Unloved Antiques: 19th-Century Religious Prints

This is a good example of an 1890s print of a young girl crossing a treacherous bridge with rotten boards, escorted and protected by her Guardian Angel. Like many, the print itself has been cut down to fit an existing frame, in the process removing the name of the publisher, date, title and the artist. Most framed prints of this type often sell for less than $45. However, the frame is often worth much more than the print, as in the case of this large hand-carved Black Forest frame, which can sell for more than $150.

The tenth item in this series of “Unloved Antiques” is late 19th- to early 20th-century religious prints, such as those depicting Patron Saints, Guardian Angels or the Madonna were very popular from the turn of the 19th century through the 1930s. Virtually any Catholic home—particularly those of European origins of the period—would have an image of a Patron Saint in the home.

Depending on the family occupation the Patron Saint could mirror the families’ livelihood, such as Peter the Apostle, the patron saint of popes, fishermen, fishmongers, sailors, bakers,
harvesters, butchers, glass makers, carpenters, shoemakers, clockmaker, blacksmiths, potters, masons, bridge builders, cloth makers. Or it could be St. Anne, who is the patron saint of housewives, grandmothers, cabinet makers, unmarried women, women in labor and miners.

While not mass produced in the modern sense of the term, these images were printed in very large numbers, marketed through church fundraisers or awarded as prizes for perfect attendance at Sunday school or as Confirmation gifts. In some cases, these prints a were part of a family shrine displayed on the mantel piece along with other religious symbols, or simply hung on the wall in a place of reverence. The one shown above is a good example of an 1890s print of a young girl crossing a treacherous bridge with rotten boards, escorted and protected by her Guardian Angel. Like many, the print itself has been cut down to fit an existing frame, in the process removing the name of the publisher, date, title and the artist. In some cases, these prints have been matted, with the matting covering the publishing information.

The only way to view this information—if it is still intact—is to remove the print from the frame and matting. Removing the old paper backing and matting will not lower the value of prints like this and replacement of both will actually enhance what little value they have rather than depress it. Most framed prints of this type often sell for less than $45.

However, examples like this one in a nice, large hand-carved Black Forest frame* can sell for more than $150, largely due to the value of the frame rather than the print. Dealers often buy religious prints with salable frames like these and replace the print with more marketable examples of the same period.

* Black Forest frames of this type generally date from the late 19th century and are generally referred to as “Black Forest Carvings,” after the fact that most of them were thought to have been produced in the Black Forest region in Germany. Black Forest carvings are more often than not actually Swiss in origin rather than German. However, recent research indicates the bulk of it was made in the Swiss town of Brienz, where by 1910 some 1,300 carvers were working in the vicinity to fill the demand of Victorian tourists who were taking in the spas of Brienz, Luzern and Interlaken.

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Previous “Unloved Antiques” articles:

Unloved Antiques: ‘Limited Edition’ Collectors Plates
Unloved Antiques: Singer Sewing Machines
Unloved Antiques: Decorator Prints
Unloved Antiques: Commemorative Whiskey Decanters
Unloved Antiques: ‘Bronze’ Flatware
Unloved Antiques: 1847 Rogers Brothers Flatware
Unloved Antiques: Hummel Knockoffs
Unloved Antiques: National Geographic Magazines
Unloved Antiques: Dragonware

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

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  1. Deborah Vahanian says:

    Mark, I am conducting a large insurance appraisal for a religious organization in my home town. Do you have any resources for locating comps that you find best suits this category of art? Thank you for bringing this up for discussion. What about all the art in churches? Has anyone ever conducted an appraisal for this sector of our society? If so, how did they go about finding comps when so few of these items are ever on the auction market or in galleries? Deb Vahanian

  2. Pattilee Tempelmeyer says:

    I, too, would like to know about religious prints. Ihave one passed down through our family. Originally framed with wood slates in the back. Angel standing at a very ornate gate. Someone commented it looked like “peerer at the gate” never found a reference to the print or the phrase “Peerer at the Gate”

  3. Will says:

    Mike, since the values are so low, even if we uncover the publisher name and or date, will that have much of an impact on value? If so, what names or date should we look for?

  4. Mike Wilcox says:

    Hi Deborah, I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. In regards to your question the, article deals with mass produced prints and not individual original works of art or limited edition examples. Retail Values for mass produced prints of this type can be found on the larger internet antique portals such as Goantiques,http://www.goantiques.com, or in price guides such as Worthpoint’s Worthepedia http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia . Auction values can be found on Ebay or sites like liveauctioneer.com .

    As far as Religious Fine art is concerned, it also does regularly turn up at Auction when churches are closed or sold off to raise funds, the results of these sales recorded by all the major auction houses online databases such as sothebys.com, http://www.christies.com and http://www.bonhams.com.

    Inventory of Art work in churches is also often inventoried for insurance purposes. Most churches that have outstanding pieces by well known Artists and Sculptors are listed in a variety of print and online references. Such pieces are often making headlines in newspaper, print and online publications when they are part of traveling museum art exhibitions.

  5. Mike Wilcox says:

    Hi Will,

    Sometimes the publishing information found below the matting will reveal things such as the date, the name of the artist, location and name of the publisher. These things can sometimes indicate the piece is not a mass produced print, but an engraving, etching or lithograph and possibly quite a bit more valuable. Generally the older the print is (Pre 1900)and the fame of the artist, the more likely the print is to have a higher value.

    The mass produced prints will generally be marked with very basic information, for example, “Sacred Heart, copyright 1912 XYZ Publishing Co. New York” on the bottom edge of the print. Etchings, engravings and lithographs on the other hand tend to have more information, such as the title in the center of the lower margin, the Artist/Etcher’s (sometimes right and left) and the Publisher’s name and address.

    Unlike a lot of antiques and collectibles items, for Religious prints there does not appear to be a specialized price guide source for names and dates to determine values. Each piece needs its own research. I recommend starting with just the Artist/Etcher’s name, looking their name up in art databases such as askart.com or findartinfo.com to gain sales data and basic biographical information. With the basic biographical information, such as the Artist name, birth and death date, one can do a general and image search on Google or Bing. For example, searching for “Fred Smith 1871-1922″ will bring up more detailed biographical information, images of their work and often links to site selling comparable pieces or auction listings.

    I know this seems like a lot of work, but I highly recommend any print be researched in this way. While it’s always a long shot a print that a print might be worth more than a couple of hundred dollars, you’ll never know for sure if you don’t check.

  6. Mike Wilcox says:

    Hi Pattilee, are you sure they meant “Peerer at the Gate” or “Peter at the Gate”? St. Peter is the one most often the one depicted at the Pearly Gates of heaven.

  7. Danilo Samford says:

    Glad my post was of use to you