Sunday, January 31, 2010

Miami Map Fair

Today is the second day of the Miami Map Fair and I thought I'd post a few thoughts about the first day... The Miami Map Fair has become probably the most important map fair of the year, especially for those interested in American maps. Most of the major American map dealers and many of those from Europe and a scattering of other dealers are all present, displaying an amazing variety of maps. Many map dealers who do not exhibit at the fair come by, as do map collectors from around the world (though mostly American), and a reasonable number of locals also come by. It is a lot of fun to be able to see and chat with so many colleagues and those who share my enthusiasm for antique maps.

One thing of note is the number of American map dealers. There are 50 dealers over all, of which 28 are from the U.S. (and two from Canada). These range from fairly small dealers who bring their entire stock of maps to larger shops who can bring only a small percentage (we probably bring about 5% of our map stock, though most of the better items). Given that antique maps remain a fairly specialized market, with most Americans not even knowing you can buy original antique maps, it is somewhat surprising that there are that many map dealers around the country (I would guess that there are maybe another dozen that many more who do not exhibit here). This is especially interesting if you think how few major print dealers there are in the country. While there are lots of shops which sell a small range of prints, there are very few print shop which sell a wide range of "important" prints. Here just in Miami for the fair is a larger number of dealers with such a stock of antique maps. I am not sure why this is, other than perhaps that there are more "collectors" of antique maps than of antique prints. Anyway, an interesting phenomenon.

Another thing that jumps out at you in the fair is how many of the same maps there are. For instance, you might see six copies of the Ortelius map of North & South America or four copies of the Blaeu map of Virginia, and similar number of other rare maps of America from the sixteenth, seventeenth or eighteenth century. I do not use the term "rare" ironically, for these really are rare maps. It is simply that this is the biggest fair for people selling American maps and pretty much every example of these maps for sale anywhere are probably on the floor in Miami. There is also something of a matter of chance. It just seems that some years one map or other seems to be ubiquitous (this year it is the Hondius/Blaeu map of the Carolinas), but then the next year no one has one. It can still be something of a shock for a map collector who can spend years looking for a particular map to see three or more copies for sale in the same place.

The fact that the map dealers all know each other and are known by most map collectors, and the fact that map collectors are as a group very internet savvy, means that the market for maps is much more accurate or sensitive in its prices than that for prints. With antique prints, there are so few major dealers and many prints do not make it onto the internet, so prices can range very widely. With maps there is much more information on prices available so prices are much closer from dealer to dealer. Generally price differences reflect differences in condition or color. While it can be harder to find a "deal" at the map fair, you do know that generally you are paying a fair price.

One final observation is that I would say that this fair confirms for me every year what a knowledgeable and nice group of people the international map sellers are. It is a fun group who really enjoy talking about maps, with each other and the general public, and every year I enjoy my visit to the fair. Every year I also learn something new from another dealer and often something new from a collector who comes through and talks to me about his/her passion. If you like antique maps, I strong urge you to try to visit this fair, or simply visit one of the map dealers around the country , for you will find them welcoming and happy to share their knowledge.

Time to head over for the second day of the fair....

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Map Jokes

The blogs for the next week or so may be a bit sporadic as I have been on vacation the last week and am heading off tomorrow for the Miami Map Fair. This has become the most important (and fun) map fair in the world and it will be held in Miami this weekend. Not only are many of the preeminent map dealers in the country putting up displays (including The Philadelphia Print Shop), but a large audience of other map dealers, collectors and scholars descend on Miami for this terrific event put on by the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. If you can make it, either this year or in the future, it is well worth a visit to the Miami Map Fair.

As I have not had a lot of time to write up blogs over the last week nor will I in the next week, I am going to have to fall back on something I worked up over ten years ago! I had been asked to present a talk on collecting maps. This didn't worry me, as I often talked on this topic, but I thought that it would be great to start the talk with a map joke. However, I couldn't think of one. There are chicken jokes, elephant jokes, light bulb jokes, and so forth, so why weren't there map jokes? Were maps not funny (not to spoil the blog, but the answer to that appears to be no!).

So I decided that I would launch a contest to find the World's Greatest Map Joke. I advertised and sent out notices everywhere, sure that I would be inundated with map jokes. Ah... that really wasn't the case, but I did receive a number of entries. How about these...

What is smarter, longitude or latitude?
Longitude, because it has 360 degrees

Why do paper maps never win at poker?
Because they always fold....

In desperation, I wrote to my favorite wit (who one time hailed from Philadelphia, but now is in Miami), Dave Barry. I asked if he knew a good map joke. His reply was:

Why did the chicken cross the road depicted on the map?
To get to the other side of the road depicted on the map.

Obviously David Barry is not inspired by maps. I did receive about 100 replies, of which (sadly) the following are the best. The winner of the contest appears at the end (don't blink or you'll miss it..)

What kind of projection do three out of four ear, nose, and throat specialists prefer?
A sinus-oidal map projection.

Why didn't true north date magnetic north?
She didn't like his bearing.

What do you call a man with a 1970s Russian map in his hand?

What do you call a globe-shaped bottle in which you grow plants?
Orbis Terrarium

What do a row of Bacardi bottles and loxodrome have in common?
Both have rum (rhumb) lines. [And you thought map lovers didn't have a sense of humor!]

Why did the dot go to college
Because it wanted to be a graduated symbol.

Why weren't there any parallels on the map?
Because the cartographer didn't have any latitude in his map design.

Finally the winner!

What do you call a map guide in Alcatraz?
A con tour map.

So.....please help and come up with a better map joke that I can use for my next map talk! Anyone who can really make me smile (and the last joke won because it was the only one that actually made me crack a smile) will receive a free copy of our Guide to Collecting Antique Maps.....

I'll try to post some comments on the map fair this weekend and hope to resume more regular posts next week...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

E.C. Middleton's chromolithographed portraits

Elijah C. Middleton is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of chromolithography in America. Establishing his engraving firm in Cincinnati at mid-nineteenth-century, Middleton's business benefited from the city's prime location along routes of westward migration. As the city grew, so did a market for printed material - including chromolithographs. Middleton and his partner, W.R. Wallace, ventured from engraving into chromolithography and produced the oldest surviving chromolithograph from Cincinnati (an 1852 certificate for a Cincinnati fire company). Their partnership became the basis for chromo-publishing giant Strobridge & Company, which competed with Ehrgott & Forbiger for prominence in the Cincinnati and Midwestern print markets.

Shortly after Hines Strobridge joined Middleton and Wallace in partnership, Middleton struck out on his own in 1861 as a "Portrait Publisher," advertising his own gallery of printed portraits made with "warranted oil-colors." His finely-rendered portrait of George Washington became an early icon in the world of chromolithography and gained attention as far away as Philadelphia, where lithography giant P.S. Duval commented on Middleton as a competitor.

Middleton did portraits of George and Martha Washington, after paintings by Gilbert Stuart, as well as those of contemporary figures such as Daniel Webster, U.S. Grant, and Henry Clay. Desiring an accurate representation of Abraham Lincoln, Middleton actually solicited the President's advice, sending a proof copy of the print and receiving in return a letter from Lincoln with both compliment and critique. The resulting portrait is the only instance in which Lincoln is known to have advised the artist for one of his portraits. The Lincoln print was popular enough that it was reissued by Thomas Bising and Herman Gerlach when they took over Middleton's firm around 1867, advertising themselves as his successors.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Color Explosion

I just realized that I was terribly remiss in not writing about a terrific exhibit at the Huntington Library in California which has been going on since October. This exhibit, entitled The Color Explosion, consists of a selection of nineteenth-century, color lithographs from the collection of Jay T. Last. It runs through February 22, 2010 and is well, well worth visiting if you can.

Jay T. Last, founder of Fairchild Semiconductor Corp., became a collector and scholar on the history of American lithography. In 2005, he authored a terrific book, The Color Explosion. Nineteenth-Century American Lithography. This extensively illustrated book discusses the commercial and technological history of American color lithography and includes documentation on many of the most important firms around the country. Jay is one of the leading print collectors and scholars in the country and this book and the new exhibit are wonderful documentations of his collection and scholarship.

Jay's collection, with about 135,000 objects, is the largest private collection of color lithographs in the country and very generously it has been promised as a gift to the Huntington Library. The exhibit includes about 250 items from the collection, including advertisements, art prints, calendars, books, labels, sheet music, toys and games, and trade cards. Many of these prints are very rare and all are eye-poppingly beautiful. This exhibit (and the collection) will knock your socks off! More information can be found on this exhibit on the Huntington web site.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardends is a collections-based research and educational institution for scholars and the general public. It is a gem located in San Marino, California. and even without the Last collection, its graphic arts holdings--with works on European and American printmaking, book illustration and desgin, photography, and cartography--make the Huntingdon one of the best print repositories in the country. More information can be found on their web site.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Marginal print features

Most prints have margins and on those margins are usually words, images, marks or other features. Today I’ll look at some of these marginal features.

First, a word about prints without margins. When originally issued, antique prints were usually fairly inexpensive, especially compared to paintings, and they were thus often treated without a lot of care or “respect.” It was not at all unusual for prints to be “cut down” in order to fit into a frame, so some prints have no margins simply because they were removed. Other prints, however, were intentionally issued without margins.

The most common reason for this was that the publisher didn’t want the prints to look like prints, but instead they were intended to have the appearance of either a watercolor or a painting. The general public expects prints to have margins (with title, etc.), so an art work without margins is often assumed to be something else. Some series of prints were issued both in a regular edition, with margins printed with title, etc., and also in a “deluxe” edition, where the image was printed without margins and often mounted onto a backing board for strength (these editions were also often had “deluxe” color). The idea was that these prints could be framed so as to look like watercolors. The Catlin North American Indian Portfolio was an example of a series of prints which were issued both in regular edition and in deluxe edition without margins or imprint.

As discussed in another blog,many chromolithographs were produced specifically in order to look like either watercolors or paintings. These prints were generally issued without margins in order to help with the “illusion” of them being what they were not.

Other than these sorts of prints, most antique prints were issued with margins upon which was printed information about the print. Almost universally, prints have the title printed in the bottom margin (except in the case of some “proofs”), and most prints also include the name of the artist and printmaker (engraver, lithographer, etc.). The name of the publisher, with date and place of publication (called the “imprint”), is another bit of information which appears on many prints. All this information is very handy for those who want to know about a print and it is the place to start when researching a print. (One word of warning, however, is that reproductions often copy the imprint of an original print, so the fact that a print says, for instance, “Published by Currier & Ives, 1858,” does not mean the print was published in 1858 nor by Currier & Ives).

A “signed print” is one signed in the margin, in pencil or ink, by the artist and/or engraver of the print. This is a fairly common thing for “fine art” prints, which were often issued in small runs where the artist signed each print to show his approval of the impression. It was in the late nineteenth century, in response to the development of photomechanical reproduction techniques, that this practice became common, used by artists in order to distinguish between original prints and reproductions. Seymour Haden and James McNeil Whistler are usually credited with introducing this practice in the 1880s. Commercial or historical prints were generally not signed in this sense, though proof impressions sometimes were. In either case, an artist’s signature generally adds some value to a print.

A print is said to be signed in the plate or stone if the artist’s signature is incorporated into the matrix and so appears as part of the printed image. This is quite a different thing than a signed print and this adds no value to a print, as all examples of the print will have the same printed signature.

A somewhat similar marginal feature is a “blind stamp” or “chop mark.” This is a printed or embossed seal impressed onto the print as a distinguishing mark. It can be a mark imprinted onto the print by the artist, publisher, institution or a collector.

Numbers can also appear on the margins of prints. These can mean a number of things. First there is the numbers that indicate a “numbered print”, two numbers are separated by a slash, one representing the total number of impressions printed and the other which number impression that particular print is. Like an artist’s signature, this is something which applies mostly to fine art prints of the last hundred years or so.

Another number which can appear in the margin is a “stock number.” This is a catalogue number for the publisher, indicating which print from his inventory this image is. This usually indicates that there was a catalogue or print list with the publisher’s publication number on it, so that a buyer could order, say, prints 34, 125 and 404. Such stock numbers appear on a fair number of prints by Currier & Ives and other popular print publishers of the nineteenth century, and also on many modern prints.

Sometimes one can find a small vignette image printed in the margin of a print. This is called a “remarque.” Originally remarques were scribbled sketches made in the margins of etchings so that the artist could test the plate, his needles, or the strength of the etching acid prior to working on the main image. These remarques were usually removed prior to the first publication of the print. During the etching revival, in the late nineteenth century, remarques became popular as an additional design element in prints and were also used in the creation of remarque proofs. The later remarques are usually related thematically to the main image (so a small etching of a fish might appear in the margin of a print showing fishermen in a boat).

A final feature that sometimes appears in prints is a color bar. This is a band of printed blocks of different colors. These appear on chromolithographs and were used by the printmakers to keep track of which colors had been printed. This was just part of the printmaking process and these color bars were not intended to be a feature of the finished print, but sometimes they were either not trimmed off or were left on as an interesting “feature.” Unfortunately, I do not have an image of a color bar to illustrate, but if you see one you will recognize what it is...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ackerman’s Repository of Arts

In an earlier blog I described how Susanna Clarke uses prints in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, her fantasy about Regency England (1810-20). In that book, she describes how a London socialite, Mr. Drawlight, takes a new resident to the city, Mr. Norrell, out to show him the latest fashion for decorating his new residence.
Mr. Drawlight ordered Mr. Norrell's carriage to be got ready and directed Davey to take him and Mr. Norrell straight to Mr. Ackermann's shop in the Strand. There Mr. Drawlight shewed Mr. Norrell a book which contained a picture by Mr. Repton ….

Mr. Ackermann’s shop in the Strand was the famous Repository of Arts, a print and picture emporium founded in 1796 by Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834). Ackermann was born in Saxony and apprenticed to his father as a coach-builder. He designed coaches and carriages, working for famous Paris carriage maker Antoine Carassi before moving to London about 1784. He continued to make designs for British coach-builders and probably in the process became interested in the making of prints (for the coach designs).

In 1795 he married and set up a print shop at 96 Strand and a year later took over a drawing school previously established by William Shipley (which lasted until 1806) at 101 Strand. Thus began the Ackermann print business which lasted over two hundred years. (As an interesting side note, in 1817 Rudolph Ackerman took out the British patent for German coach-builder Georg Lankensperger’s steering system design. This system became known as the Ackermann system, though Rudolph had nothing to do with its design other than to get the patent).

In 1797, Ackermann moved his shop to the premises at 101 Strand, which he named as “The Repository of Arts” the following year. In 1827, Ackermann moved to 96 Strand, In this shop he sold not only prints and illustrated books, but also paper, art supplies (some manufactured by Ackermann himself), old master paintings, miniatures, and many other decorative items.
The Repository of Art became a most fashionable place for the upper classes of London to visit. You could browse through the books and prints to learn about the latest designs for clothing or interiors, tea and lectures were offered, and you could be seen to be sophisticated in your taste. Ackermann kept his shop absolutely elegant and up-to-date (his was one of the first businesses in the country to be illuminated by gas). The shop remained as a popular spot until it closed in 1856.

Ackermann was not only a printseller, but he early on moved into publishing both separate prints and illustrated books. In 1808 to 1810 he published the first of his sumptuous plate books, the Microcosm of London, filled with lovely hand-colored aquatints. This work established his reputation as a publisher of books and it was followed later by much more similar books such as the History of the University of Oxford and the Rural Residences. Ackerman also published less elaborate illustrated books such as design books, illustrated manuals, and in 1823 he introduced the popular gift annuals with his Forget-me-not.

Besides his plate books, Ackermann was best known for the periodical he started in 1809, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics. This monthly magazine, which lasted until 1828, included articles and illustrations of all sorts, especially on fashion, social and literary news. Fashion plates were included in every issue, and some also included patterns and fabric samples. The magazine became eagerly anticipated by society women and had a huge influence on the fashion of the day. By the end of its run, Ackermann had published almost 1,500 hand-colored plates in the Repository, and there is no better visual source as to the nature of Regency society than these wonderful prints.

In addition to books, Ackermann published decorative hand-colored prints, including many political and social caricatures by and after Thomas Rowlandson. In 1818, Ackermann traveled to Germany to meet Alois Senefelder, the inventor of lithography, the following year published an English translation of Senefelder’s treatise and so introducing the process to the Britain.

Ackermann’s business kept growing, by the the late 1820 opening outlets in Central and South America. Ackermann’s descendants stayed in the print business until the late twentieth century when the firm was finally closed after about two centuries of print making and selling.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Raleigh Antiques Roadshow: Trumbull engraving

The new season of Antiques Roadshow began on Monday night with the first of three episodes filmed last summer in Raleigh, North Carolina (click here to read blog on that event). An appraisal I did of one of the best American historical prints of the eighteenth century appeared on the show (click here to see video of this new appraisal). It was of a print of the Battle of Bunker's Hill by John Trumbull and today's post is to provide more information on this print, John Trumbull, and his other prints of early American history.

John Trumbull, a member of a prominent Connecticut family, was a participant in the American Revolution and a friend of most of the great figures of his day, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. After he left the army, Trumbull eventually found his way to the London studio of Benjamin West, under whom he studied. In the eighteenth century, the depiction of grand themes from mythological, sacred and classical history was one of the highest goals of any artist. West had taken the theme in a more secular direction, painting events from recent English history, depicting them in the grand European style of the more traditional themes. Inspired by his instructor, Trumbull early in his career became interested in this type of painting, conceiving of a series of canvases on the history of his own country. It was difficult to make a living from the sale of such paintings, and Trumbull realized there was a greater chance of profit to be made from selling engravings taken from the paintings. Thus he decided to proceed on such a project, testing the market in Europe and America for these prints. The first of his paintings to be made into a print was of a subject to which he was a spectator.

This print is "The Battle of Bunker's Hill" issued in London in 1798. The drama of the battle is strongly presented; the British forces are seen cresting the last defenses of the rebels, who continue to fight bravely. The central focus of the picture has an American and a British officer, Maj. John Small, restraining a ‘lobster back’ from bayoneting Maj. Gen. Joseph Warren, who lies mortally wounded in the midst of the chaos around him. This subject was one of particular interest to Trumbull, for during the battle he was stationed in Roxbury on the far side of Boston from Charlestown, from whence he could hear the sounds of the fighting.

Trumbull finished the painting for this print in 1786, and he arranged with London publisher Antonio C. de Poggi to have the print published. After three years delay, an engraver was found in Johann Gotthard von Muller, a professor of engraving from Stuttgart. Muller, who was engaged to engrave the plate in July 1788, took a long time with the engraving, informing Trumbull in July 1797 that the plate was ready for his final inspection. Poggi began to print the plate in November 1797, giving it a publishing date of early 1798.

That same year, de Poggi published the second engraving of a Trumbull painting, “Death of General Montgomery,” a stirring tableau intended as a companion to the Bunker Hill engraving. This image, which Trumbull started painting immediately after his Bunker Hill canvas, shows Montgomery at the Battle of Quebec in December 1775, dying from his wounds in the arms of his officers. The action of the battle and the drama of the expiring General are strongly presented. This plate had a more intricate history of production than the Bunker Hill print. Luigi Schiavonetti etched the figures, Wilson Lowry did the background, foreground and firearms, and Johan Frederick Clemens executed the rest of the engraving and finished the plate.

At about the same time as these two battle prints were published, Trumbull and de Poggi teamed up for a wonderful full length portriat of George Washington at Trenton. This was a stipple and line engraving done by Thomas Cheesman. It is based on a painting (currently at Yale University) that was commissioned by the city of Charleston, South Carolina in 1792. Choosing to depict Washington in a dramatic moment of decision the evening before the surprise attack, Trumbull wrote that he intended “to give his military character, in the most sublime moment of its exertion.” It is one of the best prints ever done of Washington, not surprising as Trumbull not only served on Washington's staff during the war, but was also on of Washington's personal friends. Trumbull considered it the “best certainly of those which I painted, and the best, in my estimation, which exists, [of Washington] in his military character.”

It wasn't until over two decades had passed that Trumbull's last great engraving of early American history appeared, the "Declaration of Independence." (I did an Antiques Roadshow appraisal of this print back in 2004 in Reno, Nevada. You can see a video of that appraisal by clinking here.)

The last of Trumbull’s patriotic series to be made into a print, this image of the signing of the Declaration of Independence was engraved and published in Philadelphia, almost three decades after Trumbull’s painting was finished. In part because of the decade long delay in producing the first two prints, their reception was less than overwhelming and the receipts covered only about three quarters of the expense. Thus Trumbull abandoned his original plan of producing engravings of all his historical paintings. Years later, in 1817, with the success of his large painting of the Declaration of Independence, commissioned to be hung in the U.S. Capitol, Trumbull decided to again try the market with a print of this scene.

The composition of this print was inspired by Trumbull’s friendly relationship with Thomas Jefferson. In conjunction with Jefferson and John Adams, Trumbull decided to show only accurate likenesses of the signers of the Declaration, in line with his concern of presenting a true memorial to this historic event. Trumbull drew images in person of all of the signers he could, using other life portraits or portraits of the sons for any of the other signers who were no longer alive or available. Originally Trumbull intended to have this print engraved in Europe, believing no American engraver was up to the job. However, there was something of an outcry against using a European for this American patriotic print. Thus Trumbull, in 1820, after becoming aware of the young artist, Asher B. Durand, and his excellent ability as an engraver, entrusted this task to the 22 year old American. He was not disappointed, for the engraving is excellent and Durand’s reputation was established to a great extent by his work on this print.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Impressions, editions & states

Last week I posted a listing of print abbreviations and terms, and previously I have posted definitions of various print terms. Today I will discuss three print terms which are of fundamental importance to understanding antique prints: “impression,” “edition” and “state.”

I probably should start by defining what I mean by a “print.” A single print is a piece of paper upon which an image has been imprinted from an object called a “matrix.” A matrix is an object (it is usually made of wood, metal or stone, but can be any material) upon which a design has been formed and which is then used to create an image of that design onto the paper.

An impression is a single piece of paper with an image printed on it from a matrix. The terms as applied to prints is used in a manner similar to the term “copy” as applied to a book. In a general sense, one can consider a print as the set of all impressions made from the same matrix. That is, there is both the single print (as a single impression) and the print in a general sense as all the examples of, say, Currier & Ives’ “The Road, Winter.”

An edition of a print includes all the impressions published at one time or as part of a single publishing endeavor. New impressions of a print would count as a new edition if there is a significant break in time before they were printed or if there were some change in the way the print is made. There can be all sorts of different editions, such as proof editions, first editions, later editions, restrike editions, numbered editions, and limited editions.

A state of a print includes all the impressions made from a matrix with there being no change made to that matrix. When impressions are pulled from a matrix which has been modified, these impressions form a new state of the print.

States of a print should be distinguished from editions of a print. There can be several editions of a print which are all the same state (for instance if the publisher decides a year later to republish a print but makes no changes to the matrix), or there can be several states of a print in the same edition (for instance if the publisher discovers an error in the matrix, fixes it, and then continues to print new impressions).

These definitions are nice and neat, but the issues involved are actually fairly complex. For instance, it is not clear whether one should call impressions pulled from a matrix where there is an accidental change a new state. Say a very slight crack appears in the matrix, which shows up as a faint line in the new impressions. Is this a new state? And as that crack widens, is each new set of impressions a new state? However, the basic intent of these terms is quite clear and in most practical cases it is clear to what they refer.