There is often information of the backs of prints that tells us about the earlier history of the print. For example, many collectors have been in the habit of stamping their prints with their own identifying mark. Knowing how to identify these marks can tell you about the provenance (history of ownership) of the print. There is a standard dictionary of collector's stamps that helps identify these marks (Frits Lugt, Les Marques de Collections de Dessins et d'Estampes
, Amsterdam, 1921, and the Supplément
, 1956). Here are a few macrophotographs of collector's marks from prints in the collection of the Spencer Museum of Art:
Three collector's stamps are visible in this detail from the back of Lucas van Leyden's engraving, The Return of the Prodigal Son. The larger stamp to the left (Lugt Supplement, no. 1561a) is the collector's mark of Max Kade (1882-1967) whose donation to the Spencer Museum of Art forms the backbone of our old master print collection. The middle stamp (Lugt no. 94) belongs to Atherton Curtis and his wife Louise Burleigh Curtis who collected during the second half of the 19th century in New York and who authored several books on printmaking. The stamp to the right (Lugt no. 119) is the stamp of the important French print editor and publisher Ambroise Firmin-Didot (1790-1876). These collector's marks tell us that the print passed through the collections of Firmin-Didot, the Curtises and Max Kade, almost certainly in that order. Lugt gives a great deal of detailed information on each of these collectors.
Collector's marks can be quite complex, as in this example identified with the collection of Louis Galichon (1829-1893, Lugt no. 1061). This example is also on the back of the Spencer Museum's impression of Lucas van Leyden's engraving, The Return of the Prodigal Son.
It is not always possible to identify a collector's mark with certainty. The mark with the letters "A" and "B" flanking a flower is very similar to Lugt, Supplément no. 79b, the mark of Dr. Albert Blum (1882-1952). It is probably a variant of Blum's mark. The other mark "Sammlung Dr. B." (Dr. B. Collection) is not in Lugt at all, but it could also be a mark of Dr. Blum. These appear on the back of an impression of Dürer's Betrayal of Christ from the Engraved Passion of 1508.
This is one of the more famous collector's marks. It is the hand written signature of Pierre Mariette II (1634-1716, Lugt no.1790) a member of an important family of print dealers. This example is found on a print by Jan Sadeler (Lazarus in the House of the Rich Man).
Many older prints made use of standardized expressions that indicated who authored the composition, who executed the print itself, who published it, and if the print enjoyed any form of copyright protection. Many of these abbreviations, which are usually in Latin or French, are given in the back of A. Hyatt Mayors' Prints and People, a Social History of Printed Pictures
(New York, 1971). This convention became especially common during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when many professional printmakers and print publishers worked to reproduce important paintings and drawings in the medium of engraving. Here are two examples, both taken from a print by Jan Sadeler (Lazarus in the House of the Rich Man
) in the Spencer Museum of Art:
This line tells us that the engraving reproduces ("is after") a composition by Basano, and that the engraving itself was done by Jan (Ioannes) Sadeler. The horizontal lines over "et" in "invet" and over "a" in "Ioa" tell us that letters have been omitted there. "Invet" actually stands for "invenit," which anglophones can imagine stands for "invented it," "Ioa" stands for "Ioannes", and "sc" stands for "sculpsit" or "carved it," that is, engraved it.
This line tells us that the print enjoyed an early form of copyright known as a privilege. The full text was probably meant to read: "Cum Privilegio Sacrae Cesareae Majestatis," indicating that the print was protected in Germany and Austria.
The publisher's "signature" can be seen in this detail of a print by Jacob Gole from a series of the Five Senses. The inscription (beneath the elegantly engraved title of the print "de Smaak," or "Taste") tells us that the print was published by Nicolas Visscher and that it enjoys a privilege.
Probably the most important publisher in Northern Europe in the sixteenth century was Hieronymous Cock. Cock ran a publishing house in Antwerp at the sign of "The Four Winds" (in French: "Aux Quatre Vent," in Flemish: "In de Vier Winden"). This is an inscription on an engraving by Philip Galle after a design by Pieter Bruegel showing the virtue of Prudence. The inscription "H. Cock Excu-" indicates the Hieronymous Cock was the publisher.
Artists often mark their prints with an identifying monogram. The monogram may be incorporated into the print itself or added latter as a separate stamp. Sometimes the publisher and printer also add their identifying marks to a print.
Albrecht Dürer's monogram incorporating his initials "A" and "D" is probably the most famous and most copied of printmakers' monograms. This is Dürer's monogram as he engraved it in his Betrayal of Christ
of 1508 from the Engraved Passion
Hendrik Goltzius' monogram clearly follows Dürer's precedent of combining initials and date on a cartouche. This particular print, Goltzius' masterful Circumcision of 1594, emulates Dürer's engraving style as well.
James Abbott Mcneill Whistler's monogram, seen here on his etching The Garden
of 1880, is an abstracted image of a butterfly. He often trimmed his prints right up to the plate mark, except for one small tab of paper on which to put this characteristic butterfly monogram, often, as here, with the abbreviation "imp." (impressit, or "printed it"). The butterfly monogram can also be made out on the wall to the left of the doorway in this etching.
Félix Buhot's stamped monogram incorporates his initials and an owl. This example is from a beautiful print of a bronze spirit from his series Japonisme
of 1888 that was printed on yellow Chinese paper.
This is Helen Hyde's monogram as it appears on her woodcut New Year's Day, Tokyo
of 1914. Hyde was an important artist from the United States who participated in the enthusiasm for Japanese prints around 1900. Her monogram takes on the form of a signature and seal on a traditional Japanese woodcut.
Many recent prints have an embossed "chop mark" to identify the printer, the publisher, or both. These marks appear in the margins of the print. This is the chop mark of the Lawrence Lithography Workshop in Lawrence, Kansas. From this we also know that the print was printed by the shop's master lithographer, Mike Sims.
This page is designed to illustrate some of the common conservation problems encountered with works of art on paper. Click on the thumbnail for a larger image. For an in depth discussion of many of these problems we recommend:
Margaret Holber Ellis, The Care of Prints and Drawings, Nashville (AASLH Press), ca. 1987.
Willem Jacobz Delff
Portrait of Johannes Uytenbogaert