Collecting Prints and Photographs

Frank Lyons
Glenwood Manor Antiques Center

Print and photograph collecting are among the most fascinating areas of the visual arts. Those who have not started collecting are sometimes deterred from doing so by the jargon and obscure references which people in the art world seem to use. Some limited technical language is inevitably needed to help define the criteria which distinguishes the good from the indifferent and the superb from the good. However, the specific use of a few already familiar words are more than enough to get started; and asking questions is the secret to knowledge. Perhaps the most important question to answer is, “Why collect?” The best advice is always: because it’s enjoyable, because you like it, because it strikes your fancy. That is, buy what you like. Buy art the way you would purchase anything else you are going to use – something to enjoy, and something that pleases you each time you look at it. Hence, avoid the impulse to buy as an “investment.” That requires far more information than can be provided here; and as with investing in other areas, one should seek professional advice.

Great artists have made prints and photographs, not only so that their images could enjoy a wider audience, but also because of the imaginative aspects of the processes involve creative techniques. The technical disciplines and formulation required are different than those of painting and sculpture, for instance.

Nonetheless, print and photograph collecting are highly respected areas of art collecting. It is also an enjoyable exercise in taste and discrimination because the cost of many items is low relative to the rest of the art market. There are bargains to be found in antique shops and galleries, but, again, buy what you like and you will find a theme develop in your personal collection. Many artists’ works have been reproduced again and again.  If a specific reproduction grabs your interest, it may not add significantly to dollar value of your collection, but if you like the image, that’s what counts. A favorite black and white Picasso poster image of “Don Quixote” is hardly enhanced in its original drawing state over the millions of reproduced images. It’s a great artwork in whichever form it is viewed. Its greater significance to the collector who owns just a ‘cheap reproduction’ of it is that most of that collector’s other bold, black and white photos, prints, and posters are original images that exemplify similar artistic flair, technique, etc., but comprise a uniqueness all their own in that personally significant and now somewhat valuable collection.

Connoisseurship in collecting will develop as you collect and learn more, focusing on your collection. You will find it growing in value. If it’s birds you like, you may stumble over an undiscovered Audubon print or a more lesser known, but significant artist. Hunting for rare finds or a good bargain is part of the fun of collecting. The more you look, the more you will learn. Ask questions, read about the prints you enjoy and already own. Learn about the different techniques involved in creating the images; and keep visiting antique shops like Glenwood Manor Antiques, asking questions, questions, and more questions.

Frank Lyons (author of article) is a dealer at the Glenwood Manor Antiques Center, who specializes in Prints.