History on Paper
HOW TO HUNT FOR AND COLLECT VINTAGE VICTORIAN ART PRINTS
Learn how to hunt, collect and care for antique prints.
Decorative antique prints are not only more affordable than paintings, but they also provide you with a direct link to the past.
Collecting Victorian prints is a hobby that encompasses the thrill of the hunt, exposes you to beautiful artwork from the 19th century and offers unique insights into the lives of the Victorians.
Antique art prints are one of the most popular victorian collectibles because they’re an attractive way for a novice to begin collecting art.
A Victorian collectible print can be a dedicated print (meaning it was produced specifically as a print), a print from a book or a print that was part of one of the many magazines popular in the 1800s.
Artists, magazines and newspapers created prints for a variety of reasons, but most often to influence the social, political and intellectual mores of the time. Colorful, historic and often moderately priced, they had a much wider influence in their day than a single drawing or painting.
The Victorian middle class avidly collected art. Paintings, if affordable, and print works often graced the walls of their homes. Colorful chromolithographs and other prints were important artistic elements in 19th century homes. There were even guides that spelled out how Victorians could beautify their interiors and educate people at the same time.
The subject matter of Victorian prints varies widely. There’s most likely a print for your aesthetic or interests. Natural science prints of plants, birds and other ornithological studies were especially beloved, since the Victorians had a love affair with the natural world.
Some of the most collectible prints with other subject matters include military prints, maps, political satire cartoons and fashion prints. In the mid-19th century, hand-tinted fashion prints reached their height of popularity. Women often collected these as inspiration to take to their seamstress when ordering their next gown.
TYPES OF PRINTS
Antique Victorian prints fall into two classes: those made from metal plates, and those made from stones. Engravings, etchings, aquatints and mezzotints are metal plates. Almost all these show indentation in the paper from the plate’s outline. These were first printed in black and white, then finished by hand with watercolors. A master engraver carefully engraved the designs on a flat sheet of metal, usually copper or steel—a timeconsuming and lengthy process.
In the mid-19th century, hand-tinted fashion prints reached their height of popularity.
Lithographs are often from a stone base, which a colorist could also finish by hand. Chromolithography is an image printed by using many lithographic stones, each with a different color ink. Chromolithography became popular not only because it copied the colors of original paintings, but because it did away with the cost of using hand colorists.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Hunting for a rare treasure is part of the fun of collecting antique prints. Get familiar with art prints in museums, art galleries and art fairs to educate yourself about what a good quality print should look like. After seeing a range of prints, you’ll get a good feel for the subject matter that appeals to you. Purchasing art prints should be a rewarding, exciting hobby that reflects your own personal taste and style. Here are two tips for starting your collection.
1. Buy the Best Quality.
Purchase the best quality you can afford. Prints that don’t have “foxing” (discolorations) and tears are always better than those that show damage. On higher quality, higher-priced prints, look for watermarks, paper quality and print quality. Sometimes you’ll see an edition number and the signatures of the artist and printer. The name on the left is usually that of the original artist, while the name on the right is the craftsman who printed the image.
2. Buy What Appeals to You.
No matter what the condition or price of the print, if you are in love with the image, this is the piece you should purchase. Collect prints that tug at your heartstrings and will look beautiful in your home. This will guarantee that you build up a collection that personally speaks to you. Printmaking is an art, and Victorian prints are precious artifacts with history that will beautify your home, give you years of pleasure and offer a glimpse into the past.
Hunting for a rare treasure is part of the fun of collecting antique prints.