Thursday, August 31, 2006
Booksellers Row XIII - The Old Print Shop
A refugee from the Booksellers Row, The Old Print Shop on Lexington Avenue, West of 29th Street, next to the former Coffee Pot for the homeless run by the First Moravian Church until 1993, has a history that dates back to the XIX Century. Established by Edward Gottschalk in 1898 on 4th Avenue and 12th Street, it was an institution before Mr. Gottschalk moved to Lexington Avenue in 1925. It was purchased in 1928 by Harry Shaw Newman, an importer of linens, who found some Currier and Ives prints in his mother's attic and sold them. Harry T. Peters, the cataloguer of Currier and Ives worked with Newman; Bernice Abbott, one of the earlier American women photographers, produced illustrations for the shop's catalogues. These thin booklets, The Old Print Shop Portfolios, now in their 55th year, in themselves constitute a reference library of America's past in paintings, lithographs, prints and maps. The large showroom, filled with tables and deep-drawered cabinets, contains some 100,000 graphics, not limited to Americana. Then there are paintings.
Three generations of Newmans have been connected with the Old Print Shop - Harry's son Kenneth M., president since 1949, and his sons Robert K. and Harry Shaw II.
Most popular of all the graphics are the Currier and Ives and Audubon Prints.
The firm founded by Nathaniel Currier in 1835 in New York was joined by James Ives, its bookkeeper, in 1857. They produced lithographs of over seven thousand subjects, on every phase of American life, taking the buyer not only into familiar bucolic New England scenes but also showing fights with the Indians, wonders of Yellowstone Park and adventures on the rails and at sea. Such pictures as "Awful Conflagration of the Steamboat Lexington" illustrated daily events and were immediate best sellers. They were made in three sizes, 8 1/2"x12 1/2'; 10'x15',15'x20'. Today, hand-colored lithographs are priced from $100 to $10,000, with some selling for $40,000. Be aware of restrikes. Currier and Ives are very popular Christmas card subjects.
John James Audubon painted birds, and the pictures were reduced to engravings, printed and then colored by Robert Havel. The 435 elephant folio prints, published 1828 (size 25"x38") are worth upwards of $1,000 to $80,000, mostly coming from broken volumes of the four-book set (though some sets were sold unbound). The pictures in the seven-volume octavo-size set (prints 10 1/4"x6 3/4") were lithographed and hand-colored by J.T. Bowen, and sell at $30 to $200. Audubon's Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845-48, 22"x28") are upwards of $250, and Quadrupeds (1849, 7"x10 1/4") up from $30, all done by Bowen's firm. Audubon prints appreciate well.
There are few Anerican flower and herbal prints; collected are such largish prints as those from Dr. Robert John Thornton's Temple of Flora, London 1799-1807, which in the 1940s when prints sold for pennies were worth $30, and now range in four figures, as do Pierre Redoute's Les Roses, Paris 1824.
Of New York City views, a very popular one, painted and engraved from nature in 1854, shows the view South of Union Square, all the way to the harbor The only recognizable feature remaining today is Grace Cathedral. The row of eight houses on East Union Square between 15th and 16th Streets was built by Samuel B. Ruggles before he moved on to plan Gramercy Park. One, No. 52, was demolished as late as 1904.
The better known New York city view artists include Charles Mielatz (1864-1919), a German -born etcher, who produced about 90 images of the city from 1890 on, with more than one state in each edition run, redrawing portions as he went along, using a multi-plate imprint method. His city views are heavy on reflections, and , and the prices range from $275 to $1,500.
A more recent city artist, Anton Schutz, also German-born (1894-1977), became friends with etcher Joseph Pennell, whose works sell in the $250 plus range. Schutz founded New York Graphic Society, which was the largest producer of reproductions in the world by 1946. Schutz's work, very architectural, is priced under $1,000.
Armin Landeck (Crandon, WI, 1905-84) did dense dry points, engravings and etchings, priced from $500 to a high of $42,000. Me worked with Australian-born Martin Lewis (1881-1962), a successful illustrator, water colorist and painter turned graphic artist (147 prints). prices range from under $1,000 to $15,000.
John Sloan the painter also turned out 80-90 prints, walued in low to top four figures.
The lover of cityscape can do very well by buying hand-colored prints from Valentine's Manuals, annuals recording city events. The books were published 1850-57 and ins ubsequent series, t0 1920s. The prints from broken volumes and sell for under $100. They are of better quality than the prints clipped from Harpers Monthly and hand-colored. Reproductions abound.
As time progresses, I hope to include more reproductions as part of this columnm.
Caption for the picture: Wiew South of Union Square, 1854. By permission of the Old Print shop.