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Early 20th Century Hand-Colored Photography: Wallace Nutting

Early 20th century hand-colored photography and Wallace Nutting pictures in particular have become increasingly popular with collectors in recent years. The number of collectors has been growing, and good quality pictures at reasonable prices have become more difficult to locate.

To understand the hand-colored photography market, you must first understand the Wallace Nutting market and the fact that there are actually three different and distinct segments within the Nutting market. This article will attempt to put the overall market of early 20th-century hand-colored photography in perspective. Future columns will focus more in depth upon each of the leading photographers and segments within this market, as well as on many of the art and art prints of early 20th-century artists and illustrators who were competing with hand-colored photography within the middle-class art marketplace. We will cover the art of Maxfield Parrish, Bessie Pease Gutmann, R. Atkinson Fox, Philip Boileau, Harrison Fisher, and Maud Humphrey, among others.

Wallace Nutting was best known for his hand-colored pictures. He sold literally millions of his platinotypes between 1900 and his death in 1941; by 1925, hardly an American middle-class household was without one.

Nutting was an accomplished author who published nearly 20 books between 1912–1936, including the 19-volume States Beautiful series, various other books on furniture, photography, and clocks, as well as his autobiography. He also contributed many photographs that were published in magazines and other books. As a result of the in-depth research he did for his books, Nutting became widely regarded as “The Father of American Antiques.”

Nutting also became widely renowned for his reproduction furniture. His Massachusetts furniture shop reproduced literally hundreds of different furniture forms: clocks, stools, chairs, settles, settees, tables, stands, desks, mirrors, beds, chests of drawers, cabinet pieces, and treenware, most of which were clearly marked with his distinctive paper label or his hard-to-miss block or script signature, which was literally branded onto his furniture. Today, Wallace Nutting reproduction furniture is almost universally considered to be the finest bench-made reproduction furniture produced in the 20th century and is highly collectible by all levels of collectors. Wallace Nutting pictures, Wallace Nutting books and Wallace Nutting furniture make up three separate and distinct markets, each with its own group of collectors and enthusiasts. Synergy, the condition of a product being greater than the sum of its separate parts, is what places Wallace Nutting as the most collectible of all early 20th-century hand-colored photographers. The overall synergy of the Wallace Nutting name has made just about anything Wallace Nutting extremely collectible today. The legion of Nutting collectors has grown significantly in recent years, and as we approach the 21st century, there are more people actively seeking Wallace Nutting pictures than ever before.

In very simple economic terms, when too many people are chasing after too few goods, prices have a tendency to rise. This is exactly what is happening with the Wallace Nutting market today.

It’s not that the number of Wallace Nutting pictures is decreasing. Rather, as the number of collectors has grown, more pictures – usually the best pictures, in the finest condition, are being purchased and held in private collections, which takes them out of circulation.

Because so many collectors are unable to find the rarer pictures in excellent condition, many are paying more for lower quality pictures, while others have decreased the rate at which they buy Wallace Nutting items.

Another result of Wallace Nutting pictures becoming increasingly more expensive and difficult to find is that more collectors have been gravitating to the comparable, increasingly collectible, yet less expensive, pictures of other early 20th-century photographers.

What many collectors are now learning is that although Wallace Nutting was widely recognized as the country’s leading producer of hand-colored photographs during the early 20th century, he was by no means alone. Throughout the country literally hundreds of regional photographers were selling their own brand of hand-colored photographs from their home regions or on their travels.

Wallace Nutting was the unquestioned leader in the field of early 20th-century hand-colored photographers. Starting on a part-time basis in 1898, Nutting worked in Southbury, Connecticut, from 1905-1912 and in Framingham, Massachusetts, from 1912 until his death in 1941. Wallace Nutting pictures are generally the most desirable and collectible of all early 20th-century photographs. His pictures are more readily available to collect and there is a larger variety of Wallace Nutting subjects and topics to collect than those of all other Nutting-like photographers combined, although they’re typically priced higher than any comparable Wallace Nutting-like picture.

Visit Mr. Ivankovich’s site — www.wnutting.com

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