What do readers think? Feedbacks?

One of the readers writes: "About 5 years ago my great uncle who lived in Kentucky sent me out this old box of family heirlooms that had belonged to his wife's mother who was my great grandmother. Everything in this box was identified by her as to who the stuff belonged to and this would have been done around 1920. It contained a lot of old photos, documents and other things that belonged to her grandmother who was born in 1845. In this box was this old silk embroidered pocketbook and it was identified as "The property of Martha Mar Winters Palmer".

She was my grandmothers great grandmother and was born in 1818 in Kentucky. Her parents were Jacob and Nancy Winter. Jacob was from Maryland and Nancy Virginia. Nancy's parents were John Ward and Dosia Anderson. John fought in the revolution in Virginia. The silhouette was cut out of black paper and pasted in the pocketbook. There are some bad spot on the edges that are from the needlework on the opposite side rubbing on it.

Anyway, I'm trying to fiqure out if this thing is American or not. I have tried and tried to find a family ancestor that matches the initials with no luck at all. One thing I've always wondered about is the last battle of the Revolutionary War ended in 1782 and was fought at Blue Licks Kentucky, a few miles from where they lived. Could there be a tie between that battle and this pocketbook, especially with the rifle and powder bag on the front???

On the top of the inside are some intials which I sent a close of. I think they are W.M.C. and also one side of the sleeve is open and the backing has some paper with letters and some numerals. The letters to me look like the old english letters that means lb. and shilling. Inside the sleeve is a real old baby's bonnet and a 1876 copy of the Declaration of Indepedence. Anyway, it would be nice to hear what you might know about something like this. Maybe you've seen other silhouette's that are similar. Any thought's would be deeply appreciated."


Silhouettes from a recent Auction Recent Skinner auction contained a nice assortment of silhouettes. I only saved the photos of the ones I thought were interesting. Obviously, this was a collection formed by one individual. Some were genuine. Others were obviously not. There were a few with questions. (Please do keep in mind that the following assessment is only my opinion.) The prices went begging on most. These prices do not include buyer’s fees. All images belong to Skinner.

Photo #1
These three silhouettes are in nice period frames from what I can see.
“Three Silhouette Portraits, America, early 19th century, hollow cut bust-length portraits backed with black fabric housed in period molded giltwood frames, including a portrait of a gentleman by T.P. Jones, with embossed signature "T.P. Jones Fecit" 4 1/4x 3 1/4 in., in a ; one of a woman, by Charles Willson Peale, with embossed eagle and "Peales Museum" mark, 5 x 4 in.; the last portraying a young gentleman, with an indistinct embossed maker's mark, the backing paper with a paper label indicating it was once in the collection Elizabeth L. Maurier, 4 3/4 x 4 in.”

All three silhouettes are NOT 19th century; they are 20th century. The trio brought $200. Maurier collection contained a lot of fakes.

Photo #2
This pair brought $175.
“Two Silhouette Portraits, America, early 19th century, both hollow cut bust-length portraits, housed in period oval molded wood frames, one portraying a gentleman backed with black paper, by T.P. Jones with embossed mark, (toning, crease u.l.), 4 x 3 in.; the other of a young boy with black fabric backing, (toning, stains), 4 x 3 1/4 in.”

This type of cutting on the right are offered from time to time. I do not know whose work this is. The Jones, however, on the left is his telltale image. This is a no-question Jones.

Photo #3
“Pair of Silhouette Portraits of Zilpha and Stephen Longfellow, cut by William King, New England, (active 1804-1806), hollow cut bust-length portraits backed with black silk, embossed "W KING" l.c., 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 in., in oval molded sheet brass frames. Condition: Minor toning and foxing, crease along bottoms.”

I cannot see the embossment, but with this pair, I do no have to see it. This man and the woman are a classic example of his work. The pair bought $300, which is very reasonable.

Photo #4
“Pair of Silhouette Portraits, Attributed to William King, New England, c. 1805, hollow-cut bust-length portraits of a lady and gentleman, backed with black fabric, with embossed "KING" mark below, (minor toning), sight size 3 1/2 x 2 3/4 in., housed in period molded giltwood frames with reverse painted blue mats with gilt rosettes in the corners.”

This pair brought only $125! I do not like this pair at all. The stamps are too large for King. Someone other than King cut the pair. The frames look good, but I question the inserts. This pair is 20th century (6/22/13).

Photo #5
“Three Silhouette Portraits of Women by William Doyle, Boston, early 19th century, hollow-cut portraits with ink embellishments, each signed "Doyle" below, (toning, foxing, one with losses), sight sizes 3 3/8 x 2 5/8, 3 1/4 x 2 5/8, dia. 3 1/4 in., two housed in oval repousse brass frames, one in a molded giltwood frame.”

What happened here? The three brought only $90! Although the cuttings resemble very much like that of Doyle, I cannot say for sure from this distance. However, I would have been quite happy to secure even just the frames at this price. If I were the consignor, I would have been very mad.

Photo #6
“Three Portrait Silhouettes, America, early 19th century, hollow-cut portraits including one of a gentleman likely done by Charles Willson Peale, with backwards embossed "MUSEUM" below, one of a woman wearing a mobcap, and one of a gentleman inscribed "E. Webb 1809" c.l., (toning, minor foxing), dia. 4 in., housed in period round black painted molded wood frames.”

Nothing special here with these three silhouettes. Yet, there is something very simple and charming about these undecorated round frames. These frames are much more difficult to find than the rectangular ones. The problem is, however, that silhouettes must be cut quite a bit to fit into these frames. The trio brought $150.

Photo #7
“Framed Silhouette Advertisement with Three Silhouette Portraits, possibly Salem, Massachusetts area, early 19th century, original printed advertisement on rag paper for Moses Chapman, placed in a frame together with three hollow-cut portraits of a man, a woman, and a boy, (minor toning, stain, tear), sight size 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in., in a period mahogany veneer frame.”

This is a nice set and brought $650. How often does one find Chapman’s handbill? I would have liked to have examined this one in person. Nowadays, anyone can print a handbill using old paper with a printer. My questions are: Are the letters and the two top images of silhouettes impressed into the paper? Did it go through a press? From the photo, it looks like the cutouts were made from the blank space of the handbill. It does not appear to be in two sections. If this were indeed a genuine piece, I would like to hear from the buyer. I hope it is period.

Photo #8
“Silhouette Portrait of Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, attributed to Charles Willson Peale, early 19th century, the subject identified in inscriptions on the backing, hollow cut bust-length portrait backed with black silk, with embossed "Peales Museum" mark, 5 x 3 1/2 in. in a period molded giltwood frame.”“Note Charles Carroll (1737-1832) was a member of the Continental Congress (1776-1778), U. S. Senator, an original director of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and signer of the Declaration of Independence from Maryland. It was said that Carroll was the wealthiest man in America in the early 1800s.”

This brought $1600! I do not know how anyone can attribute this to Carroll with sincerity. What pedigree does this item possess? I could have written something on the back of the frame last month. It is an odd-looking Peale.

Photo #9
“Double Portrait Silhouette of Women with Embroidered Decoration, William King, New England, (active 1804-1806), hollow-cut bust-length portraits identified on the reverse as "Elizabeth Walden" and "Elizabeth Dame," both with the name "W. KING" embossed beneath, (one signature is backwards), centered with an embroidered silk threads on paper bouquet of flowers, (toning, tears), 4 x 7 1/4 in., in a likely original molded wood frame.”

What a lovely item this is! It brought $3500. There are two very nice hollow-cuts by King. There is no disagreement there. A charming floral decoration adds to its charm. If it were a true double-silhouette, its rarity would have been enormous. (Please see my writing on true double-silhouettes somewhere on my page.) This is a combined pair or two singles made to appear as one. From the back of the paper, I am sure the split in the paper can be seen (hidden from the obverse by the decoration).


Benjamin Franklin Silhouette by Peale

This is surely a dilemma for a physiognomist. If I were presented with two silhouettes, a Foster Brothers and Old Benjy here, which would I prefer to hang on my wall? If I were to choose between death and more taxes, of course I would prefer more taxes. So which is death in this case, Foster Bro. or Ben? This item has a mimimum of $900 starting bid. The auction company is quite well-known, not for silhouettes but for having excellent selection of coins and medals in their auctions.

The description is as follows: "Period Silhouette of Benjamin Franklin, Peale's Museum, Choice Very Fine. This hollow-cut profile silhouette bears an embossed museum label ("PEALE'S MUSEUM") with an eagle, identified as belonging to Charles Wilson Peale's museum in Philadelphia. The cream-colored, embossed mat has a cutout black fabric silhouette of Benjamin Franklin--making for a stunning profile. Portrait is enclosed in original, gilt-plaster covered wood frame, measuring 6.75" x 5" overall."

Right off the bat, "Wilson" is miss-speled. "Embossed mat" must be a new term. I do not even know what a "cutout black fabric silhouette" is. What makes the auctioneer think it is even Franklin? It looks more like my neighbor.

This is a "YUCK" item for sure.



From a respected auction company: "Silhouette of a gentleman, first half of 19th century, indistinct signature, possibly Doyle, in painted metal frame H: 5 1/4 in.
PROVENANCE: From the collection of Marie Evans, Alexandria, Virginia"

Without actually seeing it, it is tough to make a judgment but having done this sort of a thing for years, I believe I can make a "call" on this silhouette. Of course, I can be totally wrong too. So, let us just say this is my opinion based on my past experience.

The first thing I noticed was the whiteness of the paper. This is not to say that those silhouettes that are well preserved cannot be white. There are many such genuine examples. Also, since this is a photo, perhaps the whiteness is because of the lighting. From the photo, it is not possible to determine whether it is a hollow-cut or painted, or a combination of both.

So far, I have proven nothing. Now, let us look at the smudges and the spots. I have seen many types of foxing. They tend to fall somewhere in between light and dark brown colors. I do not remember a single instance where I observed "black." The half a dozen circular spots above the head seem to be oil based, at least to me. I cannot say whether these spots originate from the reverse or the obverse of the paper from the photo. They are, however, either drippings on the paper or came in contact when the paper was laid flat. I don't mean to sound like a coroner, but they are not spattered. The smudges to the left and right of the bust appear to be impressions left by fingers.

If this is a genuine ca. 1805 silhouette, I will recite 100 Hail Marys. I hate saying prayers, so I hope I am right. This "thing" is a 1920s print.


Nice Bache but too Bad

Some eBayer had to ask, "Can you please tell me whether this silhouette is cut & paste with painted embellishment or all painted?"

Seller revised by stating, "Please note: I can see part of an embossed area reading Bache's - I assume for Bache's Patent - Bache was an important American silhouettist (1771-1845)."

I knew it was Bache even seeing the stamp and thought that I could get it real cheap. When someone asks that sort of questions, it is like choking your own neck. It brought $400, which is a strong price especially enclosed in that frame that is very English. What worries me is that the oval opening is way too small for Bache. I do not know whether the paper is folded to fit the opening or just plain cut off to accompany the opening. Whichever, it must be defective. As a general rule, you do not cut the silhouette to fit the frame. You find one that is large enough to accomondate it.

Common Peale Museum Silhouettes Scarce Subject

From the seller: "This is a pair of antique Silhouttes. They measure 5 1/4" X 4 1/4" each. Each is stamped with the word "MUSEUM". The boy stamp is very light..." The pair brought $260. That is a bargain even with their ugly modern frames.

Silhouettes of children are much sought after and are scarce. I would estimate that for every 100 silhouettes, 5 will be that of children, or 5%. This estimate is very liberal. They are difficult to find. Although scarce as a subject, those cut at the Peale's Museum are the commonest. Silhouettes of children by any other cutters are rare.


Henry Williams Silhouette and Portrait Painting

The images and their descriptions came from Jane. I could only dream about owning such a painting.

Attached are photos of both the Henry Williams' portrait of Henry Burroughs, and the Williams' silhouette of Master John Day. Henry Burroughs was painted circa 1810, and he lived in Boston, Ma. his entire life. He was born in 1783, and died in 1870. His portrait is in the original gold frame and measures 25 1/2"x 31 1/2" overall. This portrait was most likely exhibited at Harvard University in an exhibition by Alan Burroughs, who graduated, I believe, in 1934. Alan Burroughs,incidently, was a pioneer in the application of X-radiography to the examination of works of art at The Harvard University Art Museum.

Master John Day was cut by Williams around the same time, in Boston, and he is also in his original frame. I haven't been able to trace John Day as of this time. I would estimate his age around 10-12 years old when his silhouette was made.

I acquired the silhouette at an antique show about 10 years ago, and recently acquired the portrait from a Connecticut dealer's website. It really is neat to have an example of both mediums in which Henry Williams is noted for being an accomplished artist! The oil portrait of Burroughs almost takes your breath away with its detail of the face. It doesn't show up as detailed in the photo, however.

ED's NOTE: We no longer consider those silhouettes stamped WILLIAMS to be the works by Henry Williams. This silhouette here was likely made in the 1920s. For more on this subject, see 1/10/2012 posting.


Silhouette like a Close-Up Photo

This is the most highly detailed, painted silhouette I ever owned. Can someone provide a more detailed example? The delineation of her hat is so precise that one can even see its weaving. This is VERY unusual. The artist had to use a powered glass to execute it. What do you think?


Some People are Talented

It amazes me how some people have a knack for things that we call art. I invited a young student over several years ago. He looks at my silhouettes hanging on the walls. He says he can imitate them, so I gave him a razor and paper. He came up with these cuttings. My cat is a calico, and he even denineates her pattern. He is a good looking kid, but he cuts a way too masterful piece for himself, perhaps justified under the circumstances. I do not know which bustline he imitated, perhaps Peale?

Don't Wanna Pick but....

Described as "looks to be mid 1800s" is this pair of silhouette from an auction. The man looks to be in the style of or after William Chamberlain. The lady seems to be a combination of period style. These may have been done during the "period" by an amateur. I believe the word "folky" is personal. For me these are just too folky or perhaps the proper is too "funky." Whatever they are, there is something there that attracts attention, not for its artistic merits, however. I think they are cute.


Group of Peale Silhouettes

Here is a good example of a grouping of silhouettes cut at the Museum. I believe there were half a dozen cutters working there. My favorite cutter is the one who cut the long elongated bustlines with a small notch at the tip. For reasons unknown, the sitters for this cutter always seem to be attractive young women. Check out the three silhouettes on the top center. There is a good chance that the man in the middle row, second from the left, is stamped “Peale” if it does have a stamp. That bust curve is my least favorite of the Museum bustlines.


William King Silhouette

Another rare item, although not as rare as Jennys or Williams, is this silhouette by William King in black frame by the same auction company, Conestoga Auction Company. They also have a very rare Day's Patent. Unfortunately, the stamp does not show on their photograph. I have written them asking for the close-up of the stamp but nothing comes my way, yet. At any rate, many of King's men have similarities. To illustrate this, I have also attached a King from my collection for comparison. The auction item is the one in the black frame. Other images are mine.

Rare Henry Williams Silhouette

When I first saw this silhouette, I thought it was the same example that Carrick illustrated in her book. Upon closer examination, there are some differences with the detailing of the hair. This is also from Conestoga Auction Company.

We no longer consider those silhouettes stamped WILLIAMS to be the works by Henry Williams. This silhouette here seems to be period and more likely done by Doyle. WILLIAMS stamp is NOT from the 19th century but 20th century. For more on this subject, see 1/10/2012 posting.

Rare William Jennys Silhouette

This is a rare artist. Groce says, "Portrait painter working in and around New Milford (Conn.) in mid-1790's and at NYC in 1797-98. After 1800 he moved northward along the Connecticut Valley into Central Massachusetts and Vermont and eastward to Portsmouth (NH). Not in McKechnie, Carrick, Harper, or Jackson.

Silhouette of Young Lady, cut paper with cloth background, stamped "W. Jennys" in black painted frame, 5" x 4-1/2". From Conestoga Auction Company

Does anyone own another Jennys?

Rare Buncombe for Sure

Although this is not an American silhouette, it is one of the important artists from the other side so decided to list it. It is from eBay with a starting bid of $800. I do not know if the seller is pulling our legs or what. If anyone bids on this, I will tear my illustrations out of books and start selling!

"This is an original work of the well known and highly praised John Buncombe. The beauty of this piece is that the illustration is followed by a caption authenticating the work as described " PAINTED MILITARY PORTRAIT OF THE 18TH CENTURY, BY J BUNCOMBE OF NEWPORT, ISLE OF WIGHT " printed on the work itself.

Damage to this piece has occured and is described as follows :
Throughought its entirity there is a very light bleeding that is concentrated just to the right of the soldier's apparel.This peice has slight mold along the top edge where it was affixed to the tilt hinge mounting originaly. There is a slight scuff bellow the numerals in the prefix 18th seen in the caption bellow the soldier.

Deminsions are 4.5 inches wide by 6 inches tall. All of the slight imperfections are minute and give the piece a truely delightfull charm."


Rare Letton Silhouette

A very unusual silhouette appeared on eBay recently with an inscription, "this profile taken by r litton june 16 1806." There is no doubt it is by Ralph Letton (see my short bio on him somewhere on this site). The silhouette is a hollow-cut that has been folded to fit a frame with numerous sewing in the tears of the paper. It brought $31.

As Letton never signed his works, this image is an important reference/link to his works. It has some similarities to William King's hanging hair and cravat. This profile is well-cut with rounded facial details. The bust termination is unique. The only reference to Letton appears in an illustration by Carrick where she illustrates an example from a broadside. For having major similarities with the broadside, I listed a pair of man/woman hollow-cuts under "for sale" items as possibly cut by Letton. Although they differ from the bust type of this eBay item, my attribution to this artist is secure.

The present silhouette likely originated from a collection of the 19th century silhouettes and photographs that was auctioned off a few years ago. I recall having obtained several pieces from this collection with similarly sewn repairs. It is a shame that this silhouette went begging for a trifle sum. Letton is very rare; in fact, he is unobtainable. But then, how does a rarity serve when the market makers know nothing about this artist? Aside from the little information Carrick provides and the writings contained herein (Letton's bio), have anyone really read anything about Letton? If a reader knows more abou the subject, please be kind enough to provide the same.


Another Todd's Patent

I found this on the net a while ago, but I do not remember where I got it from now. Todd is a rare artist, and this is a very nice work with an attractive woman. I wonder who owns this rarity now.


What is Appraisal?

Recently, through this page, an inquiry arrived asking for an appraisal. For privacy reasons, I am unable to give the owner’s name of the silhouettes or the museum that was contemplating purchasing it for their collection. I was first contacted by the museum asking if I could recommend a competent, antique-silhouette appraiser. It seems that after some search on the web, the museum was unable to find any.  The reason? There is not a single dealer/collector who is able to appraise American silhouettes.

I figured that an appraisal or an offering of my opinion was possible through email since I do this quite often, and there is no charge for it. This is my hobby, and it is one way of showing my appreciation for finding and reading what I have to write about silhouettes. Once in a blue moon, I sell a book or a silhouette through this page. The profit, if one can call that, is meager. Since I am a full time student, I am not endowed with extra blessing of $. Yet, once a week I enjoy eating a Chinese take-out plate lunch, orange chicken. It is $5.67 with tax and comes with fried rice and a choice of soup or an egg-roll. The Chinese girl at the counter says, “You always have exact change.” Last week I did not. I gave her $5.77 expecting a dime in change. For her, it was probably business as usual, thinking that I handed her the exact amount. I did not get my dime back. That day, I over-expensed myself. I begin to think. Perhaps next week, I will give her $5.57. Will she tell me then that I am 10 cents short?

Fried food is tricky. If I were to eat it at the restaurant, it is crispy and tastes tremendously good. However, I have to leave a tip in which I cannot afford on many occasions. So, it is take-out. I quickly rush to my car, open the container top, exposing the fried chicken, filling the car with that sweet-hot-sour odor, so that it will not get moist from the steam it creates. From the restaurant to my place is about 7 minutes drive. For the sake of savoring its crispiness, I drive fast. If all goes well, when I enter the house, it is still crispy, not cold or warm but still very hot. I have my Tabasco sauce and a large fork pre-readied. My cat says, “Welcome home; where is my food?” I love my cat, but the next 5 minutes is all mine. She understands.

This goes to show you that silhouettes and orange chicken have a lot in common. What they are, you need to figure out. It is like Paul McCartney crossing the Abbey Road.

Getting back to the subject….They were unframed silhouettes by one of the more common artists. The owner and the museum were unaware of their values. I stated only the facts about the silhouettes. The outcome of this deal between the owner and the museum? I guess one can get some sense of its outcome by reading Robert Frost’s “Design.”


More on the Same Artist

Found two more by the same artist. This artist uses old frames and makes decorative silhouettes. Looks like the artist worked in the manner of different genuine artists. The works have a charm of thier own, but why would collectors pay more than the prices of GENUINE silhouettes? I did not want to come straight out and call the two listed below as reproductions when I posted them, as my words are scarcely worth two bits. With these two additional images, however, perhaps my words are now worth three bits. Since the images are copyrighted, I best mention that the rights belong to "It's about time."


More Questionable Items

I apologize if I am sounding so cynical these days. This item appeared on eBay from the same seller as the one mentioned below. I just can not see how these two silhouettes are from the early 1800s. They are in a manner of, but at least to me, they lack the flavor of. They sold quite well with multiple bidders on their tails. Can someone point out why they can be from the early 1800s (ca.1830)?

Comment from one of our readers:
Hello - you should check out a new listing on eBay with silhouettes having a suspect signature of Demors . . . you've mentioned in the past that you had concerns with these silhouettes. A new pair has just been listed on eBay today (7/19/10). The real interesting part: on the back of the silhouettes there are ink inscriptions that state these silhouettes are after earlier ones from 1820. AND - stamped below is a label that says: Cut with Common Scissors by Elizabeth Morse. This is the 20th c artist Elizabeth Morse Walsh (1886-1983), who worked as a portrait, figure and landscape artist. More info on her body of work can be found via google or at This seems to solve a mystery.

B.M. Jones writes: That's Great! Thanks for letting us know. One mystery solved!


You Decide

This silhouette is from on eBay. It is in a gilded or gold-leafed frame made ca.1830, give-or-take. The silhouette has“flair” of ca.1830 design.

The aura of perception implements a graphic concept and the permanence of ideas; it represents something of a common origin behind a common purpose. The persistence of the concept is rooted in the association of form with function. How far this common origin explains the similarity of this item and others previously mentioned on this site is based on an actual derivation and not on an accidental coincidence. The difficulty is to know how far the premises correspond. They suggest an innate tendency to utilize similarity in techniques under dissociated circumstances. Although the material is, for the most part, very different, the element that exists in these items is tantamount. Although the beauty, itself, is remarkably appealing at first site, it is also capable of concealing sinister secrets. Having captivated the minds and souls of its surroundings, nature secretes a concoction for the defenseless.

The acuteness of her nose and the chin, along with its exaggerated eyelash, not to mention her “imposing” detailing of the hair, the “blueness” of brushwork have something of their friendliness resigned.