Chromolithograph, “Custer’s Last Rally,” ca. 1881

Value (2007) | $5,500 Retail

APPRAISER:
You brought in this rather gory, dramatic scene with a very familiar figure in the middle, George Custer here. Tell me where you got it.

GUEST:
My wife and I, we were down at a flea market. And I saw it laying there actually on the ground and I walked by it. And I asked the guy how much he wanted for it. And, uh, he told me and I thought about it. And then I forgot about it and went home. And the rest of that night I was saying, "Why did I do that? I should've bought it." And, so what happened was my wife ended up buying it and she hid it for four months underneath the bed. So, uh...

APPRAISER:
Then gave it to you?

GUEST:
And then-- for my birthday. It's been over my desk for about 15, 17 years. It's just an interesting subject.

APPRAISER:
You know quite a bit about it. Why don't you tell me what you know about it?

GUEST:
I believe the correct title is “Custer's Last Rally.” The artist was John Mulvany. And this was done in 1881. The date is right down here in the corner. The original oil painting was a very large size. It actually ended up touring the country for quite a while. And I believe that painting still exists and is in a museum. And from what I understand,

Mulvany died pretty penniless. That was his masterpiece of his career. And other than that, that's pretty much what I know.

APPRAISER:
That's quite a bit. It's “Custer's Last Rally,” and, of course, it does show the scene of what's often called "Custer's last stand." And Mulvany, he was an Irish immigrant who came over and did some sketching during the Civil War, and after the Civil War moved out West and got very interested in this battle. And actually went to the battlefield to sketch the terrain, interviewed some of the survivors to get the uniforms right. He talked to some of the Indians to find out what happened, and tried to do this as accurately as possible. I believe it's 11x20. Made a huge impact. Now, it was hard for artists in the late 19th century to make money. So what they often did was they did tour.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
And they took it all around the United States, and would charge admission for people to come in and see. And because that only made him so much money, he decided to have a print made of it.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
That was the painting that was done in 1881. This print here does have a copyright on it, but it doesn't have a date. It was done in Chicago by the Chicago Lithograph and Engraving Company, probably not too long afterwards, probably 1882, 1883. This is done by the process of chromolithography. And chromolithography

was used because it was a way that they could duplicate as closely as possible the original oil. They kept putting on the colors and that gave it a richness and a texture that made it look like the original painting.

GUEST:
I see.

APPRAISER:
Now, 'cause every color was put on with a separate stone, you had to line up the stones exactly right. And so what these are, is they are the register marks that they used to line up the stone so it would print properly and wouldn't be fuzzy. It's actually a very good quality chromolithograph. They would have done a fair number; nobody knows how many. But it's very rare. In fact, this is the first one I've ever seen in person.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
I've never had it for sale. I've never seen it sold.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
Now, what did you pay for it? Or your wife when she bought it?

GUEST:
Well, she told me she paid $225.

APPRAISER:
Well, it is not in great condition. You've got the stains from the wood slats at the back. Where the wood slats meet, acid comes out and burns the paper. You also have a tear over on that side. So it's not in great shape. In this condition, this print is probably worth about $5,500.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
If you spent maybe $300, $400 on that, it would up the price to another thousand dollars.

GUEST:
Really? Well, I've enjoyed it.

APPRAISER:
Good.

GUEST:
And I'm really glad we brought it down.

APPRAISER:
I'm glad your wife got it for you.

GUEST (chuckles): So am I.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
The Philadelphia Print Shop West
Philadelphia, PA
Appraised value (2007)
$5,500 Retail
Event
Las Vegas, NV (August 18, 2007)
Period
19th Century
Material
Paper

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