Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interesting use of a Currier & Ives print


In the 1844 Presidential election there were three candidates. The two main candidates, from the major parties, were James Polk and Henry Clay.


The third candidate was James G. Birney, who ran as the Liberty Party candidate. Birney initially became involved in the movement to solve the “negro” problem by joining the American Colonization Society, which proposed to send free blacks to Africa. In 1834, Birney repudiated the colonization movement, freed his own slaves, and dedicated himself to the cause of abolition. He was chased out of his hometown of Danville, Kentucky, for these views, moving to Cincinnati.


In 1840, Birney was nominated as the first Presidential candidate for the newly created Liberty Party. He received just over seven thousand votes out of the over two million cast. He was nominated again in 1844, this time receiving about 62,000 out of 2 and a half million votes cast. One of those 62,000 votes was by Clark Lane, who had just reached voting age in 1844.


Clark Lane came from a family which had settled in the old Northwest Territory in 1798, building a farm house and smithy just north of today’s Mt. Healthy, Ohio, located on the main route between Cincinnati and Hamilton. Clark’s father worked as a blacksmith, a career which Clark followed, working at the family smith until he reached the age of 21, when he moved to Hamilton to work for John H. Brown building fifty wagons.


In his “Reminiscential”—-written about 1890-—Clark Lane recalled what happened shortly thereafter, on election day 1844, “my vote—-the first of my life—-was cast for James G. Birney, and freedom of all slaves within the United States.” While Mt. Healthy had a strong anti-slavery population, Cincinnati just to the south was less welcoming to abolitionists, and it appears the same was also true of Hamilton, just to the north, for Clark goes on to recall: “Day following said election the smoke and flame and cursings of pro-slavery wrath burst about me with such threatening violence, and so much idiotic and inconsiderate feeling for the truth and of justice that my contract though half done, had to be abandoned and work for an ‘abolitionist’ in the Christian Town of Hamilton was ‘declared off.’”


Clark Lane moved to Dayton, but luckily for Hamilton, he returned within two years, still working as a blacksmith. Eventually he formed the company of Owens, Lane and Dyer, which manufactured wagons, mill parts, and agricultural machinery such as threshing separators. This business became very successful, one of the biggest in the Midwest, making Clark a rich man.


In 1866, Clark used part of his resulting wealth to donate the land and build a structure for a Hamilton public library. The library, the Lane Public Library, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this October.


Besides the fact that I am related to Clark Lane (he was the brother of my direct ancestor William Lane), the reason his story is appearing in this print blog is the interesting manner in which Clark memorialized the events related to the election.


Probably during the campaign of 1844, Clark acquired one of Nathaniel Currier’s just issued election prints of James G. Birney, “Nominated by the Liberty Party for, Eleventh President of the United States.” Currier issued similar prints of all the candidates and it seems typical that Clark might have acquired and prominently displayed his print of Birney. His pride in his vote is indicated by his use of this print many years later.


It is not clear why, but at some point the print was trimmed to just show the image of Birney, the background being cut away.


On the back of the print Clark wrote:


“Hamilton Co. Ohio. “Lane Place.” Novr. A.D. 1880. This will certify that 36 years ago this date I voted for James G. Birney, for President of the United States, the same being my first vote---And was deposited in the Ballet Box at the “Butler House’—then Rossville now the first ward of the City of Hamilton Butler County Ohio. And furthermore, that never afterward did I vote for any person or persons for Executive Officers of the United States or for either State, County, District, Town, or Municipal Offices, who were not known to be, (or at least professed and believed to be) “Abolitionists” of the then most offensive (and defensive) character, until every Slave of the country were proclaimed free. Witness my hand Clark Lane”


It is always good to remember that in the nineteenth century Currier & Ives prints were simply inexpensive pictures used by people for decoration, education, inspiration and many other purposes. They cost very little and generally were not treated with the care that we today use when handling these now-quite-expensive artifacts of our past. In all my years in the print business, and many thousands of Currier & Ives prints I have handled, I have never seen a use like the one Clark put this print to, and for that reason I find this a story worth passing on.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

America's Greatest Patriots

The Chicago printmaking firm of Kurz & Allison is well known for its production of commemorative prints of American historical scenes. Founded in 1880, the firm's avowed purpose was to design "for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship." Elaborate they certainly were: the majority of their prints are bright and dramatic, with action throughout the image, though others were of a more restrained character, often issued in black and white. Drawn in a broad, graphic style that developed from Kurz's background as a muralist, their prints have a striking appearance.


Kurz & Allison did a number of prints of Presidents, some as individual portraits and some as family groupings. One can imagine these somber images hanging in the homes of Americans in the late 19th and early 20th century, as a nationalistic statement and also undoubtedly as inspiration for the family.


In 1890, the firm lithographed a print of “America’s Greatest Patriots.” This was a highly patriotic print--“Pro Patria!” bannered at the top--included four Presidential portraits in a setting with ivy, laurel branches, and American flags. The ‘father of his country,’ George Washington, has his portrait at top center, below which is U.S. Grant, flanked by the two assassinated Presidents, Lincoln and Garfield. This print was copyrighted by J.M. Wolfe & Co. and it is not clear why it was issued in 1890, as Garfield had been assassinated in 1881 and Grant died in 1885. Only the first state of the print has the Wolfe name on it, later ones listing only Kurz & Allison.


On September 14, 1901, William McKinley became the third American President to be assassinated, shot in Buffalo, New York. Like all print publishers, Kurz & Allison saw this as an opportunity to make a print which would sell because of this national tragedy. Thus they took the original stone--which they must have kept in their warehouse and which they may have continued to issue since 1890—removed Grant’s portrait and substituted that of McKinley. Now they had the perfect commemorative print, with Washington accompanied by the three assassinated Presidents. A nice example of a ‘recycled print.’


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Life portraits of important Native American leaders

For many important American leaders of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, there was a ready market for quality, life portrait prints. The American public wanted to know what their Presidents, Congressmen, and military figures looked like, so for almost any such figure of note there were quality engraved or lithographed portraits made. Few such portraits, however, were made of important Native American leaders. There just wasn’t a big market looking for a picture of these individuals during their life-times and so not a huge incentive for printmakers to produce quality portraits.


One exception were the portraits done for Thomas McKenney’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America. For this work, 118 portrait prints, based on life-time portraits, were produced in lithography and issued between 1836 and 1844. Thomas McKenney, head of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs for many years, was a champion of American Indians and fought throughout his tenure to preserve something of their culture, which he recognized as an integral part of the history of the United States.


McKenney took office in 1816 and shortly thereafter began to plan an archive which would house Indian memorabilia. In the winter of 1821-22, a large delegation of Indians including representatives of Pawnee, Sauk, Fox, Menominee, Miami, Sioux, and Chippewa tribes came to Washington to see President Monroe. McKenney took advantage of this opportune time to record their likenesses, commissioning Charles Bird King to paint their portraits. To these, more paintings were added in the years following, many done in the field. This yielded an impressive gallery of Indian portraiture which became the centerpiece of the War Department collection of Indian culture and history. In 1830, McKenney was dismissed by President Jackson and began to plan for the publication of a portfolio of prints of these portraits. Working with James Hall, he added text, making the project a true collaboration.


The results of years of struggle, McKenney’s folio was completed in 1836, after four years of printing. Although he was acutely aware that he was preserving a chapter in history, McKenney could not have known that, had he not undertaken this project, no record at all would remain: in 1865, a fire at the Smithsonian destroyed almost all the original paintings from which the lithographs were drawn. The prints, however, do survive, providing us with rare examples of life-portraits of 118 Native Americans, including a number of the most important Indian figures in American history.


Red Jacket

Red Jacket was a Seneca chief and orator who negotiated with the government of the United States after the American Revolution. The Iroquois had sided with the British during the war, so the government insisted that they give up much of their lands in New York. Red Jacket was instrumental in saving what he could of their lands, as determined by the Treaty of Canadaigua in 1794. Prior to the treaty, in 1792, Red Jacket had visited the then U.S. capital, Philadelphia, where Washington presented him with a “peace medal” which was engraved with an image of Washington shaking hands with Red Jacket. This print, after a portrait by Charles Bird King, shows Red Jacket proudly wearing this medal.


Black Hawk

Black Hawk was a war leader of the Sauk tribe in the mid-west. He fought against the U.S. during the War of 1812, hoping to drive white settlers out of Sauk territory. Much of that territory had been granted to the U.S. by some tribal leaders at the Treaty of St. Louis in 1804, but many of the Sauk and related Fox Indians contested the legitimacy of that treaty, so a group led by Black Hawk tried to reoccupy tribal lands in Illinois during the “Black Hawk War” of 1832. Captured by the U.S. military, Black Hawk ended up on a “tour” of the east coast, including a visit to Washington where this portrait was painted.


William McIntosh

McIntosh was a controversial Creek chief who supported the U.S. efforts to get the Creeks to give up their lands in Georgia. The son of a Scotsman and a Creek woman, he was raised by the Creeks, but was comfortable also in white Georgia society. His involvement in the controversial Treaty of Indian Springs of 1825 led to a sentence of death by the Creek Nation Council, which was carried out in 1825. This print, after another Charles Bird King portrait, shows McIntosh in his Scottish finery.


Sequoyah

Not a chief or warrior, Sequoyah was still one of the most influential Native Americans of the nineteenth century. A Cherokee blacksmith and silversmith, Sequoyah regularly had contact with whites and he saw how important their ability to write was. He decided to invent a way to write the Cherokee language, inventing the Cherokee syllabary from scratch. It took a while to convince his tribe, but by 1825 the Cherokee Nation adopted his writing system. This portrait after Charles Bird King shows Sequoyah with his alphabet. It was painted in 1828 when he visited Washington and he is shown wearing his peace medal.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Along with the regular Antiques Roadshow programs, which show the Roadshow stops from the previous summer, the program has been airing a series of "Vintage" shows, which rerun selected appraisals from the past. For each rerun appraisal, the folks at WGBH contact the original appraiser to see how the appraised value might have changed. Recently I got an email from the produces asking me about a map of the Mississippi River I appraised back in 2001 for between $4,500 and $5,000.


Now this sort of map is just the sort of map which has become "hot" in the last decade or so, so when they asked me for a value, I knew it would have gone up, but I figured that just to be sure I would do some digging to see if there was a recent price record on it. Boy am I glad I did! The map had sold at an auction in 2009 for $300,000! As this was such a big jump, I thought it would be worthwhile writing up a posting explaining why I thought this had happened. This blog is a copy of that article. The original appraisal and the article can be seen on the Antiques Roadshow web site. The article follows:


For a map to increase in value about 30 times in 15 years is a huge jump and the reasons for this are quite interesting. Some of it has to do with a change in the market and some with what I call "auction fever."


When I first got into the business of selling maps back in 1981, most collectors were looking for maps from the earliest days of printed cartography, particularly the beautiful Dutch maps from about 1570 to 1650. These were from the Age of Discovery and the maps had beautiful engraving, rich hand color, and lots of fun features such as sail ships, elaborate compass roses, and even sea monsters.


One of the biggest changes in the attitude of map collectors since those early days has been shifting their focus from the decorative appeal of maps to their historical significance. The latter factor has always been important for collectors, but in the late 20th century, collectors became more enamored with maps that focused on specific information about particular events in history — such as the first map to show the City of New Orleans, or a contemporary map of the American Revolution — even when those maps did not have a lot of color and their decoration was limited to their cartouches.


At the beginning of the present millennium, it was 17th- and 18th-century maps that were particularly sought after by collectors, and so were increasing significantly in value. In the years since then, collectors have begun to turn more and more to 19th-century maps — especially those that have some intriguingly direct connection with history. As the 2000s progressed, it was maps like the first to show a rebuilt Chicago, or one showing the results of a seminal exploring expedition to the American West, or a folding map of a newly built railroad, which became more and more sought after and thus more and more valuable.


The Norman 1858 map of the lower Mississippi River is a perfect example of the type of map which has become ‘hot’ in the last decade or so. It has an immediate connection with the history of the boom years of the plantations along the Mississippi — the artist, Marie Adrien Persac, traveling between New Orleans and Natchez on a skiff and recording all the plantations and landmarks he saw along the way. There really could not be a more significant historical document of this region in that period than this map. Combined with the fact that it was a separately issued map — extremely rare today — means that when the ROADSHOW producers asked me for an updated value while preparing the Vintage New Orleans show this spring, I knew it would have gone up a lot since 2001.


My initial reaction was that its current retail value would probably be somewhere between about $20,000 and $30,000, quite a big jump from my valuation of $4,500 to $5,000 in 2001. However, given the way this sort of map had risen so much in demand, I thought I ought to do some further digging to find out if any had come on the market recently.


And am I ever glad I checked. One had indeed come up for auction at the end of 2009 and sold for a huge price! The auction house’s estimate, $18,000 to $25,000, was similar to my initial thinking about this map’s current value — but when the bidding had finished in that 2009 auction, the map cost the buyer $316,000!


There are few American maps that have ever brought that amount, and though the Norman map is special, particularly for that region, to pay over $300,000 for it seems excessive. I can find no similar map for any other region of the United States that has ever sold for so much. So why did it go for so much? My guess is simple "auction fever." Auction bidders with deep pockets sometimes have large egos that lead them to believe if they really want something then they must win it no matter who else might bid against them. If you get two or more such bidders for the same item, those egos can sometimes override any prudent financial sense, leading to prices well above what would be considered a reasonable value. I think something like that may have happened for this map.


So, that brings up the question of what I think this map’s “real” value might be today, having appraised it for $4,500 to $5,000 in 2001. Certainly, the 2009 auction means that my initial thought of $20,000 to $30,000 is too low, but I do not believe that in any other circumstances — without the heat of auction fever — this map would bring over $300,000 again. Still, any potential buyer looking at that auction record would realize he or she would have to pay well above $30,000 for it. So I think that if this map appeared in a retail setting, it would probably be listed somewhere between $150,000 and $200,000. If it came up at auction and bidders were able to keep their egos in check, it might bring half to two-thirds of that price. But then again, fever could strike again at any time!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

A.E. Mathews views of Colorado

I spend a lot of time in the summer driving or biking around the mountains of Colorado. Colorado is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I am constantly filled with awe looking at the scenes of the state. Early visitors to Colorado were often impressed by the view of the Rocky Mountains from the plains and a few early prints were made of that scene (cf. the view of Pike's Peak from John Frémont's 1842 expedition above), but these were quite scarce and other than some scenes from the Pacific Railroad Surveys in the 1850s, there were scant images of the state up to the end of that decade.


Things changed, of course, when the Pikes Peak Gold Rush brought thousands of miners, and those who made money off of the miners, to the front range. Now there was a significant population here, which both brought new interest in and opportunities for the marketing of images of Colorado.


The first artist to really take advantage of this opportunity was A.E. Mathews (1831-1874). Mathews was born in England, but came to the United States at an early age and ended up being raised in Ohio. He worked as a typesetter, itinerant bookseller, and school teacher, with a predilection for landscape sketching. During the Civil War, Mathews served in the Union Army with Ohio troops for three years, making topographical maps and views. He also produced a number of excellent first hand images of scenes of the Civil War for a number of Cincinnati print publishers.


After the war, Mathews moved to nascent city of Denver, the main entrepot of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. Mathews arrived in Denver November 1865, when Colorado was in the process of becoming a thriving mining region. In less than a decade, Colorado had been transformed from a sparsely settled backwater to a dynamic economic powerhouse. In 1866, the towns, such as Denver, Central City and Black Hawk, were exciting communities, with a veneer of civilization only somewhat covering over the raw frontier hotchpotch of gambling dens, saloons, and brothels.


Mathews decided he could continue his artistic career by producing a series of prints of Colorado to be sold to the new citizens, and those back in the East who might be interested. This resulted in 1866 with his Pencil Sketches of Colorado. This was a portfolio of twenty-three prints (which were also sold separately) showing thirty-six scenes in Colorado. The prints were lithographed in New York by Julius Bien.


Mathews’ Pencil Sketches captures the gold rush era of Colorado, a transient and foundational moment in the history of the territory. Mathews had a keen eye and considerable skill—-likely aided by a camera lucida—-so his images are accurate, detailed and filled with a sense of the time and place that is remarkable. The variety of the views is comprehensive, showing scenes of mining and processing, the landscape, and town, especially Denver with the three street scenes of particular note.


One of the fun aspects of this series is that, in order to make more money than from just selling the prints, Mathews offered Denver business owners the opportunity, for a fee, to have their businesses named in the three street scenes of the city. It is interesting how many businesses did accept this offer, though the unnamed shops in the scenes also indicate that not all bought into this scheme.


I have always loved the way that antique prints capture a period of our history, letting us see our past through the eyes of those who were there then, and there are no better views of from the past of Colorado than those by Mathews.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

George Pocock and his inflatable globes

George Pocock was a remarkable man who I found out about becaume of a fabulous "inflatable globe." Pocock ran a boarding school, Pocock’s Academy, for “young gentlemen,” and besides his pedagogical career, Pocock was an evangelistic preacher, church organist, and ingenious inventor.


The inventions I will discuss below were a series of inflatable globes for students, but Pocock also invented a “thrashing machine” for punishing errant students, constructed with a rotating wheel with artificial hands to spank the offending schoolboy.


Pocock was a proponent of the science of “aeropleusitcs,” that is the use of kites for transportation. In part to avoid the hated horse tax, Pocock invented a carriage, called a “charvolent,” which was powered by kites! This carriage did present some problems, such as making sure the kites were not entangled in trees, and the problem of possibly being becalmed when out, the solution for which was that Pocock had a spare horse carried on a cart pulled behind the charvolent.


Of particular interest to me is Pocock design and production of three sizes of portable globes. The idea was that there were “disadvantages arising from the importability of globes of the usual construction,” whereas the inflatable globes were easily carried, stored and used. An advertisement for the globes says “These Globes are extremely portable, and when inflated form the most elegant and useful ornament of the Drawing-room or Library.” The globes were designed to be inflated either using a pump or by hand, where Pocock instructed that one should “Unfold the Globe, and taking it in one hand, holding by the hoop at the southern extremity, wave it to and fro horizontally...then place the Globe so that the hoop or orifice rests on the ground, and taking hold of the little stud at the top, raise the sphere gently from the ground and let it down again...”


The globes do not seem to have sold that well, or at least those which were made were mostly destroyed over time as very few exist. However, the Royal Family did present one of these globes to Price George of Cumberland in 1830. The globe displays considerable geographic information, especially of the British colonies, and includes tracks of various voyages of exploration (for instance those of Cabot, Cook, and Vancouver) and notes of historic interest (for instance references to the Mutiny on the Bounty, James Cook’s death, and Bonaparte’s banishment to St. Helena). A remarkable production from a remarkable man.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Donald Trump and Currier & Ives

I have been reading a fascinating article by Hazel Brandenburg about the rise in popularity of Currier & Ives prints during the 1920s (from the American Historical Print Collectors Society magazine Imprint, Spring 2012). A great deal of the popularity of Currier & Ives prints then had to do with the fact that the “1920s were...a time of transition characterized by profound and lasting cultural changes...” This left Americans of the period feeling “uncomfortable with the present and anxious about the future” so “Americans turned their eyes to the past—or at least to a particular vision of an American past that seemed more authentic, uncomplicated, and pure.”


Boy does that sound a lot like today. There has been a huge amount of social, political and economic change in the last decade and many Americans are feeling lost in today’s world. It seems that a lot of them are looking to the past for their answers, looking to “Make American Great Again.”


I do understand these feelings, as it is always hard to see the beliefs you grew up with come under attack, to lose jobs which you assumed would carry you through to retirement, and to see a comfortable world morph into something strange in front of your eyes. It is easy to look back and "remember" a past when things were idyllic, when life was good.


However, the simplistic solutions offered by Donald Trump are just too much. Come on! Can anyone really think that this narcissistic, misogynistic, bloviating con man, with no common sense, experience, nor self-control should run our country? To have nostalgia for the past is one thing, but to think that this man could bring back a past that is somehow “great” is just crazy. (Now I know that in general a businessman should not take sides in political issues, but the current situation is too dire to remain quiet.)


Besides the issue of Trump’s total unsuitability to run our country, there is also the question as to whether it would actually be better to bring back the past. Currier & Ives prints are great, and there is something about the comfortable homes, smiling children, prosperous and healthy workers which is very appealing.


However, it is important to realize that most of the Currier & Ives prints did not present “factual” pictures of what America was really like; they were more images of what Americans at the time wanted America to be like. And, of course, these were images held by only a segment of America at that time—-the mostly WASP citizens who were pictured in the prints and who would have purchased these prints for their homes. When minorities, such as emigrants and Blacks, were pictured, it was usually in a less than a flattering or accurate manner.


The famous Currier & Ives Darktown prints—-interestingly one of the most popular of all Currier & Ives series-—are a good example of this. These prints came out in the late 19th century, when many Whites were fearful that Blacks would be taking their jobs; the Darktown prints were intended to make the Blacks look foolish and incompetent and so make the Whites feel better about themselves. Doesn’t this sound a lot like Mr. Trump’s formula of today? His favorite tactic is denigrating segments of our population so that those in his constituency will feel better about themselves.


Maybe the surge in the “Make American Great Again” feelings of today’s social climate will make Currier & Ives prints popular again, but it would be for the wrong reasons. I like Currier & Ives prints, but not because I want to go back to the mythical America they show, but because they are often charming and beautiful, and they help us understand how many Americans of the 19th century thought. We will never live in an America like that shown in the prints, nor will we ever live in an America like Trump wants to create. Let’s just hope we don’t live in an America where Trump has the power to try.