"AT THE SECRETARY" 1916 Wallace Nutting
Lovely interior scene from Wallace Nutting. Photograph is hand tinted in very good condition. Frame is lovely gold frame does have minor chips please see photo.
Wallace Nutting sold more hand-coloredphotographs during America's 1900-1940 "Golden Age of Hand-ColoredPhotography" than any other photographer of his time. It is estimatedthat between 5,000,000-10,000,000 of his pictures decorated the walls of middleclass American homes during the early 20th century. Why was Wallace Nutting sosuccessful? And why are his pictures still being widely collected today? Thisarticle represents a basic introduction into the world of Wallace NuttingPictures.
It was shortly after 1900 that WallaceNutting retired from the ministry due to ill health (he was a CongregationalMinister in Providence RI at the time). As part of his recovery, he begantouring the New England countryside by carriage or car, taking photographs ofrural New England. Nutting was one of the first to recognize that the Americanscene was changing. Industrialization was altering the way our country lookedand our pure and picturesque landscape would never look the same again. Heseemed to feel it his divine calling to record the beauty of America for futuregenerations.
Beginning first in Vermont, thenMassachusetts and Connecticut, and eventually throughout the rest of NewEngland, Nutting began photographing country lanes, streams, rivers, lakes,orchards, blossoms, birches, and mountains. Wallace Nutting would take thephotograph, assign a title, and instruct his colorists how it should behand-tinted. Each picture that met Nutting's high standards of color,composition, and taste would be affixed to its matting and signed by hisemployees with the distinctive "Wallace Nutting" name. (Hehardly ever signed any pictures by himself). Those pictures that did not meethis strict standards were destroyed. Beginning first with outdoor (Exterior)scenes in New England, Nutting eventually traveled throughout the United Statesand Europe, taking photographs in 26 states and 17 foreign countries between1900-1935. Overall, he took more than 50,000 pictures, 10,000 of which he feltmet his high standards. The balance were destroyed.
It was around 1905 that Nutting begantaking his first indoor (Interior) pictures. Supposedly one day while itwas raining outside, Mrs. Nutting suggested that he take a more "Personable"picture indoors. So, he set up a colonial scene, near a kitchen hearth, had anemployee dress up in a colonial fashion, and took several different pictures.These sold relatively easily which encouraged him to expand more into thisarea. Nutting's love of antiques, his passion for the pilgrim period, and hisunquestionable desire to turn a profit led him to eventually purchase andrestore five colonial homes:
Nutting purchased these homes becausehe felt each represented a different period of early colonial American styleand taste. It was here, along with his own homes Nuttinghame (Southbury,CT) and Nuttingholme (Framingham, MA), that the majority of his Interiorpictures were taken. Nutting's desire to provide the most correct and appropriatesettings for his Interior scenes led him in his quest to gather one ofthe best collections of early American furniture ever assembled. He would usethe best examples of early American furniture in his Interior scenesand, when he couldn't find it, he would reproduce it. (We'll focus on hisreproduction furniture in a subsequent article).
Working in Southbury CT from 1905-12,and then in Framingham MA from 1912 until his death in 1941, Nutting soldliterally millions of his hand-colored photographs. He claims to have soldaround 10,000,000 pictures although, knowing his habit of exaggeration, thatnumber is probably somewhat high.
Whatever the true number, it was large.Wallace Nutting pictures were sometimes called "poor man's prints".Sold throughout the first quarter of the 20th century, well before theinvention of color photography, these pictures initially sold literally forpennies. His market was primarily the middle and lower middle classes...thosehouseholds which could not afford finer forms of art. Because of their lowprice, Wallace Nutting pictures were purchased in large numbers. By 1925,hardly an American middle-class household was without one as they werepurchased as gifts for weddings, showers, Christmas, birthdays, and for just aboutany other reason imaginable.
Nutting sold many pictures directlythrough his studios where he also provided his own framing services. But healso sold his pictures through many other outlets as well: department stores,drug stores, and gift shops, all around the country. He even had full-timesalesmen on the road whose sole job was to sell his pictures to these retailestablishments. Salesmen whom, he claims, sold enough pictures to retire quitehandsomely themselves.
The height of Wallace Nutting picturepopularity was 1915-25. During this time Nutting had nearly 100 colorists inhis employment, along with another 100 employees who acted as framers, matters,salesmen, management, and assorted administrative office personnel. Let therebe no mistake about it...Wallace Nutting's pictures were big business. But bythe late 1920's, people began to tire of Wallace Nutting. As with any otherfashion or style, tastes began to change with time. Wallace Nutting picturesbecame passé and sales showed a steady decline. Even the introduction ofdifferent matting styles, greeting cards, pen-type silhouettes, and lowerpriced machine-produced process prints could not rejuvenate sales.
The Wall Street crash of 1929 and thefollowing depression all but sealed the fate of the Wallace Nutting picturebusiness. Although it remained in operation even after his death, the outputwas inconsequential after the early 1930's. Over the years, millions of WallaceNutting pictures were probably thrown away. Many of those that remain show thesigns of 60-90 years of wear after being stored in attics and basements, withwater stains, broken glass, dust, dirt, and mildew.
As the original owners of WallaceNutting pictures have grown older or passed on, their Wallace Nutting pictureshave also been passed on to another generation. Some were given directly asgifts, others were inherited by children and grandchildren. Those that weren'tpassed along to families were sold at auctions, estate sales, tag sales, andflea markets where they re-entered the collectibles mainstream during the1975-2000 period.
What are collectors looking for? Justas in Wallace Nutting's time, Exterior scenes have the widest appeal. Interiorscenes have a more limited appeal, but since they are rarer, they typically commanda higher price than Exterior scenes. However, we have seen that asAmerica's fascination with the "Country" look has diminishedover the past 5-10 years, interest in Nutting's Interior scenes hassoftened as well.
The most desirable pictures to seriousNutting collectors are Miscellaneous Unusual Scenes. These are pictureswhich fall outside the more standard Interior and Exteriorscenes: Architecturals, Children, Florals, Foreign, Men, Seascapes, Snowscenes, and a select few geographical rarities. Nutting's original sales inthese categories were significantly lower than with his Exterior and Interiorscenes, hence their "/i>rarity" attracts collectors. Just as inother areas of collecting, the rarest examples, in the best condition, are theeasiest to sell, regardless of price. But just as important as rarityand subject matter is condition. Collectors want pieces inexcellent condition and imperfections such as water stains, blemishes, poorcoloring, or damaged frames can all significantly reduce value.
As of 2010 the Auction record for aWallace Nutting hand-colored photograph stands at $9,300.00, which is quitereasonable within the high-priced world of Antiques & Collectibles.However, as the economy has softened, so too have Wallace Nutting prices andperhaps 90% of Wallace Nutting pictures are selling in today's market for lessthan $150-$200. And many can be had for $50-$75 or less. Which means that ifyou appreciate Wallace Nutting Pictures, this is probably the best time to buythem in the past 25 years.