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Collecting Info: Reference Books

Collectors Value Guide To Early 20th Century American Prints

At first glance, this is an unusual combination – three well-known and collectible illustrators (Maxfield Parrish, Bessie Pease Gutmann, and R. Atkinson Fox) and some better- and lesser-known photographers, including Wallace Nutting, David Davidson, Fred Thompson, Charles Sawyer, and others. What they all have in common is that their works illustrated a lot of the advertising of the early part of the 20th Century. The photographers discussed in this price guide issued hand-colored photos that appeared on calendars, souvenirs, and prints.

As a guide to illustrators this book is quite limited, although the inclusion of items illustrated by the three artists can be very helpful in identifying unusual sources of their work. It is the section on photographers that is most useful, however, and what prompted me to purchase this reference. The interest in hand-colored photographs has been growing steadily over the past decade, with a core of ardent collectors developing. So, as with any aspect of ephemera, it behooves the dealer, as well as the collector, to become familiar with the object of a growing interest.

Ivankovich relied on some very dedicated collectors for information, as well as for access to photographing items in their collections. This may account for the annoying redundancy in the articles, although one nice feature is boxes of pull-quotes from the text identifying the most important points. (Within the texts, those points are covered, and covered, and covered again.) And while one must be grateful for the inclusion of images of many scarce items, it is obvious that some of them were photographed in situ – framed and hanging on walls – where the clarity and focus are less than perfect in sometimes irritating ways. However, Ivankovich includes photos of signatures and titles that help considerably in identifying original prints, another big plus for the book.

This is the first reference I am aware of that devotes a major section to hand-colored photographs by a number of artists. While most people are probably familiar with the work of Wallace Nutting, some of the others represented here produced equally fine, if not superior, hand-colored photographic prints on a variety of American subjects. Aside from these better-known photographers, there is also a list of lesser-known artists whose works may become much more collectible in future. Ivankovich also gives some examples of “unknown” photographers whose works are appealing for subject matter, with a few hints on determining values based on technique and interest. Again, reproductions of individual signatures and formats aid in identification.

The overall theme of the book is a look at early 20th Century advertising, which closely follows the movement of American common culture from the rural and sentimental through the development of transportation and travel, technological development, mass marketing and advanced consumerism. Anyone who collects this type of illustration, or who deals in objects that might contain such images, might be surprised by some of the products on which such illustrations appeared. Anything from magazine ads and calendars to children’s books, seed catalogs, china, towel racks, labels, or wall thermometers might carry a valuable image.

Photographs in B&W and color are plentiful, with accurate image names and number codes matched to a price list that should, as always, be considered as a guide and not a list of prices to be accepted as gospel.

Content provided by Lee Kirk, The Prints and the Papers.

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