Thomas Hart Benton Lithograph, “County Politics,” ca. 1973

Value (2008) | $5,000 Auction$8,000 Auction

GUEST:
My boss gave me this print. His uncle had passed away and he inherited this, and it hung over our coffee machine at work and I admired it every day.

APPRAISER:
And what did you want to learn about it when you brought it in to me?

GUEST:
Well, I wanted to learn is it actually a print, is it a charcoal lithograph?

APPRAISER:
It's by Thomas Hart Benton, who is probably one of the most famous American artists of the 20th century. And it is a lithograph. It's an original print. You asked me if you... if it was a drawing or a lithograph, you weren't sure, and it's a valid question because a lot of lithographs have that chalk drawing quality like this does. And Benton did sign it down here-- that's a pencil signature. And he was a prolific printmaker. He made several hundred lithographs, and this is actually one of his last prints. He died in 1975, and this one dates from 1973.

GUEST:
Oh, okay.

APPRAISER:
And the title of the print is "County Politics." Benton was very much into the common man and... and the struggle of the worker in America. And this image shows sort of democracy at work-- men outside the courthouse.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
It's a nice... very evocative of Benton's work on the whole, sort of summing up his whole life-- this interest in small-town America and rural politics. The lithograph itself is based on a painting from the 1950s that Benton made, and that painting is very... as you can imagine, it's a very colorful thing. This actually is a work he did to reproduce that painting. And the painting itself is millions of dollars.

GUEST:
Oh.

APPRAISER:
But I think it's wonderful how Benton, in just black and white-- the black ink on the white paper-- managed to get so many tones into it and show these highlights-- the highlight on the building, the highlights in the clouds in the sky. There's a lot going on for just a two-toned image. Now, have you ever had it valued or do you have any idea what it's worth?

GUEST:
I mean, I figured maybe $1,500. And I don't know why, I mean, that's...

APPRAISER:
But you've never had it appraised.

GUEST:
Never had it, no. And I might have found that on the Internet somewhere.

APPRAISER:
Well, I have some good news for you and some bad news.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
I'll give you the good news first.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
At auction, this would bring between $5,000 and $8,000.

GUEST:
Oh, my.

APPRAISER:
The bad news is I think your boss might want it back-- I hope he doesn't. (laughing)

GUEST:
You could be right. I really think it's wonderful now. (both laughing)

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Swann Auction Galleries
New York, New York
Appraised value (2008)
$5,000 Auction$8,000 Auction
Event
Chattanooga, TN (July 19, 2008)
Period
20th Century
Form
Lithograph
Material
Paper

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