D from Lompoc has a print of a royal regatta procession through the waters of Venice, Italy, his favorite city, by Alessandro dell Via. The title is "Veduta del Tempio/della Salute/in Venetia/Dedictato/All'Eccellenza del S. Marchese."
D brought the piece into my office to examine. We know what the print is about — an event in 1688 — but the paper looks relatively new. It is, indeed, "laid" paper — paper made even today in the old style, by hand, screened in a tight sieve. If D were to take the piece out of the frame, we could possibly see a watermark and research the maker of the paper. Pressmarks of the copper plate are evident.
D's print may have been "pressed" in the mid-20th century, when the style of the 1940s was high-end "Italian" art paired with Italian provincial. Many homes featured Piranesi prints, restruck. D wondered, "Is not a print contemporary with its era?"
My answer is no, a print is not always contemporary with its era. In some cases the print could be a restrike from the mid-20th century. If the plate from which the print was struck is still in a collection, and the copper plate is in good shape, the print can be restruck, especially if the plate is not owned by an estate.
Perhaps a museum owns the plate and the museum has authorized a restrike in the 20th century. Perhaps the owner of the plate has created new prints off the old plate. Finally, a new plate can be created from the existing old print. This is technologically possible today because a computer can analyze the print itself and a computer can etch (in negative) the lines of the old print into a new copper plate. Finally, a computer can take a digital photo of the print and reproduce it on paper, but in this case, no pressmarks will be seen. D's print has "pressmarks," the slight pressure indentions made when the paper is forced upon the plate.
Why this makes a difference is in the value. If the print is original to the 17th century, it's worth $8,000. If the print is a 20th century restrike from the original plate, the print is worth $400 to $500. If it is a photomechanical reproduction on laid paper, it's worth $175.
Finally, prints describing magnificent scenes of royal happenings in the 17th century had lavish titles, set into a box into one of the top corners. This was done for two reasons: one, because the piece was commissioned by a nobleman who wanted his name on the piece, and, two, the print was not made to be hung (as they are today) but viewed in a series to tell a story (of a procession, or a life, or an event). Such narrative prints were proudly displayed in leather-embossed portfolios. D's print was one of a series of scenes of Venice that involved regattas that included the noble marcheses of the day. If you remember your Venetian nautical history, the size of your boat mattered! (Think "The Merchant of Venice").
The last element of proof of age is the most difficult: this is the size of the paper upon which the print was originally struck in the 17th century. When we appraise prints, we state two sizes — the size the image occupies and the size of the paper sheet. D's print was struck in two versions: one with the marchese's name in a frame top left, and one without the frame and name. Look at auction records of prints in this same edition (same image, from the same date) that give both the site size and the sheet size. Yes, sheets have been trimmed over the years; find the largest and you can assume that is the sheet size.
D's print is framed, and he is not sure he wants to harm a frame job that cost him plenty.
When curiosity overwhelms D, he will dismount the piece, look for a watermark, look at the back of the print to see if the inks have bled (old inks tend to be less even) and measure the sheet size. Judging from the color of the paper, unless D's print was housed in an acid-free portfolio out of the air and light for more than 300 years (which is possible), it may be a 20th century restrike. The value of that is $400 to $500.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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