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The Collector’s Minute: Equestrian Prints

by Mike Wilcox (03/23/11).

This lithograph print in the style of George Wright is something that often comes in for appraisal. Those new to the subject will often have a hard time telling the difference between lithography, etchings, engravings and offset printing.

One item we see more of than just about anything else in the appraisal & antique business are late 19th- to early 20th-century “equestrian prints,” generally depicting fox hunting, or as Oscar Wilde put it, “The unspeakable in pursuit of the Inedible.”

Equestrian prints of were quite popular during this period, most were based on the work of famous 18th- and early 19th-century artists. The prints themselves were produced in a variety of formats, such as lithographs*, etchings, engravings and offset printing. The one above, like most of this type is a late 19th-century English print, this one is after originals by George Wright (British, 1860-1942), who is best known for his horse portraits, hunting and coaching scenes.

Each type of print has its own value, lithographs and etchings produced by permission of or by the original artist tend to be the most valuable, as their production is limited by the process itself to under 1,000 copies, as the quality of the print declines with each copy due to the wear on the printing plate or stone. Prints of this type are generally marked with the title of the print, the name or signature of the engraver/artist, the publisher, date and address. In some cases, an edition number can also be found, which indicates the number of the edition and size of that printing run, for example the numbers “250/800” would indicate the print was number 250 of 800 copies printed.

Unmarked prints, such as the one depicted, are nearly always mass produced “offset printed” examples, produced much the same way as modern posters. These were made in great numbers to fill the rising demand for decorator art by the middle classes during the late 19th century. In many cases, such prints were often used on calendars, and later cut down to fit existing frames, the titles and artist’s reference removed.

Values for these pieces are still rather modest because they still remain available in large numbers. Today, the mass-produced examples like this one—matted and in a good frame—often sell as decorative pieces in the $75-$150 range.

* If you come across a print and are not sure what you are looking at, use these definitions to determine what you are looking at:

Lithography (if you are not sure, it is pronounced: le-thah’gruh-fee): In the graphic arts, a method of printing from a prepared flat stone or metal or plastic plate, invented in the late 18th century. A drawing is made on the stone or plate with a greasy crayon or tusche, and then washed with water. When ink is applied it sticks to the greasy drawing but runs off (or is resisted by) the wet surface allowing a print—a lithograph—to be made of the drawing. The artist, or other print maker under the artist’s supervision, then covers the plate with a sheet of paper and runs both through a press under light pressure. For color lithography, separate drawings are made for each color.

Etching: An intaglio printing process in which an etching needle is used to draw into a wax ground applied over a metal plate. The plate is then submerged in a series of acid baths, each biting into the metal surface only where unprotected by the ground. The ground is removed, ink is forced into the etched depressions, the unetched surfaces wiped, and an impression is printed. Also, both the design etched on a plate and an impression made from an etched plate. Too often confused with engraving.

Engraving: A method of cutting or incising a design into a material, usually metal, with a sharp tool called a graver. One of the intaglio methods of making prints, in engraving, a print can be made by inking such an incised (engraved) surface. It may also refer to a print produced in this way. Most contemporary engraving is done in the production of currency, certificates, etc.

Offset Printing: The printing process in which an inked image on a metal or paper plate is transferred to a smooth rubber cylinder and then to the paper.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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