Antique prints are considered by many collectors to be true works of art. And I agree! The colors and attention to detail in the antique prints are sublime!  On my first trip to Paris, I wandered along the book and art stalls along the Seine, and was smitten.  I bought my first portfolio of hand colored fashion prints then {I literally had to BEG to buy all of them – French sellers can be so quirky!!} and hand carried them back home and to the shop on the plane. Let’s explore Collecting Antique Prints!


Ever since the invention of the movable-type printing press in Europe by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450, prints were a way to display knowledge and beauty very effectively. Initially only for the very rich, prints were expected to be of the very best quality, with precise engraving, hand coloring,and printed on the finest luxury quality paper. Eventually, prints became more affordable for the middle classes, and the quality varied from one printing company to the next. Still, antique prints have no rival in quality or beauty, even today.

Collecting Antique Prints

Collecting Antique Prints



{there are more but I’m just going over the basics, most of the prints we sell at FrenchGardenHouse are one of these 3 types.}




The oldest way of making a print, the oldest dated engraving is from 1446. Engravings were made with metal plates, the artist engraved {carved} an image on the plate with a sharp engraving tool. The image for the print couldn’t be very detailed, depending on the number of lines and also the thickness of the engraved lines. Shading was done with fine cross hatching. To create a print, ink was applied, the plate was wiped off with a cloth so that only the carved or etched lines would still have the ink. The plate would then be pressed on paper, creating a print.  The more prints that were made with the metal plate, the more worn the lines would become, which is why sometimes the same print can be much less crisp in a later dated printing.


Collecting Antique Prints





Popular after the 1820’s, lithography’s biggest attraction was that drawing on stone was almost like drawing on paper for the artist. The artist would draw on polished lime stone using a waxy lithographic pencil or crayon. Black ink would be rolled over the stone, and that ink would only stick to the wax areas, not the stone itself. The stone would then be pressed onto paper, forming the “drawing” which could then be colored in by hand.

Antique lithographs have a softer, more flowing appearance compared to engraved prints. Tiny speckles can be seen a magnifying glass because the printing surface was limestone.


Collecting Antique Prints



Invented around 1830, chromolithography was the first multi-color printing method. Basically the same thing as lithography, with one difference in that other printing stones were used to apply each color to selected parts of the picture. Prints with many colors needed a lot of stones and very careful aligning, this method eventually went out of fashion due to the very high cost in making them.

Chromolithography has colors unbeatable even today, they are still vibrant and gorgeous over 100 years later! This is how most Victorian illustrations and cards were made.






First and foremost, because they are beautiful! Unsurpassed in quality, they really are a fabulous value.  To create a print like these today would cost more, a lot more, than what it costs to buy antique prints.

Antique prints not only beautify your home, they can tell your personal story.  Many of our clients collect prints that have a personal meaning to them. They collect prints with a theme, such as fashion, or an era they are particularly fond of.  Collecting prints from a certain time really brings to life history, and the way people lived. One of our clients has a collection of farm animal prints, because her grandparents and parents had a farm, she lives in a very luxurious New York apartment, her antique prints in her office remind her of the farm, and being a little girl there.


antique etchings


Another client collects antique fashion prints. He and his wife own a clothing company, and their hallway in their country home is lined with gorgeous hand colored fashion prints from the late 1800’s to the early 1920’s. So fun!  Their print collection is focused on a theme, and a theme is what gives your collection of antique prints coherence, making it a collection rather than just a group of prints. Collecting prints with a subject you love – eggs – fashion – nature – etc. makes your collection of antique prints meaningful to you, and hopefully to your family too.



Collecting Antique Prints




First, I think a little knowledge is a good thing. {I know, it’s not what is usually said.}  Learning more about how prints are made gives you an understanding about what is an original, and why it costs what it does. Learning about the history of printing and the process will help you appreciate the prints you have, and will help you decide what to add to your collection.

Some prints are rare, and you’ll have to pay a premium for those, others are not as rare, and those will be much more affordable. Buy prints from someone you trust!  I’ve seen plenty of prints, even  in auction houses, that are not authentic antique prints but reproductions.


Collecting antique prints is great fun, and more than the hunt, it’s an affordable way to have original art in your home that not many other people will have! No matter what, buy prints in good condition, buy prints you love, and prints showing something that you are interested in.   Most of all, frame your prints and hang them in your home! One print is beautiful, but a group of them together are a statement!


shop art

Antique prints, do you love them and have you considered them as art for your home?





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