Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Yachting Adventure

Yachting is perhaps the grandest of American pasttimes.  So, inevitably, antiques related to yachting are both rare and coveted.  To be honest, I rarely stumble across any yachting or even nautical antiques worthy of a purchase.  That said, my luck changed on this last weekend.  I was in a coastal town on the mid-atlantic in one of my favorite antique stores which I visit probably once a month.  A young couple runs the place and they make a living "doing house clean outs".  While I have never had a major find in his shop, I have a good rapport with the owners.  Last Saturday, I went in with my parents. 

My father was immediately struck by a watercolor behind the counter of sailboats.  It was a lovely..Boats at anchor in the pale peach of sunset.  The painting was signed E. Bienvenuti.  So, the shop owner knocked a few bucks off the price and my Dad pulled the trigger.  Good for him.  Meanwhile, during the transaction, the shopkeeper mentioned some old nautical prints out in his van that he hadn't had the chance to bring inside yet.  My parents disappeared down the street.  I hung back waiting to check out the prints.  Once the shop cleared out, we headed out and he opened up the back of his white van, something of a rolling antique shop, stuffed full of interesting tidbits.  Anf there it was.

Frederic Cozzens' American Yachts
Laid in the back was a portfolio of Frederic Cozzens chromolithographs.  And this was easy to discern because the title page was there stating, "AMERICAN YACHTS A SERIES OF WATERCOLOUR SKETCHES", and in somewhat smaller yet still giant text, "BY FREDERIC S. COZZENS".  It wasn't clear to me the shopkeeper knew what he had..  I had just brokered the purchase of an original Cozzens watercolor at an estate sale about three months earlier, so I was intimately familiar with his auction record for originals and prints.  This stack included five chromolithographs from the 1884 series by Scribners.  I asked my friend how much, and there was some discussion of price until a deal was struck.  I paid and headed jubilently to catch up with my parents.

One problem I immediately faced was that I really wasn't positive that this particular edition was a good one.  Prints are funny animals.  Most of them are garbage and occasionally you find something worth your time.  So, arriving home, I started the process of identifying them which was simple since I had the title page and the labels to lead the way.  I immediately found the print "Ice Boating on the Hudson" in a clip from Antiques Roadshow.  Their estimate was that these prints are worth about $1,800 each.  Suffice it to say, a minor profit will be made once the prints are fully restored and framed. 

"Signal Chart" by Frederic S. Cozzens
A second problem: the prints were in awful condition.  They were very very dirty as if they had been in an old attic for half a century or more..  The original backing boards and labels were mostly all there and the paper itself was in good condition..  They were just extremely dirty.  So, off to the conservator.  A herculean effort later, the first print emerged and the difference was clear.  What at first seemed irreparable now was not only viewable, but was a result that I personally would be proud to display in my home.  The first one finished was the "Signal Chart", one of the rarer images from the set.  The "Signal Chart" is a beautiful image that shows the flags from 60 American yacht clubs.  Any of these clubs or sailors belinging to them would treasure such a beautiful print.  On the left above, you can see the dirty image, and at right is the conserved image.  The difference is stark.

The project is ongoing, but once complete, these massive and important chromolithographs will be for sale in my shop.  I haven't decided whether to sell these as individuals or as a single lot, but either way, in about a month or perhaps a bit less, they will be in the section "Paper Ephemera".

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