Old Paper Watermarks Manuscript Collection Number: 360
Accessioned: Purchase, March 1998.
Extent: 1 vol.
Hunting for a rare find is part of the fun of collecting old prints. But first your eye must be trained to recognize value. A good way to begin is by visiting museums, libraries, and galleries specializing in old prints—places where you know you're looking at the genuine article. Ask questions. Read reference books about the areas or artists you like best. Next, buy a couple of inexpensive prints to start your collection. You may want to frame them, but first, examine them carefully. Notice the feel, the patina, the aroma of an old print. Look for indications of hand printing such as the impression from the printing press or ink smudges, signs of age, the quality and texture of the paper. Hold them up to a strong light and look for a watermark in the paper, the kind you find in quality stationary. Run your (clean) hand across to feel what's there. Studying the reference books and viewing exhibits is invaluable, but hands-on experience is a must as well.
Like to solve mysteries? Try to determine if a print is an actual antique or a modern reproduction. With today's marvelous printing capabilities it is relatively easy to make exact duplicates of any original old print. But you can learn to tell the difference. Frequently a magnifying glass will reveal the regular pattern of dots on a modern photographic reproduction. Look for signs that an old print would exhibit: wear and tear, spilled printer's ink, a smudge, slightly misapplied watercolor, a plate mark, or a watermark. Compare to a known original. Again, the more you focus on and know about a particular genre, artist or medium that captures your interest, the better off you'll be.
produces a digital infrastructure for the expertise and history of paper based on images visualizing the paper's structure. The individual ressources are databases of watermarks and other anotated features, image measurement software, contextual resources for cartography and bibliography, and an integrated workspace. Additionnaly the Consortium organizes tutorials and an exhibition on paper studies.
Watermarks are known to have existed in Italy before the end of the 13th century. Two types of watermark have been produced. The more common type, which produces a translucent design when held up to a light, is produced by a wire design laid over and sewn onto the sheet mold wire (for hand made paper) or attached to the "dandy roll" (for machine-made paper). The rarer "shaded" watermark is produced by a depression in the sheet mold wire, which results in a greater density of fibers--hence, a shaded, or darker, design when held up to a light. Watermarks are often used commercially to identify the manufacturer or the grade of paper. They have also been used to detect and prevent counterfeiting and forgery.
In previous blogs I have looked at the subject matter which appears in old prints, as well as the processes used to make them. Another important aspect of old prints is the paper upon which the impressions are made, so today we’ll take a look at this subject.
Prints have been made on papyrus, vellum, silk and other materials, but the vast majority of antique prints are made on paper. The quality and content of the paper has varied considerably over the years. Until the nineteenth century, paper was almost exclusively made from rags (primarily cotton or linen) which were soaked and stirred in vats until the fibers separated into a pulpy mixture that could be used to make sheets of paper. In the nineteenth century, wood pulp paper was developed, which used wood fibers. The wood pulp was created either by mechanical means (first developed about 1840) or shortly thereafter by chemical processes.
Thoyts wrote "Finding no work on old paper exists, I set to work to collect the watermarks, beginning with those on the old family papers now at Worthenbury Rectory"; she also noted on the front endpaper "...
By 1903, Thoyts had married John Hautenville Cope, who had helped to write The Victoria History of Berkshire (1906). "Old Paper Watermarks" includes an introductory five pages of notes and numerous sketches of watermarks.
Rag paper is still being made but today the majority of paper is made from wood pulp, which is easier and less expensive to produce. Rag paper, however, is significantly superior. The fabric fibers are longer than wood fibers, which makes rag paper stronger. Also, wood pulp paper is usually acidic, which causes it to deteriorate over time, and also it contains significant amounts of lignin, which reacts to light and oxygen by yellowing. Rag paper is naturally non-acidic and it will last without deterioration as long as it is properly handled. This is, of course, why prints that are hundreds of years old are frequently found on almost pristine paper, while prints that are less than a century old are often brown and brittle.
There were two general types of processes used to made the paper pulp into sheets of paper. The first process creates what is called “laid paper.” Laid paper is made by the paper pulp being poured into a mold made of a wooden framework with a wire mesh on the bottom. Laid paper was made by hand and the size of the sheets limited by the practical size of the wooden mold. The way that laid paper can be recognized is by the pattern that is impressed into the paper by the wire mesh. If you hold up a sheet of laid paper to the light, you can see the pattern of the wires (called chain lines), which usually will have very closely spaced lines with crossing lines at wider intervals. The fact that the wire mesh makes a pattern in laid paper led paper makers to attach wire designs, such as crests, dates or initials, to the mesh. This creates a matching design in the paper, called a “watermark,” and this can be used to help determine the date or manufacturer of the paper used in a print. It should be noted, however, that fake chain lines and watermarks can be put into sheets that are not actually laid-paper.
There are many different types of 19th century (or earlier) antique prints. They can generally be divided into two classes: those made from metal printing plates and those made from stones. From metal plates we get engravings, etchings, aquatint, and mezzotints. Most of these will show a tell-tale indentation in the paper corresponding to the outline of the plate. From stones we get lithographs. All of these may be finished by hand with watercolor. The aquatint engravings of The Birds of America by John James Audubon are beautiful examples of early hand coloring, and today are among the most valuable antique prints in existence, as well as among the largest. Each print was pulled from the press with the image in black and white. After drying, each was completely hand colored by an expert colorist using watercolor to match Audubon's original watercolor paintings. This was done after the master engraver painstakingly worked the design into a flat sheet of copper, line-by-line, inch-by-inch. The entire process was a very tedious and time-consuming one. Consequently, the resulting prints were expensive in their day and are rare and valuable in ours.
If a Salvador Dali print has a watermark consisting of the word "ARCHES" with an infinity sign (sideways '8') beneath, the print is a fake. Dali used ARCHES brand paper, but in 1980 ARCHES added the infinity sign to the watermark. 1980 was past Dali's working career and Dali himself stated that he never used the 'infinity' paper. While this watermark is easily identified, some enterprising forgers and dealers, picked the 'infinity' paper where the watermark was near an edge so they could conveniently cut off the infinity.A simple rule of thumb for collectors, is to make sure that you buy a Dali print on Aches paper where the watermark is entirely on the paper and away from an edge.
For John James Audubon's large size "Birds of America" prints, the presence of a "J. Whatman" watermark is strong evidence that the print is original. No known reprints or later restrikes are on paper with that watermark.