Lost Treasures, Priceless Art, Rare Prints

Currier & Ives Print

A Genuine Currier & Ives “City Of New York” Print. One recenmtly sold for $7000.00 at auction

Ah yes, “Lost Treasures”, “Priceless Art”, “Rare prints” , such are the titles of many a media story when some item appears out of nowhere and is worth thousands if not 100’s of thousands. While such finds are legitimate, like the Powerball lottery happen to very few people at millions to one odds. Still, even people like myself who’ve been it he business for years keep looking, even with these odds we still keep an eye out for that Rembrandt etching in a box lot in a farm auction, or that very rare Currier & Ives print hung up in the outhouse of an abandoned farm.

Sadly most of what we see in the appraisal business are usually turn of the 19th Century mass produced copies of the works of a famous Artists. Most of these were sold in Five & Dime type stores, a lot of them formerly prints cut from feed store or insurance company calendars, pictures great Aunt Harriet could not bring herself to throw away in 1923 and popped it in a cheap frame.

The main reason we tend to look at art as having potential great value does have a great deal to do with media finds of rare pieces, but more for the reason that Art it is looked at as a great mystery, the realm of the Expert to tell us “What’s it worth” . Unlike most antique items that are identifiable by well-documented markings found on china, figurines, furniture and lamps, the markings on prints are often not well documented or have been trimmed off to fit a frame. In such cases the “Expert” needs to be consulted and in the general public’s eyes if an “Expert” is required it equals “Big Value”. Experts do have their place, and if you a have any doubt at all at about a piece of art work you should think about making some calls around to galleries and dealers to get a referral .

For those so inclined there are whole libraries of  books and DVDs devoted to identifying prints, their editions, biographies of the artist and the publishers involved. Many of these you can view for free online or in local libraries,
For anyone who is thinking about collecting or buying & selling genuine prints, that would be my first recommendation. There is another option to determine if what you are looking at is an lithographic print or etching or a  mass produced copy that only requires a trip to th Dollar Store for a cheap magnifying glass.

Image of dot used in mass produced prints

A blown up view of the “Dots” in a mass produced print can look like

For those of you that just want one simple way to determine if the Currier & Ives print of the ‘City of New York ‘  in your hands is worth $7000.00 or $70.00 I have one simple clue….. Dots….. ”

Mass-produced 20th-century prints are produced in the same fashion as  newspapers put photographs into print: with an image made up of thousands of tiny colored dots (as can be seen in the blown up image to the left). If you look closely at a picture in a newspaper, the entire image is made up of a series of tiny dots, looking almost like a honey comb. The vast majority of original prints are various forms of etchings, engraving or lithographs, all of which have their own unique markings, and require some training and practice to identify, but one thing they won’t exhibit is the all-over honey comb of dots found on a mass-produced print.






Mike Wilcox