Dating a picture frame

When I started collecting and studying period frames in earnest in the early 1980s, they were still being discarded with the daily trash.

Learning about the frames then was an uphill struggle with little information readily available.

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As is true in most areas, the factors of condition, rarity and size are of key importance.

A word about the market for period frames: it is important to recognize that it is an illiquid market — not one where auctions regularly take place and allow a wider value to be established.

The wide margin between what a dealer will pay when purchasing frames for their inventory and what the frames may ultimately retail for is influenced by several factors unique to frames. There was little standardization in painting sizes during the 19th century, so few frames fit without alteration.

Sensitive and competent alteration of period frames is a costly and labor-intensive process that must be executed properly for frame value to be maintained.

Second: Due in part to this size issue and also because of historically appropriate framing (the attempt to marry artworks with frames of the same period) a fine frame may languish in inventory for many years simply because the right confluence of factors hasn’t occurred to allow the frame to be selected.

(Indeed, some of our most spectacular frames have been in our inventory since I started the gallery.) Third: There are nearly always restoration costs in order to put the frame in suitable condition.Fourth: The market in fine period frames is inextricably entwined with the art market.The extraordinary prices achieved in frames correlates to the value of the paintings they can surround.If a client has just spent 0,000 or 0,000 on the Hudson River landscape of their dreams, it is not that far-fetched to understand that they are willing to pay as little as 10 percent of the cost of the painting on a fine period frame that will best complement and contain their prize. When assessing any period frame, you must look not only at what artwork it may be on at present, but also its inherent quality as a frame of its period, and the quality of artwork it may be able to surround.(Figure 1) The style of American frames can be closely associated with trends in art, architecture, design and decorative trends, and as the swing of a pendulum, styles tended to shift from simple to elaborate and back again.In the early years of the 19th century when the simple elegance of Duncan Phyfe furniture reigned supreme, the primary sort of art being made was portraiture.


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