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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