what the best recent cartographic references are like.

It is not surprising that this work would be so good, as Barbara McCorkle has long provided a shining example of cartographic scholarship. For many years Barbara worked as a reference and map librarian at the University of Kansas, Purdue, and Yale, ending up as the Curator of the Map Collection at Yale between 1981 and 1993.

Barbara's excellent reference on maps of New England was issued after her retirement and she has kept busy since, working on a very long-term project of documenting the many maps issued in English and American geographies of the 18th century. There were a plethora of maps in such volumes and up to now one often found these maps separated from the books, without any way to find out where they came from. That problem has now been ameliorated, for Barbara's efforts have finally resulted in the publication of a Carto-Bibliography of the Maps in Eighteenth-Century British and American Geographies.

This bibliography is published by KU ScholarWorks (University of Kansas) and it is an 0n-line PDF file which can be viewed on-line at no charge. A work clearly of sustained dedication by Barbara, this cartobibliography contains descriptions of about 6,700 maps taken from 470 geographies! This is a tremendous addition to the cartographic reference universe, a universe that, luckily for us, is growing all the time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pricing antique prints: other factors

The previous blogs on pricing antique prints we discussed historical and natural history prints, looking at the factors that determined the pricing for those prints. While some of these factors are specific to those particular types of prints, many of them are also important for pricing of other prints. These are general factors which affect the value of any antique print. As discussed elsewhere, the content of antique prints is a crucial element to their character and also, of course, their value. Basically, prints of more popular subjects are going to more desirable and thus more valuable.

This obviously applies for prints like occupation prints (images of lawyers and doctors generally sell for more than those of librarians and cooks), sporting prints (images of baseball sell for more than those of curling), and for many other types of prints as well. It is true that some subjects have avid fans, which can drive up the prices of those prints, but in general, the more people who have an interest in a subject, the more prints of that subject will sell for.

Attractiveness is another obvious value factor, though how important it is depends on what type of print. A print where the interest comes from its historic or scientific content, or one where the subject matter is much in demand (say, medical prints), will not be affected that much by whether the print is attractive or not. However, if there is nothing particular about the content of the print that appeals to buyers, then attractiveness can be the most important factor in determining value.

The age of a print is a factor that has some, but not a huge amount of influence on the price. A very old print (say, from the sixteenth century) might sell for a tiny bit more than a more recent one (say, 19th century), if all other things are equal, but this doesn’t really affect pricing very much. The only time the age really is important, is its relationship to the subject matter. As discussed in an earlier blog, an historical print of a subject contemporary to the print is worth more than one with an historic subject. Being old isn’t important, but having a close temporal relationship to the subject is.

Another way that age has something of a relationship with the print is scarcity. There is an earlier blog specifically on the subject of scarcity in prints, but the short answer is that scarcity can have some affect on value, but only if the print is desirable for other reasons. Basically, scarcity factors into the supply & demand equation. If a print is in great demand and the supply is limited, prices go up. Simply having a low supply with no demand does not affect value.

The artist or publisher of a print is another secondary value factor. There are thousands of printmakers who produced images over the centuries and for a very large number of these there is little, if anything, known and few people who care. This is especially true once you look at 19th century prints, where there were publishers producing prints in every major (and some minor) city, most of whom are known only by the few prints that have been recorded.

On the other hand, there are a number of well-known artists and publishers whose prints have an extra value because of who made them. This would include prints by people like John James Audubon, Thomas Moran, Currier & Ives, and Winslow Homer. Now, of course, one of the reasons prints by these printmakers are valuable is because they made great prints, but still, for these and some other printmakers, there is an extra boost in value simply because their name is associated with the print. As an example, there are a number of very fine popular lithographs issued in the nineteenth century by other publishers besides Currier & Ives, but if one compared one of their prints of equal quality, size, scarcity, etc. to a Currier & Ives print, the latter would be priced higher.

There are a few final secondary determinates of value to consider. The quality of a print, in terms of the art and/or craftsmanship, does increase the value of a print, but for non-fine art prints this is definitely not a primary factor in pricing. Likewise, the condition of a print is important for pricing, but less for commercial prints than for fine art prints. Fine art prints were generally, from the time they were issued, treated as something “special,” as objects to be handled carefully and the appearance of which was particularly important. Thus many fine art prints have been kept in excellent condition and generally collectors want them only if they are without significant blemishes.

Commercial prints, in contrast, were generally not treated nearly so carefully. They were either ephemeral or considered to be inexpensive art used for decoration. This means that instances of commercial prints are often not found in good shape and thus collectors, while they desire prints in excellent condition, are quite accustomed to purchasing prints with at least some condition issues. Some commercial prints, like those by Currier & Ives, are often found in excellent condition, so for those there can be a big price difference between those in excellent shape versus those in poor condition, but for other prints, such as some very rare 18th century historical prints, it is almost impossible to find them in excellent condition, so the price on one in poor condition tends not to be as low as one my expect.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Disaster prints

There are basically two types of commercial prints, "job order prints" and "speculative prints." [click here for discussion of the difference between commercial and 'fine art' prints] The staple for most commercial printmakers were job order prints. These were prints where a customer hired the printmaker to produce a specific type of print for a particular need. This included such items as advertisements, menus, tickets, checks, billheads, labels, plans, circulars and many other prints of an ephemeral nature. Other commissioned prints included individual and group portraits and views of buildings or landscapes, ordered by private customers or civic and commercial organizations.

In some cases, printmakers would create non-commissioned prints in hopes that these would find a market and repay the investment of funds and time by the printmaker. Here the printmaker hoped that his sense of what people wanted to buy, and his skill in producing an appealing print, would lead to sales. Sometimes these would be generic prints with a timeless appeal, prints of landscapes, pretty ladies, flowers, birds, animals and the like. More often, though, speculative prints were topical, relating to a political event, military battle, or other event that would spur interest in a topic such that people would want to acquire a print illustrating that event. Disasters, of course, were just such events and it is fairly common that following some tragedy, a print would be created and put out on the market almost immediately in hopes that the printmaker could benefit from the calamity.

This was especially common in the nineteenth century, when lithography allowed a printmaker to very quickly create a colorful image of good size in large numbers and at a reasonable price, thus potentially realizing a significant windfall from sales of the print. Many of the disasters of the nineteenth century were followed almost immediately by the appearance of separately-issued, speculative prints showing the catastrophe in bright colors, often by more than one printmaker.

The most famous of these disaster prints is a broadside print by Nathaniel Currier. On January 13, 1840, the passenger steamer Lexington on its way from New York to Stonington, Connecticut, burned in Long Island sound. There were only four survivors from among the 150 passengers and crew members. This spectacular catastrophe was disastrous for many, but proved a boon for a young New York lithographer named Nathaniel Currier. The news of this tragedy reached New York two days later, and the next day the New York Sun came out with a broadside about the disaster which included a lithographed image of the ship in flames. The sensation caused by the burning of the Lexington continued for weeks, spurred on by the repeated reissuing of updated versions of this broadside.

One week after the first publication, a new, more accurate lithographed image appeared on the broadside, this one attributed to artist W.K. Hewitt and lithographed by Nathaniel Currier. With its correct nighttime imagery, giving it a much more dramatic appearance, this broadside kept interest in the tragedy alive. In the days before photography and television, the combination of fast reportage and a dramatic lithographed image made this Sun Extra a big success. The popularity of the broadside inspired Nathaniel Currier to take over its publication after the Sun stopped its involvement, and he issued another three versions thereafter. According to Harry T. Peters, the popularity of his Lexington lithograph is what firmly established Nathaniel Currier as a financial and popular success, and allowed him to build his firm (later Currier & Ives) into the dominant American printmaking company.

Currier's was not the only "rush print" made of the burning of the Lexington and an anonymous printmaker issued the print above, an unusual and unattributed lithograph of the same scene. The title is similar to the Currier print, but the image is quite different. It was undoubtedly issued within a short time of the event and was aimed at the market created by the public fascination with this famous disaster.

The burning of the Lexington was not the only marine disaster Currier documented, as shown by the print above entitled "Awful Explosion of the ‘Peace-Maker’ on board the U.S. Steam Frigate, Princeton, on Wednesday, 28th. Feby. 1844," just one of a number of this sort of print by Currier.

And it wasn't just popular printmakers like Currier who issued marine disaster prints. On March 6, 1860, the Alfred Thomas exploded on the Delaware River at Easton, PA. The Alfred Thomas was a small passenger steamship built to run on the Delaware River between Belvidere, New Jersey and Port Jervis, New York, a distance of about 60 miles. The ship, constructed at Easton, was completed and after some trials was declared ready for its maiden voyage. On Tuesday morning, March 6th, the Alfred Thomas set off from Easton, filled with an official party of about 100 passengers and watched by many spectators along the shore. After a number of stops, as the ship set off, the boiler suddenly erupted in a huge explosion, throwing the passengers far into the air and totally wrecking the boat. A print drawn by Philadelphia artist James Queen issued shortly thereafter shows that explosion and it was said to have been based on a "Sketch from Nature." The quality of this print is significantly better than the typical popular print, but it still has enough dramatic tragedy to appeal to a wide audience.

The most common type of disaster in the nineteenth century were the fires that raged through many American cities. These fires were usually followed by the appearance of speculative prints which were sold not just in the city in question, but around the country. One of the earliest documented by a lithographic rush print was the great fire in Pittsburgh on April 10th, 1845. Nathaniel Currier once again took advantage of this tragedy to sell a sensational print of the “Great Conflagration At Pittsburgh PA.” The large mountain in the background is totally out of place, but otherwise the print is fairly accurate, likely based on a first-hand drawing.

Another New York publisher, James Baillie, also came out with his own print of the same scene, this with an even more Alp-like mountain in the background. Still the scene is rather accurate, based on a painting by local artist William Coventry Wall. The extent of the fire, the way it is burning on the bridge, and the foreground landscape all come from a painting by Wall which he produced immediately after the fire.

Wall was himself involved in the production of a rather better quality print of the fire, based on his own drawings. This was a three part print which included an image of the city before the fire, and two images showing the ruins of the city. While this print is beautifully made, is larger than the Currier and Baillie prints, and is directly based on first-hand renderings, it is quite a bit scarcer than the other two. Likely not that many were sold as the public was more interested in the drama and color of the scenes showing the fire, rather than the images of the depressing aftermath.

Probably the most famous city fire of the nineteenth century was the great fire in Chicago of 1871. Currier & Ives, of course, produced a number of images of this fire, including the one above. In order to rush this image to the market, they seem to have taken a stock bird's-eye view of Chicago and simply added a lot of flames. This print is a good example of why prints can be used as historical documentation only with great care, for not only are the flames not in the right place in the city, but they are clearly blowing to the south, while in fact the wind that day was blowing north.

Disaster prints continued to appear throughout the nineteenth century, including late in the century when the prints were usually produced by chromolithography. Kurz & Allison, a Chicago publisher, produced a very dramatic print of the Johnston Flood of May 31, 1889. Even into the early twentieth century, printmakers produced similar disaster prints, like Carl Beck chromolithograph of the great fire in San Francisco following the great earthquake of April 18, 1906 (shown below). The scene is a bird’s-eye view of the conflagration in the evening of the first day, from above the foot of Market Street. The fire, showing burning in the downtown area and on Nob Hill, had a length of over five miles.

These prints range from the crude to the sophisticated, and from the accurate to the made-up, but they are all interesting in documenting the lives of our ancestors and their fascination (which of course continues to today) with tragedy.