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Treasure: George and Martha have a long pedigree

Khristi Zimmeth

Patriotic images have long been sought-after collectibles. Many American homes feature portraits and busts of notable American figures. Julie Potter Keenan recently inherited a pair of images of George and Martha Washington and wrote to the column hoping for more information.

Appraiser Brian Thomczek took a closer look at an appraisal session held at Judy Frankel Antiques in Troy. Keenan inherited the images from her uncle, who passed away recently. Both are by E.C. Middleton, according to a tag on the canvas back. “I included a photo of the back, which dates them to 1861,” she wrote in her original email, which included additional information. “The frames have a tag on the back, which I believe reads APC Bonte Oval and Square Frames, Walnut Street, Cincinnati.” She went on to explain that the pair was believed to be a wedding gift to her paternal great-great grandparents, Alvah and Lucy Stone of Millis, Massachusetts, who relocated to Medina, Michigan, in the 1870s.

Thomczek said that, like many antiques and personalities, interest in historical images has had peaks and valleys. In the 19th century, many homes and school rooms displayed images of popular presidents, especially Washington and Lincoln. The invention of chromolithography, a form of print, in the mid-1800s made those images available to a wider range of income levels, including those who couldn’t have afforded pricy oil portraits.

E.C. Middleton is Elijah C. Middleton, who was based in Cincinnati and considered a pioneer in chromolithography, Thomczek told Keenan. He is credited with producing the oldest surviving chromolithograph from Cincinnati, a fire certificate that dates to 1852, according to the appraiser. By 1861 he began printing “oil” portraits that became an industry benchmark. His image of George Washington was soon followed by one of Martha. Both are highly regarded today because of the quality and Middleton’s pioneer status. He also produced a popular image of Abraham Lincoln, one that included a surprising feature. According to antiqueprintsblog.blogspot.com, “Middleton actually solicited the President’s advice, sending a proof copy of the print and receiving in return a letter from Lincoln with both compliment and critique.”

Thomczek pointed out that the back of the images was kept in place by a more modern invention – duct tape. “Or is this historic tape?” he quipped. “I didn’t know they had it back then,” he added with a laugh.

The appraiser added that having the pair makes a “huge difference in the price,” he told Keenan. “George on his own would probably bring $300-$500, but with Martha, you could get $1,200 for the pair, maybe more. These are nice frames and the auction results I’ve found support that price.” He added that, while nice, the frames could probably use a good cleaning.

Keenan says she’s following the lead of thousands of Americans throughout the past 200 years and displaying them in her home. “I put them up in the dining room…they just look so nice. We’ll keep them on the wall and one of our kids will take them from there.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number.

About this item

Item : E.C. Middleton prints

Submitted by : Julie Potter Keenan

Appraised by : Brian Thomczek

Estimated value : Approximately $1,200 at auction