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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Works Of Durer, Schongauer, Mantegna, Sartain, And Others

( Orginally published 1962 )



The convent library contained many books and manuscripts of all sizes and shapes, and anyone who looked through the large collection could halfway expect to find a rare book or lost manuscript-but this time they found neither a rare book nor an expensive manuscript but rather something which had been pasted to the inside of one of the manuscripts.

It was a lost woodcut, one of the finest in the world. Dated 1423, and therefore one of the first of the woodcuts or engravings to appear in Europe, it represented Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers and a popular subject in the days when it was made.

The engravings and woodcuts of that day were often crude and rough, but sometimes they were great works of art, and lucky is the treasure hunter who finds one which fits into this category of fine art.

Most of these early woodcuts, made by impressing inked wood on paper, represented some form of Biblical scene, or episodes from the lives of the saints, but slowly this art form turned away from the Biblical toward the more mundane aspects of the everyday life of the people. Even books began to use pictures as an aid in instruction in reading.

Cologne, Augsburg and Nuremberg were prominent centers for these earlier wood engravings, and examples of this art have been spread and lost throughout the world. One of the earliest and certainly the most famous of the engravers of this period was Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). He was German, and in his home town of Nuremberg, woodcuts and engravings were a very popular form of art expression.

Durer created both copper engravings and woodcuts, and he also made book illustrations, coats-of-arms and, during his very early years, line drawings, which he sold to armorers and silversmiths.

If you should find a woodcut or engraving which you think might have been made by Durer during his younger years, have it checked carefully. During his early years he worked of necessity surrounded by other people, and doubt is cast upon many of the woodcuts and engravings from this period of his life. Some of them are genuine, of course, but some of them are considered to be of questionable authorship.

Durer did have one way, however, of signing many of his works which is of great help to the treasure hunter in ascertaining their authenticity. This was the Albrecht Durer monogram, in which the A is comparatively large and straddles a smaller D. Watch for this monogram, because it is important.

One of the most famous examples of the extant work of Durer is in the Apocalypse printed in 1498, only six years after Columbus discovered the new world.

In this work is one woodcut which is especially famous, "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." It was made to illustrate a part of the "Book of Revelations," and in 1498, the year the woodcut was made, Durer's wife sold copies of it at country fairs. No one knows how many of these copies are missing, but certainly there should be at least a few left in someone's attic or old trunk or pasted in the pages of a book. Nor is there a definite value for these copies. The trick is to find a collector who really wants them.

They certainly are worth a great deal-if you find the right collector. But anything by Durer is worth watching for, and any of these early woodcuts are worth your time and trouble.

There are also other engravers whose works you should watch for, such as Martin Schongauer (1445?-1491) and Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506).

These masters, however, are not the only ones, for the arts of woodcutting and engraving moved westward to the new world and also early American woodcuts and engravings are among the items that the treasure hunter should watch for.

Many early American artists were famous in this field: Sartain, who introduced mezzotint to America; Benson John Lossing, who, among other things, did illustrations for the Family Magazine; Alexander Anderson, who made the first wood engravings in the United States and whose illustrations included such items as plates for Shakespeare's plays and Webster's Elementary Spelling Book. He also did work for Thomas Bewick's Birds and for Charles Bell's Anatomy.

Also there was Peter Maverick, who made engravings of Dunlap's painting of Benjamin Moore and Charles King's painting of Henry Clay. Asher Brown Durand was also one of these early American artists whose engravings should be watched for. He created many works, including some which he made by copying prints from books, as well as an engraving of Trumbull's Declaration of Independence.

One other, and probably the most well known of these artists, was Paul Revere, who engraved on copper. The name Revere, if you can find it on an engraving, speaks for itself, for there is nothing that Revere made that does not have value to the collectors.

The name Revere is so well known today that it needs no further explanation. This is also true of the prints by Currier and Ives. There have been so many copies of these prints made that it is doubtful that there is a family in America which does not have, or at least at one time had, a Currier and Ives copy hanging on the wall.

What most people do not realize, however, is that the "originals" of these copies are today very rare. They are also very expensive. There are all kinds of Currier and Ives prints to watch for, because they made so many of them-over four thousand prints signed with their names.

They were prints of almost every phase of American life-snow scenes, holiday scenes, railroads, disasters, ships, etc. Over four thousand of them-enough to make the treasure hunter's chances of finding an original pretty good.

If you should find an old print, etching, engraving, or woodcut, take it to an expert. The value of these items depends on so many variables-the date, the condition, the artistry of the man who made it. All of these variables make the hunt for etchings, engravings, woodcuts, and prints similar to taking a chance in a lottery. Sometimes you make a hit and sometimes you don't-but the chances for a long shot are good-if you look long enough and hard enough, and have just a little bit of luck.

Remember that these works could be anywhere at all, like the Revere engraved copperplate which was found in, of all places, a junk pile all the way across the ocean from where Revere first made it: in Scotland!