1942 Thomas Hart Benton Lithograph, “The Race”

Value (2007) | $3,000 Auction$4,000 Auction

APPRAISER:
I have to start off by stating the obvious here. It looks like this has been through a war. Tell me what you've brought in and what exactly happened to it.

GUEST:
We found it in my grandparents' attic, old house, and after we cleared out the attic, we moved it to the basement of my father's house, where it was being dripped on by some pipes in the basement.

APPRAISER:
And do you know about the artist?

GUEST:
I know that it's Thomas Hart Benton because my mother had a coffee table book of his work, and so I knew he was somebody famous, but...

APPRAISER:
That's correct. It's an original lithograph by Thomas Hart Benton, who is one of the preeminent printmakers of the first half of the 20th century in America. He's a well-known regionalist and did several hundred lithographs, most of which were printed in an edition of 250. And this happens to be a lithograph he did in 1942. It's called "The Race," and you can see the horse on the plains here racing the locomotive. And it's pencil signed by Benton in the lower right and it's basically one of his more important prints. I would say it's in the top five of the several hundred lithographs he made.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
Unfortunately, just about everything you shouldn't do to a work of art has been done to this one. You can see here there are a couple of tears up here that extend into the image. There's this piece of tape that somebody put on the edge, a piece of masking tape to mask a tear there. There's a little divot down here. There's staining throughout here, a couple scratches in the clouds, some fairly significant staining down here.

GUEST:
Yes. And...

APPRAISER:
Last but not least, if I tip it like this, it's actually been glued down partially to this backboard. Which is not a good backboard, either.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
It's not museum-quality backboard. So, plainly put, all those condition problems really hurt the value. You said that at some point in time you had this appraised, or you got a value on it.

GUEST:
I took digital photographs of it and, judging from the photographs, they thought maybe $2,000.

APPRAISER:
And this was at an auction house?

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
Well, in this condition, I would say it's worth $3,000 to $4,000.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
And that is because most of these problems are easily reversible. If you take the print to a reputable paper conservator, and you could bring this back to life 90 times better than it is right now.

GUEST:
Oh, I didn't know that.

APPRAISER:
And all of that conservation would cost you several hundred dollars.

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
But it would increase the value of the print threefold.

GUEST:
Oh, okay.

APPRAISER:
So, in good condition, this would be a $10,000 print at auction.

GUEST:
Really? Wow.

APPRAISER:
So hold on to it, clean it up, and you've got a $10,000 print.

GUEST:
Oh, my God. That is neat.

APPRAISER:
Thanks for bringing it in.

GUEST:
Thank you. So, that's really his signature, too, huh?

APPRAISER:
Oh, yeah.

GUEST:
That's cool.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Swann Auction Galleries
New York, NY
Appraised value (2007)
$3,000 Auction$4,000 Auction
Event
Las Vegas, NV (August 18, 2007)
Period
20th Century
Form
Lithograph
Material
Paper

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