Rare Printed Silhouette

We thank Bob for the following post! Bob writes:

Found a silhouette today at my favorite Sunday AM weekly flea market that might be of interest to you and your readers.  It is a type discussed previously on this blog.

The head is hollow cut. The bust is block printed, rather than a lithographed.  Furthermore, based upon the examples I own and those I have found in the literature, the lithographed busts are cut and then pasted onto the paper backing from which the silhouette is cut.  The busts which are block printed are not cut and pasted but printed directly onto the paper from which the silhouette is cut.

I've examined the "hair" of my  example very carefully with a loop under a bright light.  I am convinced that it is not an embellishment added using ink, water color or graphite.  It was printed with the bust.  That seems a bit different.

The silhouette is backed with paper that is painted black on one side.
It is housed in a gilt gessoed pine frame which is square nailed together.  The eglomise surround looks "right".  The glass is wonderfully thin and imperfect. It has a thin wood backboard bearing an inscription, "Royal Richardson" in graphite.

There are some obvious condition issues, including a missing corner of the glass and it appears that someone has cut the silhouette round and then attached it to the paper backing with archival tape.  However, judging by shadows, etc, etc, this has all been together for a very long time.  I really do think the frame is original and everything started out together. Even with the condition issues, I purchased the silhouette as it was interesting enough and the price was probably less than the cost of the period frame.

Especially see the entry on this blog of 2/17/12.  Except for the "hair", it appears to be the same printed bust in the example from the CT Historical Society.  For more on this blog about silhouettes with printed busts, see the entries of 7/3/11 and 10/14/12.

Some other references with examples of block printed bodies include Rifken, pages 64-65, example number 24.  Also see "American Folk Portraits: Paintings and Drawings from the AARFAC", pages 245-246, figures 235 and 236.  Of note, see the bust of figure 236.  See your discussion on 10/14/12 about whether Banton used wood block printed busts.  The female bust pictured in figure 235 is virtually identical to the one shown in that posting, too.

B. M. Jones writes:

I like it when collectors (and dealers) do their own research, instead of just asking "what do I have here? can you tell me something about it? kind deal). Bob did a good research here on what he bought.

 His remark about the hair details is interesting. I suppose that is possible, so I checked on mine. My silhouette seems to have hair details drawn with crayon or something similar. It has that thick, shiny, waxy, texture pigment that adheres in chunky flaky way. This must have been a very quick way of adding hair details, as one quick stroke alongside the top of the head would have done it, instead of adding hair-by-hair type detail that would have taken much longer to do.

The frame is certainly period, and the painted glass looks to be a good match to this frame. I don't think the glass is repairable, but it would look a lot better if you would place a black paper behind the fracture (see photo I created). Bob got lucky with it cause the fracture does not penetrate deep into the gold accents; it only brushes off the very top of one. Trick: if you were to cut a black mat so that it would cover the entire glass, except for the opening of course, minor loss of the black paint, along with rubs and light shades of black, can be completely covered up. Believe me, when that's done the gold accents would standout like bright stars on very dark night. It would look outstanding!

Yes, this silhouette has been in this frame for a long (how does one define "long"?) time. The frame is certainly period, but it is not the original frame. There is no question that this silhouette was originally in an oval frame, most likely brass-over-wood frame. My guess that it was reframed when someone added that tape to the backside of the silhouette. I bet you the glass was not broken then. It would be interesting to look at the toning of the black paper to see how the shades differ between the opening of the hollow-cut area and where light did not penetrate through.

I am sure there exit "unfinished" silhouettes of this type somewhere, where the printing is complete, with or without the hair details, but without the hollow-cutting of the head. Of course, no period fool would frame such a headless animal. So, if they do exist, where would one likely find one? That's an interesting thought to ponder. Furthermore, I always believed some of the silhouette artists carted around a bunch of pre-cut silhouettes, and I mean a complete finished silhouettes. Most people don't know what their sideviews (profiles) look like, and I am one of them. When I look at a mirror, I see my frontal view. Thousands of people have seen my profile, expect Uncle Doddy here.

When I was about ten or so, a friend of mine said something quite peculiar to me: I wish I could see myself from the eyes of others. So I told him to look at a mirror. His reply was that it is not the same, as he would then be seeing himself through his eyes. What a philosopher! I was more into pinball machines then and never did understand what he was trying to say until I was much older, and I mean much, much older!

A handful of New England silhouette artists like Chamberlain and Banton, just to mention a few, who worked mostly the backwoods of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, share very similar details in style and manner of hollow-cutting. I just can't believe they worked as independent artists. Some of them may have been peddlers and tinkers, who bought a series of pre-cut silhouettes that were cut from set templates by a jobber. Who that jobber is, I am not 100% but believe that artist to be Banton. I say that because his silhouettes with his embossment are known; I owned two such rarities. As for others, none is found with their embossment. Peddlers and tinkers don't need embossing dies.

Another interesting point to look at is the value of money. Common hollow-cut silhouettes from 1800-1830 or so would have cost 25-50 cents for a pair and a double-pair, depending on how much artists wanted your business in the cities. In the backwoods, they could get away with a single hollow-cut because of lack of competition. I remember I used to get a set of four photos at a photo booth in Woolworth in 1970 for a quarter. Minimum wage then was $1.60. So, four photos for a quarter was cheap, even for this poor kid.

Internet sites say the value of a quarter in 1800 is equal to about $3.00 today, based on inflation. That figure is a bigger lie than the Gulf of Tonkin and the USS Maine incidents. A silver dollar was only worth $12 in today's money back then?? That's like saying average commoner earned five silver dollars a day back then, based on the so-called inflation rate. Forget those numbers! A quarter back then was worth a lot, a lot more than today's $3.00. So, although silhouettes were affordable by the middle-class, they were not cheap, and, certainly, silhouettes were not affordable to those who "scraped" for a living. Instead of buying some useless images of what-the-heck-for, they would have invested in "spirits," not the blessing Holy Spirit kind, although many have blessed such distilled spirits just the same. If those four-for-a-quarter photos costs me ten bucks today, I would not get into that booth. Heck, that's a price of a bottle of cheap bourbon. I would bless this spirit just as they did back then, amen!

Seriously, I believe I am the only one on this planet who really "thinks, figures things out, researches, and forms a definitive conclusion" on antique American silhouettes. Or is it that bottle of $10.00 bourbon that's doing all the tricks for me? You guys and gals can form your own little opinions.

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