Adventures of the Antiques Detective… the ’1861′ Pony Express Print…
Last Weekend I purchased two ‘historic’ framed prints. One was a Pony Express print, dated July 1, 1861, and the other was a Railroad print. The frames were old, dirty, and the glass had black paint slopped onto it.
My assumption was that they were older ‘decorative’ prints and I purchased them accordingly. My initial inspection of the prints also indicated that they were some sort of reprint or reproduction. So I progressed with the idea that each print was going to have to prove to me that it was an ‘original’.
When I initially inspected the prints, I did not intend to write about the process. A bit into the inspection I did several Google searches for ‘identification of reproduction prints’. When I didn’t find anything that was particularly useful, I decided to describe my personal identification process.
Obviously the best evaluation would be to have a print that is known to be an original and then just compare the two. I didn’t have that option, so first I took the Pony Express print out of its frame to examine it. It had a corrugated cardboard backer – not brand new, but certainly not ’1861′ old. There were no bubbles or deformities in the glass which would have indicated that the glass was old. Still the print could have been old and framed later…
Next, I used a ten power magnifying glass to look at the prints – I could clearly see a series of printing dots. I thought: ‘that’s it, I’ll research when these dots were first used in the printing process. It will be after 1861 and that will prove that this print is a reproduction.’ The research indicated that there was work on the use of dots in the 1860′s but the real use began in the 1870′s. Absolute proof of age, one way or the other… not really, but leaning heavily toward reproduction.
The real indicator was that the background “cream” color was made up by these dots – not by age. The dots were the same size and were evenly spaced in the middle of the print. Then the dots got larger (and therefore closer together) toward the edges which produced a darker color – an instant aged appearance. Further there would have been no reason to print a background color on a poster in 1861.
Further the paper that the Pony Express Advertisement was printed on was newer than the 1861 date. It had a smooth surface and the texture was too fine to be over 150 years old.
During my research I also found a Pony Express Advertisement attributed to the Nevada Historical Society. It was very similar to my print but there were some differences that were easy to see… first there was no color on the Nevada Historical Society piece.
It seems that my Print is not even a reproduction of an original advertisement. It was designed to appear to be an advertisement… and just as I originally suspected, it is no more than a decorative piece… so I’ll mark it as such and hang it in the Western Display area of Shady Lawn Antiques.
I was pretty certain that this print was not authentic from my initial examination of it. However when I have time, I will often do this type of research/evaluation just to improve my knowledge. I hope that you found the process I went through to be interesting…