Archive for Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kovel’s Antiques: Pre-photography likenesses not always correct

February 19, 2012


Presidents Day, still officially named George Washington’s Birthday, is celebrated on the third Monday in February. But it has not always been celebrated on that day. George Washington’s birthday, Feb. 22, was first celebrated as a federal holiday in 1880. It was moved to the third Monday in February in 1971 as part of a law that made many holidays fall on Mondays so Americans could enjoy a long weekend. In 1951 there had been an attempt to change the holiday to Presidents Day to honor all presidents, not just George Washington, but for years there were arguments about when to schedule it, what to name it and whom to honor.

In the mid-1980s, the use of the term “Presidents Day” instead of “Washington’s Birthday” spread across the country, spurred by stores that advertised sales. While some states honor various presidents, usually those from the state, on the holiday, George Washington is part of all of the celebrations. When Washington died, the public bought Staffordshire figurines picturing him, textiles with pictures of him ascending to heaven and many memorial medals and plates. Photographs did not exist, so these souvenirs, along with oil paintings, show how he looked. Many of the souvenirs are inaccurate representations of Washington, but they’re of interest to collectors today.

I have two matching framed prints, one with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and one with a portrait of George Washington. The first one has a small metal plaque that says “Abraham Lincoln by George P.A. Healy — The White House Collection from The President and Mrs. Nixon — Christmas 1971.” The George Washington print has a similar plaque and is dated Christmas 1969. Do you know anything about these?

President Richard Nixon and his wife gave prints of famous presidential portraits to White House staff members as Christmas gifts each year he was in office. Each print was in a red presentation folder and included a parchment sheet with an explanation of the portrait, a ribbon and an embossed presidential seal. Hallmark made 3,500 copies of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Washington for the 1969 gift. A print of Jefferson’s portrait was given in 1970, Lincoln in 1971, Theodore Roosevelt in 1972 and James Monroe in 1973.

I own a glass plate that belonged to my grandmother, who was born in 1885. It is decorated with an embossed figure of President William McKinley, showing his birth date on the left side above his elbow and his death date on the right side. At the top of the plate it reads, “It is God’s way,” and on the bottom, “His will be done.” There is no name of a company to identify who made this.

William McKinley was elected president in 1899. He was shot by an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, while he was visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 6, 1901. McKinley died the next week, on Sept. 14. His last words were: “It is God’s way. His will be done.” Your pressed glass plate was made in 1901, but its manufacturer is unknown. Value: $50.


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