Magazine Antiques interview on Botanical Prints

Posted: 3/6/2014

Besler Hyacinthus Orientalus, circa 1613Magazine Antiques interview on Botanical Prints.

Barrymore Laurence Scherer, antiques writer in New York, recently contacted Tam  O'Neill of Tam O'Neill Fine Arts in researching an upcoming article. To follow is an excerpt of their discussion.

BLS:     Apart from age, condition and the balance between rarity and demand, are there other criteria that help determine the relative price of prints? 

Besler botanical, Hyacinthus Orientalus, c. 1613

TO:  Pricing for botanical prints is based on a number of factors...the wide range of pricing makes this area especially attractive to new collectors.  It's fairly easy to do the research and see which artists did groundbreaking work which sets their work apart visually and price wise as well.  For example Besler was the first to use expansive folio size sheets to show botanical images, and Dr. Thronton designed really unique full landscape stettings for his botanicals.  That being said there is also quite a bit of work available that is visually compelling that can be had for under $200, and tthen it becomes a matter of personal taste.  Blossfeldt botanical offers great value

BLS:  How can the collector distinguish original hand coloring from modern (or post 1850) hand coloring? How does later hand coloring affect value?

TO:  Because color is an important factor in the identification and appreciation of plants, most botanical works were colored at the time of issue.  Apart from the Hortus Eystettensis by Besler which was for the most part issued uncolored, this is not so much an issue with botanical prints.,  It is a much bigger issue when considering maps and Americana.

BLS:  Do many uncolored prints still come your way?

TO:  On occasion we still see some uncolored Beslers.  We also have a wonderful series of mushroom engravings from the Floridanica that are perfectly charming in black               
and white.  

   Mushroom engraving, Floridanica

BLS:  What about the relative value of first editions of print and subsequent ones?  All things being equal when you encounter prints separated from their original published volumes, in cases where there are known reprintings from the original plates, in what way can these be distinguished from the first editions?  Do late printings of botanicals bear any distinguishing marks or numbers?

TO:  The earliest printing would be most desirable to a collector and would warrant a higher price.  Anytime a work has met with financial success and critical acclaim however there will be a motive to re-issue the plates.  Many times the watermark in the paper, or the type of paper becomes the way to distinguish later editions... the quality of the printing may be better or worse.  Sometimes once the plates are separate from the bound works it becomes a bit tricky to idenitfy.  It can be a little academic, but it is good to have a relationship with the print dealer you do business with so that you can trust them and train your eye to recoginze those nuances. 

BLS:  Are there any important points for new collectors that you would add to these?

TO:  Modern life demands so much time spent looking at electronic devices that antique works of art on paper provide a welcome respite to technology overdose.  As well, I think that the natural history subject matters provide a real connection to the outdoors  that urban dwellers long for.  It's fascinating to look at an original etching pulled by hand and handcolored and think of an artist a hundred and fifty years ago discovering, naming and drawing a new plant or animal.

Brookshaw, Peaches









      George Brookshaw, Pomona Britannica

Hope you will consider the gallery at your service in helping you discover more about collecting botanical prints.



ABOUT Tam O'Neill
Tam O'Neill lives in Denver, Colorado and is an academically trained printmaker who collects, buys, sells and writes about prints.