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Icart Book

Icart Book

Louis Icart Etchings – Value and Condition

The value or price of an etching by Icart depends on the rarity and desirability of the work. To a collector, the value also depends on its condition. Etchings done before 1920, generally were published in smaller editions, but in many cases are less desirable to collectors and thus have a lower value. Many etchings published after the early 1930s also had a lower publication run, but are more desirable and thus have a higher value. There is no absolute price list for full size etchings, but there are general price ranges.

Of course, to a collector the value depends on the condition and originality of the etching. Paper, under the best of conditions, will degrade with time. Under the worst conditions, it will disintegrate. Think of a newspaper left in the sun for a week, or paper you have found in a damp basement or attic. The paper yellows, becomes brittle, fades and can hardly be handled without damage. What about etchings by Icart that have been framed, and hung in a house for 70 or so years?

To begin with, Icart etchings were fairly common, and could be purchased at good department stores. They were meant to be hung and displayed. The framing styles of the 1920s dictated narrow frames, possibly without mattes. The glass was wavy float glass. The backing materials were likely cardboard, and to make sure there were no wrinkles in the paper, the etching could have been glued to the cardboard. Here are some things that can happen to a work of art framed in the above manner.

1 – Trimmed sheet. Icart etchings were printed on rectangular paper (sheet) that was substantially larger than the image. The part of the sheet between the plate mark and the edge of the paper is called the margin. This margin was probably at least 3″ on most etchings, and may have been as wide as 12″. The side and bottom margins were not necessarily the same width. Because of the narrow frames, the sheets were often trimmed such that a width about equal to the signature was kept surrounding the image. Oval images were put in oval frames and the sheets were trimmed accordingly. The margins served as the matte.

Part of the value of an original etching is its completeness. If the sheet is trimmed, there is something missing from the original work, and the value is decreased. The more that is trimmed, the less the value. An etching where part of the signature is trimmed is worth little to a collector. There is nothing that can be done to restore the trimmed paper, but dealers can make it difficult for you to know if the work is trimmed by selling the work already framed and matted. By doing this, the lack of a margin is covered up. Make sure you ask what the sheet size is and if the sheet has been trimmed.

2 – Acidity and matte burn. When paper is manufactured, it will have additives to allow the ink to transfer easily without running, and to improve the paper quality. The papers Icart used were made for printing and for longevity. They were made from rag and not wood pulp. The color varied from white to off white and cream.

With time, the paper can become acidic, brittle and will darken in tone. This happens when the etching is contacted by materials containing wood products and pulp as are found in cardboard, poor quality matte board, or a wooden backing material. Acidic paper is actually damaged by breaking of chemical bonds that make up the structure of the paper. An etching with moderate matte burn is shown in figure Xa and Plate III. Click here for images and further discussion.

Amazingly, most damage to the paper can be reversed. This is because the cause of the damage is due to a breakdown in the molecular bonding of the cellulose in the paper. The bonding and flexibility of the paper can be restored by soaking the paper in water containing a small amount of buffering agent, and the yellowing can be removed by bleaching the paper. Soaking the paper restores the chemical bonding between cellulous sheets and restores the flexibility to the paper. The size of the sheet may expand slightly during wetting, but with proper drying should return to its initial size.

Bleaching is done by treating the paper when wet in UV light (this is the exact process that causes the damage if done dry), or with chemicals. If you want your etching to be white, have it treated with bleach. The final product will be white and beautiful, but will not be like the original. An etching restored by light bleaching will likely not look “brand” new like the white that results from chemical bleaching, but the paper was never supposed to be a nice clean white. Either process returns the paper close to its original condition. Some collectors feel that the more intrusive a process, the further an etching becomes from its original condition. Other collectors prefer the etchings to look absolutely crisp and clean. The choice is up to you. Returning the paper to its original condition is a necessary step in keeping the etching from further deterioration and is called conservation.

There is some concern that chemical treatment may in time impart damage to the paper. Have you ever gotten bleach on your hands and noticed how long, despite all the washing you do, that your hands still smell like bleach? Just think if your skin was porous like paper how hard it would be to remove the bleach. If bleach remains in the paper, it will continue to react with the paper. If the bleach is completely rinsed from the paper, there should be no residual damage.

It is also possible that during the bleaching process the color of the etching will be diminished. This is because certain pigments used in the coloring process react with the bleach and are lost. This is especially true for reds and purples. If the lost coloring is the hand coloring, simple touch-up can replace the lost color. However, a larger region of the etching that was colored by aquatint is affected, it is more difficult to restore the color. Recoloring of the etching is a restoration process, as opposed to a conservation process, and all measures possible should be taken to keep the original color as intense and sharp as possible.

Figure X a) Moderate matte burn; b) Heavy foxing; c) Minor foxing; see also Plates III and IV. Click here for images and further discussion.

3 – Foxing. Over time and in storage in humid conditions, small brown spots or stains can appear on the paper. The size of the spots can vary from that a of a pin head to a condition where the entire sheet is covered with large splotches. The affected areas of paper have a higher iron content and are more acidic that the remainder of the paper. A heavily foxed area of paper is shown in Figure Xb. Click here for images and further discussion.

Foxing has an organic basis, being associated with fungi that grow in the paper under humid conditions. The iron is an impurity in the paper and is concentrated either directly by the organic action, or due to the increased acidity caused by the fungi. Foxing can be removed by a variety of chemical treatments, the most common being bleach. Foxing should be removed as a conservation treatment of the paper.

4 – Water stains. During storage or due to condensation, water may come in contact with the paper. This results in a stain where dirt and contaminants in the paper are concentrated in the tide mark of the water stain. The water damaged region of the paper may also be cockled or uneven due to drying. These stains can be removed by wet cleaning and the paper can be flattened with proper drying. Normally, stains will be removed along with foxing and toning of the paper.

5 – Light burn. The pigment or dye used in the aquatint or watercolor process can undergo chemical reaction upon exposure to ultra-violet (UV) light. The intensity of the color can fade and an affected area may become totally colorless. Light burn occurs when an etching has been exposed to sunlight or fluorescent light over a long period of time. Also the paper itself can darken when exposed to UV light. Common glass used in picture framing does not absorb sufficient UV radiation to keep light burn from occurring. Thus, an etching that was hung in a sunny room will likely be damaged.

Fading is a non-reversible process. That is, the color cannot be returned by chemical treatment. It can only be returned by recoloring the etching. Darkening of the paper can be treated by bleaching and the overall tone of the paper will lighten, increasing the contrast between the colors and the paper. However, bleaching will not increase the intensity of the color. The value of an etching is greater if the original color has been retained, and the paper has not been damaged by UV light. Modern conservation glass absorbs UV light and should be used to protect newly framed etchings.

6 – Insect damage. Insects, especially silverfish, thrive in damp, closed environments. Silverfish feed on the starch contained in the paper, matte, and backing material. Damage by silverfish appears as holes or uneven areas of eaten paper. There will be noticeable relief and ink will be missing. A damaged area of paper can be repainted such that the coloring will appear normal, but the damaged paper is more difficult to repair and often cleaning and recoloring is the only recourse.

7 – Scratches, folds, and creases. Scratches or cuts in the paper result due to glass breakage or improper handling. A scratch is an abrasion of the paper where paper is actually removed or displaced from the surface. If a scratch occurs in a printed region, the printing will also be affected. An etching with a paper cut is shown in Plate IV. Here you can see that the paper has been damaged, but the abraded paper is still intact. With proper treatment, the displaced paper can be returned to its original position, the paper recolored, and the damaged regions will be very difficult to identify.

If the paper is cut, or ripped all the way through, the paper can be repaired from the reverse and repainted. If done properly, the image will appear undamaged, however, the repair will be clearly visible from the reverse.

A major fold or crease in paper destroys the bonding of the paper. This damage is treated by wetting and pressing the paper, but the damage cannot be completely reversed. Often a major fold will be backed from the reverse to add structure to the damaged paper and the image repainted. From the front, the etching may appear undamaged, but from the reverse, the fold will be evident.

In summary, the most valuable etching will be a full sheet, have a rich burr, sharp, clean colors, all of the proper markings, and will be in very fine condition without having been conserved.