Are Antique Prints A Good Investment ?

"Well, in a nutshell, yes and not only in a financial sense, but also as a wonderful investment in continual enjoyment over many years while they grow in value. How quickly that happens varies and so it is a bit like the stock market. Whilst it is true that antiques never lose their value in the long term, some gain more quickly than others." 1

Basically anything that is of good quality, attractive to the eye and in as near to original condition as possible is classified as a desirable item. An item that bears the mark of age and has acquired an attractive patina will always have a better resale value than one that has been over-restored. This is not to say that restorations should not be carried out, but over restoration is not advisable. Antiques in general are valuable because they are just that " antique, and showing over a hundred years or more of age. " They have that indefinable Ďfeelí of age."2

The fact is that most of the print-making processes that produced antique prints are no longer used. The last bastion of the engravers trade was in banknote and stamp plates. Due to modern technology we now have photographic images on stamps and "plastic" (our Australian) banknotes. These lost techniques recorded human and natural history and discoveries in the frontiers long before the use of a "photograph".

The engraving of a copper-plate or the creating of a lithograph image on Bavarian limestone, would take days if not months. Then there was the actual inking up and printing of the plate, often followed by the hand colouring process (if the work was produced before the development of techniques such as George Baxterís process of printing in colour exhibited at the Londonís Great Exhibition in 1851). These costly procedures were a major employer in past centuries. The general populace, who was growing in literacy and curiosity, wanted to have access to new printed works of words and illustrations.

The publishing industry was producing as many items as they could sell profitably. In a world populated by significantly fewer people, and transport being far less fluid than it is today, meant, that in modern terms fewer images were taken off each engraved or lithographic plate (today thousands of images are photographically produced when, at that time, only 50-300 prints produced in this labour intensive way, were guaranteed to sell. ) Today these antique "snapshots of history" are relatively few. As with John Gouldís "Birds of Australia" and George French Angasí "South Australia Illustrated" (of which only 250 hand coloured lithographs were taken off each plate before being cleaned for further use) modern techniques of laser printing etc. have been employed to create more of these images at much less cost, so care needs to be taken when purchasing if indeed an original mid 19th century lithograph is what you actually desire.

This quote from 19th century art critic John Ruskin is a good one to keep in mind.

"Itís unwise to pay too much,
But itís worse to pay too little.
When you pay too much, you
lose a little money - thatís all.
When you pay too little, you
sometimes lose everything,
Because the thing you bought
was incapable of doing the job
you bought it to do.
The common law of business
balance prohibits paying a
little and getting a lot;
it canít be done.
If you deal with the lowest
bidder, itís well to add
something for the risk you run,
and if you do that you will have
enough to pay for something

John Ruskin, (1819-1900 )
English author, art critic.

1. Heather Vickery "Antiques-Enjoyable investments", Antiques & Art in Victoria, February 2000 p.252. As above

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