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Baxter prints are objects of considerable beauty and charm. They represent a particular historic epoch, and, moreover, are steadily increasing in value, but their collection is a somewhat sore subject with me because I have a clear recollection of how many of them have been destroyed in my own childhood and, I am afraid, by myself.
In my nursery at home we had the various numbers of "The Child's Companion," "The Missionary Memorial," "The Missionary Labours of Dr. Robert Moffat"; several of those interesting books by Robert Mudie, such as the ones on the "Feathered Tribes," "The Air," "The Sea" and "The Natural History of Birds"; "Evenings at Home,"by Anna Barbould; Campbell's book on the death of the Rev. John Williams; Williams's own narrative of his missionary enterprise, and more than one example of the Religious Tract Society's "Scripture Pocket-Books." All of these contained illustrations by Baxter, and all of these books were carelessly destroyed by a group of children, of whom I was one. Yet, after all, one has to thank the destructive ingenuity of children for the fact that the Baxter prints have become so rare and are so well worth collecting.
A little later on in my life I remember seeing a copy of Baxter's Pictorial Key to the '51 Exhibition and Baxter's "Gems of the Great Exhibition,"the latter book containing several of his illustrations, the former a list of his prints, and these again were in process of destruction by children. The prints in colour were very attractive, and they often adorned books that possessed only a certain ephemeral interest, with the result that the books were destroyed, the illustrations taken out of them, and many of them, in consequence, have become very scarce.
I have also a distinct recollection of a three-fold screen, composed of canvas, on to which all kinds of illustrations were pasted, and in an old childish scrap-book now before me I find traces of certain of the coloured pictures having been taken out, and I believe they were fastened on to this screen and covered over with a kind of varnish to keep them clean. The screen has of course vanished long ago, and with it the Baxter illustrations, including, I am quite sure, an example of his masterpiece-the Coronation of Queen Victoria, which is now worth a considerable sum, say, perhaps, nearly forty pounds.
Another very rare Baxter print represented the arrival of the Queen to open her first Parliament, and that is just as precious as the Coronation one and as beautiful; the launching of the wooden ship of war, Trafalgar, is another very rare one; but perhaps the rarest of all is one about which it is even doubtful whether it exists-"The Reliance in full sail off Hong-Kong." This is particularly mentioned in a newspaper of 1843 as in existence, but none of the collectors up to the present time, as far as I know, have been able to find it; and if they do succeed in obtaining it, probably all the Baxter prices will go by the board in the demand to obtain this particular thing.
Baxter is dismissed with a word or two in the "Dictionary of National Biography," far more attention being paid to his father ; but he was a great man, the inventor of the oil process of making colour prints and he took infinite pains in their preparation, and produced, not only the first successful prints in colour that possessed any distinctive beauty, but also, in his own particular way, the very best that were ever done.
Baxter prints are marvellous, because his presses were not like the modern ones, which all work with "undeviating exactness," "but they were hand presses and every one of his blocks demanded a separate printing, and some of them as many as ten, fifteen, or even twenty printings, and yet the register is extraordinarily exact and the prints will bear the closest examination with a strong glass and will not suffer under it.
How exactly Baxter executed his prints no one is able to say. We know the working up to a certain point, we appreciate the exquisite quality of the paper, we understand the brilliancy of the colours, but there were many secrets in his process which have never been revealed, and which were not revealed even to those persons who worked after his time, under his licence, such as Bradshaw, Kronheim, Le Blond and Myers, so that their results, fine and delightful as they are, are not as perfect as Baxter's. Some of Le Blond's, however, are well worth collecting, and are excellent examples of fine colour printing.
In 1888 the Baxter plates and blocks passed from Le Blond's hands (he having obtained them from Baxter) into the hands of a Mr. Mockler, and he it was who, in 1893, compiled the first list of Baxter prints and started the Baxter Society. It issued a journal, but it only ran for three numbers and then the society became extinct. Mr. Mockler's collection was sold by auction in 1896, and in that year Mr. Bullock issued his catalogue of Baxter prints, and since that time there have been several catalogues and articles on these wonderful pieces of colour printing. The contents of all of them were, however, summed up by Mr. Courtney Lewis when he issued his manual on Baxter in 1896 and gave a very careful catalogue and description of all the prints of the existence of which he was aware.
This is now the standard book on the subject, and to it all collectors must be referred, because Mr. Lewis not only describes the prints, but speaks about their extraordinary variety, and in many instances tells of the value of them up to his time. Since his day, however, the prices have been considerably augmented, and really fine examples of Baxter prints are worth at least thrice, and perhaps even four times, what they were in 1908.The latest edition is of 1919.
Collectors have to be very careful about varieties: Take, for example, one of the gems of the 1851 Exhibition, the statue of the young girl kneeling and veiled, called "The Veiled Vestal. "It is to be found on a green pedestal, on a red pedestal with a blue background, and with a dark red background; and all these varieties have different values, that with the green pedestal being by far the rarest. The portraits of Queen Victoria, of which there were several, are amongst the most notable, the one called "The Large Queen,"a block 15 1/2 inches by 11 1/2 inches, published about 1859 (a print made by at least twelve printings), is worth from ten to twenty pounds, according to condition; Small Queen, "4 1/2 inches by 3 inches, published about 1850, about half that price; but if on a Baxter mount, very considerably more. There is also a demand for the portraits of Prince Albert, Jenny Lind, Sir Robert Peel, Lord Nelson,the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon III, the Empress Josephine, and the Reverend John Wesley, but the scarcest of all are portraits of Charles Chubb, the wellknown lock manufacturer, and Maria, his wife. It is said that there were not more than about ten or fifteen pairs of these prints finished. Baxter produced them about 1843 or 1844 on the recommendation of Dr. Hoole, of the Wesleyan Missionary Society, who married one of Mr. Chubb's daughters, for the special benefit of the members of the Chubb family, and they hardly ever have been known to come into the market, although collectors are always on the look out for them. A pair last year fetched L700.
Another of the very rare ones is called "The Abolition of Slavery," announced to be published in 1840. It was described in the advertisement and a good many subscriptions were received for it, and as it was to contain 130 portraits of friends of the Abolition Movement, there was a great demand for it. Yet, curiously enough, not one collector can boast of possessing a copy of it.
It may be taken for granted that there are practically no forgeries of these prints. Baxter prints in colour are from Baxter plates or blocks, either made by Baxter himself or his son, or by Brooks or Le Blond, but as to the details that distinguish these various makes the collectors must be referred to the book already mentioned. The prints are much more important if they are on Baxter's own mounts, and if they are signed and dated. The earliest of all is the one called "Butterflies,"which came out in 1829 a book illustration, and now a very rare thing, worth L80 in fine condition. It was probably an experiment, because for five years there was no other example, and then came three representing birds -dippers, grebes, and the eagle and vulture. These also are rare, and as the beginning of a very long series, extending to nearly four hundred prints, they are of particular interest.
Of course, not all Baxter prints are in colours; the best are so, but there are what are called Baxterotypes, which were not in colour (although two of these were by other printers produced actually in colour), and there are some prints in red, somewhat approaching a Bartolozzi red, but not quite the same tone; but what collectors want are the coloured ones, and they should be strongly recommended not to expose them to the light, because they fade, the flesh tints being especially liable to disappear. They should be mounted on sheets of paper, and kept with tissue paper between them so that the fine prints should not be rubbed.
The address on the mounts, by the way, is always Northampton Square. There was a great demand for the various country scenes, and, in consequence, these are rare, and another series that collectors are anxious to get hold of was issued at the time of the Crimean War, and two interesting ones are "News from Home" and "News from Australia," issued at the time of the gold digging excitement.
One of the most beautiful is called "The Small Bride," done from a painting by Miss Corbeaux. Mr.Mockler used to say that only a hundred of it were in existence, but a much later writer spoke of about two hundred and fifty. It was originally issued in a gold and velvet frame, and on a mount,and is a marvellous piece of execution. In its original issue, it is very rare indeed; as a pocket book illustration, it is almost as rare.
There are two others, called the First Impression, which are precious pocket book plates. Some people say that the second plate was not by Baxter at all, and about this there is some controversy.
Two strips, the tops of dexterous, recognisable portraits of the well-known dancers Taglioni and Grisi. Two or three other sets for needle boxes are well worth obtaining, The Regal, The Floral, The Tarantella, and the Greek Dance, and ten oval portraits of Mutiny heroes with Queen Victoria is one of the precious things which collectors are eager to get.
Of the Rev. John Williams, the missionary murdered in the South Seas, there are a number of portraits, at least nine. They are all of them worth obtaining,what is the "Large Williams," a print 15in. by 12 3/3 in., being the most precious of all, although there was one print announced in 1843, very carefully described, which has never been traced; if it could be found, it would be more important than either of the others.
Collectors are eager to get the original pocket books, with the original illustrations in them, and for these they pay quite high prices. The pocket books began in 1847, and they extended on down to about 1858, at varying intervals; some of them were Scripture pocket books, others were called ladies' pocket books, Cabinets of Fashion, Souvenirs, Pocket Journals, Pocket Albums, etc. ; and there are at least twenty pieces of music which bear Baxter's illustrations upon them, I can remember that some of my earliest lessons on the piano were given from Jullien's "Album of Music," on which was a charming illustration by Baxter, called "The Reconciliation."Mr. Lewis says it was printed in eleven blocks. It was issued at about three shillings, and is now easily worth as many pounds, but all the music albums, of which there were many in the nursery where I learned, have long ago passed into the waste-paper basket, to my very great regret.