His­tory on Pa­per


Victorian Homes - - Contents - BY LIDY BAARS

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.


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.


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.

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