In previous blogs I have discussed my interest in what I call “novelty prints”, and mentioned the amazing collection of Richard Balzer. Many prints fall into this novelty category because there are multiple ways of looking at them. Today I will discuss prints which are structured in a three-dimensional manner so that they look different depending on the angle at which you view them.
We recently acquired a very interesting example of this sort of print, which you might call a “two-way” or “accordion” print (I have never come across one of these before, so do not know if there is a proper name for this sort of print). This print was issued in Paris sometime in the nineteenth century and it is a hand colored lithograph, but of definitely unusual form.
This print has the shape of an accordion, so that if you angle it to the left, you see an image of a flower vase, and if you angle it to the right, you see portraits of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. It is a little hard to tell how it was put together and I have not wanted to take it out of the frame, as it appears quite fragile, but as best I can tell this print was created by taking three prints (the vase, and then the two portraits), cutting them into strips, then pasting them on a backing sheet folded into the accordion shape.
A similar type of print appeared in the nineteenth century in America, but these add a third view, so that you see one image if the print is angled left, one image if angled right, and one image if viewed straight on. Richard Balzer calls these prints “triceniums.” These are made using three prints, two of which are cut into strips and glued back to back. These double-sided strips are then stretched on their sides, and spaced a couple inches apart above the third print. If you look at the print straight on, the strips do not block your view of the print at the back, but when viewed at an angle you see one of the other two prints.
All the triceniums that I have seen use Currier & Ives portraits related to the Civil War. They have had either George Washington or Abraham Lincoln as the print when seen straight on, and various generals (such as Grant, McClellan, Scott and Sherman) used as the two angled prints. Years ago one of these, with Lincoln used as the print at the back, hung in the Ford Theater in Washington, but I am not sure it is still there.
I have also seen a “southern” version with Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson (which I did an on-air appraisal of in an early Antiques Roadshow show), and I have been told by a fellow print dealer that he has seen a Currier & Ives tricenium with flower images.
All the ones I know of, at least those produced in America, use Currier & Ives prints. So were these published in this form by Currier & Ives? I have looked for years for any sort of advertisement or mention of this sort of print as being published by Currier & Ives themselves, but have never found any. Currier & Ives prints were ubiquitous around the time of the Civil War, and the firm did sell their prints to print sellers, bookshops, and framers around the country, so it is certainly a reasonable possibility that these prints were put together by a reseller and not Currier & Ives themselves.
Until someone finds a reference to these prints being sold or produced in the nineteenth century, the question of who put these together will be something we cannot answer. If anyone knows of any such reference or comes across one, I’d love to hear about it! I would also be keen to hear of any other examples of these multi-view prints, either using Currier & Ives prints or those by other publishers. These are a lot of fun and very little research has been done on them, something it would be nice to rectify.