Culvertons Antiques

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Antique framed prints - rare lithographs are found lining an attic stairwell in Sussex, but first appearances can be deceiving !

18/11/2014 6:13 PM

A rare group of antique framed prints, lithographs portraying Native American Indian chiefs, originally bound within 3 volumes issued by McKenney & Hall between 1837 & 1844, were recently discovered by Culvertons in Sussex.

They adorned the walls of a narrow staircase - one of the last areas of the property to be viewed by our general valuer who has told us that -

‘ the memory of turning to take the last flight of steps up to the attic and seeing the faces of twenty one Indian chiefs looming out of the shadows will be one I won’t forget in a hurry’

An American, Thomas Loraine McKenney (1785 – 1859) was a Quaker. His beliefs disposed him to feel sympathy for the plight of the Native American Indian. Holding this attitude, he was an obvious first candidate for a newly created government post of Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1824. Whilst in post he set about achieving a goal that was going to become his life’s work - to record the vanishing peoples of his country. He commissioned, amongst others, his fellow-American George Bird King to paint faithful portraits of Native Americans for the War Department gallery. In 1830 McKenney’s opinion of the ‘indigenous population being intellectually and morally his equal was a step too far for the incumbent president Andrew Jackson. Mckenney was dismissed, allowing him to concentrate, with the help of another American, James Hall, who provided the text, on the extensive production of lithographic copies of the original paintings for his publication the ‘History of the Indian Tribes of North America’.

With each print hand-coloured, and the colour still vibrant and fresh, and presented in an original decorative early twentieth century American hand painted frame, how to value the set immediately became the important issue.

On the one hand, the fact they were from the earliest Mckenney publications was in their favour. But on the other, a further investigation confirmed that the prints had been laid onto artist’s board, most probably when they were framed in the early part of the twentieth century – an all-too-common practice that unfortunately drastically lowered their value. This meant that though they were still wonderfully decorative they would not be of interest to the serious collector. Unlike with a watercolour, where the medium used means the colour is fixed, even a professional paper conservator runs the risk of causing irreversible damage when attempting to remove a lithograph from a board - with a multitude of different types of ink, adhesive and paper used in this period, each with varying levels of stability and absorbency, to do so is to take too great a practical and therefore financial risk.

The Mckeeney prints, even though, as explained, they were not in perfect condition, when grouped together created a magnificently dramatic effect, so they readily sold by private treaty to a client with a long standing interest in Native American Indians – but not for the value we all had initially hoped they would achieve.

When contemplating purchasing a print with the idea of investment, we advise our clients always to ask to see the print out of its frame. Generally auction rooms will add a disclaimer on a particular lot description if this is not possible. Alternatively, buying through an established and well respected dealer may give a novice collector/investor a greater degree of confidence.

Carrying out as much research as possible will always pay dividends - finding out the correct size of the original published print, type of paper used, if possible the size of the edition (copies printed at the beginning of a print-run have a financial edge over later, weaker impressions), and establishing what text, if any, should be present within the margins of the print,swiss audemars piguet replica are all factors to take into account. Please contact Culvertons if you need any further assistance or information.

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Culvertons provide valuation, restoration, conservation and probate services, throughout central & southern England, principally in Surrey, Sussex, Kent & Hampshire, and including London.

We pride ourselves on our customer service and strong ethical working practices, striving to ensure these are demonstrated in all aspects of the work we do.

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