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Joseph Strutt. America. To Those, who wish to Sheate the Desolating Sword of War. 1781. Reproduction number: LC-USZC2-1334

Historical Prints

Evaluation, Authenticity, Copyright, Dealers, and Bibliography

George A. Crofutt.  American progress.  1873.  Reproduction number: LC-USZC4-668

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 20540-4730


The Library of Congress does not evaluate prints. Over the course of the nineteenth century, printing and reproductive processes became less costly, and prints became more readily available to the general public. Hence, prints which survive from the latter half of the nineteenth century are not, generally speaking, unusual. Some of the lithographs and engravings which were copyrighted during this period are now important as historical artifacts, and some may have commercial value, depending on the number of surviving impressions, their condition, and the demand for certain subject categories by collectors. Others, although not precious, are worth preserving as documents of popular interests and cultural values and attitudes current during their time. Many of these are of educational value to local historical societies and museums.


Judgments on the genuineness or authenticity of a work of art are reliable only when based on a first-hand examination of the work. The advice of a creditable print dealer or of a curator of a local historical society or museum should be sought in these matters.

The Copyright Legend

Prints issued in large runs by commercial printers and publishers for sale or distribution were copyrighted to protect the proprietor's initial investment. The phrase "Entered according to act of Congress..." often appears on nineteenth-century prints. It indicates that the print bearing this inscription was registered for copyright protection in the year cited. It has no reference to the artistic or monetary value of the image but only to the fact that the copyright law protects it for a limited time. Such protection has been afforded by the federal government for "historical prints, designed, engraved, or etched" since the year 1802. After 1870 many of the prints which bear this legend were deposited in the Library of Congress. They now form part of the collections of the Prints and Photographs Division. Library records seldom provide more information about a copyrighted print than does its text or legend. Information about the quantity made of a particular print is not part of the copyright record. The copyright protection on the Library's 19th century prints has expired, thus placing them in the public domain.

Sources of Information

Listed below are a few dealers who specialize in old prints. Their expertise or services may be useful.

The Old Print Shop
1212 31st Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007

The Old Print Shop
150 Lexington Avenue
New York, New York 10016
web site:

The Philadelphia Print Shop
8441 Germantown Avenue
Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania 19118
web site:


A helpful general source of information on prints is: A Guide to the Collecting and Care of Original Prints by Carl Zigrosser and Christa M. Gaehde (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1969). For background information on artists, printmakers, and prints, several basic reference books are available. Those listed below can usually be found in local libraries.

Bénézit, Emmanuel. Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. Paris: Librairie Gründ, 1976.

Cahn, Joshua Binion, editor. What is an Original Print? Principles Recommended by the Print Council of America. New York: Print Council of America, 1961.

Chilvers, Ian, editor. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Currier & Ives: A Catalogue Raisonné. A Comprehensive Catalogue of the Lithographs of Nathaniel Currier, James Merrit Ives, and Charles Currier, including Ephemera Associated with the Firm, 1834-1907. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.

Gaze, Delia, editor. Dictionary of Women Artists. London; Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.

Gowing, Lawrence, editor. A Biographical Dictionary of Artists. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1995.

Falk, Peter. Who Was Who in American Art. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1985.

Fowble, E. McSherry. Two Centuries of Prints in America: A Selective Catalogue of the Winterthur Museum Collection. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1987.

Gascoigne, Bamber. How to Identify Prints. London:Thames & Hudson, 1986.

Groce, George C. and David H. Wallace. The New-York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America 1564-1860. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.

Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge. Mallet's Index of Artists. New York: R.R. Bowker Co., 1935.

Marzio, Peter C. The Democratic Art. Boston: David R. Godine, 1979.

Peters, Harry Twyford. America on Stone. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company Inc., 1931.

Reilly, Bernard F., Jr. American Political Prints, 1766-1876: A Catalog of the Collections in the Library of Congress. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1991.

Reps, John W. Views and Viewmakers of Urban America: Lithographs of Towns and Cities in the United States and Canada. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1984.

Young, William. A Dictionary of American Artists, Sculptors and Engravers. Cambridge, MA: W. Young, 1968.

Prepared by Sam Daniel, Reference Specialist, and Harry Katz, Curator of Popular & Applied Graphic Art, 4/98

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  February 16, 2011
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