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Fine Rare Prints

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Antique Prints

What is an Antique Print?

An antique print is one that was made more than one hundred years ago.

At top antique fairs we have attended, such as the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair in London, items must usually be at least 100 years old to be classed as antique. However, original prints made before about 1940 may be considered to be antique if they were not mass produced. In contrast, vintage prints are usually considered to be those made between 1940 to 1980.

Have you wondered when an antique print you've seen was made? Here are our tips for dating antique prints. We would need to write a book to cover all the nuances, but these tips are a good starting point.

Tips for dating antique prints

Years 1460 - 1700

  • Prints mostly had thick ink lines as most were made with woodcuts
  • This was the Renaissance era so prints were often about religion or classical subjects such as ancient Rome
  • Not many prints from this era were colored
  • The paper was usually very thick and uneven as it was hand made in small quantities
  • Here's an example showing the imperial baths in Rome. Click the picture to see more:

antique print of ancient rome from 1690s


Years 1650 - early 1800s

  • This was an era of exploration so prints of foreign animals and plants were popular. Many were amusingly unrealistic, as the artists had rarely seen real specimens
  • Prints were mostly made from engraved copper plates. Prints had stronger plate marks as higher pressure was needed to print, and more detail as finer engraving lines were possible
  • The paper was usually thick and uneven as it was hand made
  • Here's an example. Click the picture to see more:

antique print from early 1800s


Years 1800 - 1850

  • Prints of animals, plants and travels were popular and more realistic
  • The paper tended to be thinner as it started to be machine-made
  • Copper plate engravings were still common, but more expensive prints were produced by lithography, aquatint or stipple engraving
  • Coloring was still mostly done by hand
  • Here's an example. Click the picture to see more:

antique print from early 1800s


Years Mid 1850 - 1900

  • The most common print methods were lithography (speckled appearance) or steel plate engravings (much finer lines than copper)
  • Plate marks were less common as lower printing pressure was needed
  • Printed color became much more common from about 1860 onwards
  • The paper tends to be smoother. One reason is that color lithography printing had been mastered and required smooth paper.
  • Here's an example. Click the picture to see more:

antique print from early 1800s


If you have an antique print that you'd like to know more about read about our antique print appraisal service here.