As my eyes roved over the merchandise, old and new, at a local household auction, they fell upon an enchanting print in an antique frame. The print was a misty pastoral scene of cows grazing in a forest. I had long searched for just the right print to hang on the wall of my log cabin – this was it!
I was vaguely familiar with artist’s name, R. Atkinson Fox. I’d heard the name in some past discussion of antiques, but that was about it. I had no clue as to the value of the print and I truly didn’t care. I just wanted it to display in my log cabin. The print was housed in a slightly damaged antique frame. The glass was wavy as old glass tends to be. The frame and glass were a perfect match. I’d found what I was seeking – now I had only to buy it.
The print of my dreams sat among some 30 or 40 miscellaneous pieces of framed artwork. To my eyes, the cow print was the best piece, but I didn’t know if the other bidders would agree. When the auctioneer reached the lot of artwork, he offered them not one by one, but choice. Those who regularly attend auctions know that “choice” means the bidder can pick out whichever one piece he or she desires from the lot for the price of the bid (multiplied by however many the bidder chooses). I’ve played the auction game for years, so I know the dangers. Many bidders are tempted to stand by and wait while the price goes down before swooping in and nabbing their choice piece. This can save one money, but there is the strong possibility that another bidder will grab up the piece. I wasn’t willing to take such a chance to save a few bucks. I didn’t know the value of the print, but it I’d already decided what I was willing to pay long before the lot came up for bids. The bidding began and soon I was the top bidder at $40, which I considered quite a reasonable price. Today, the Atkinson print hangs on the wall of my log cabin.
This was my introduction to the artwork of R. Atkinson Fox. Since then, I’ve spotted scores of his prints in antique shops and malls. I’m familiar enough with his style that I can usually spot his work without looking for his signature. While there are similarities with Maxfield Parrish and other lesser known artists, Fox has his own particular flare. It’s not surprising that I’ve noted so many Fox prints. He produced over 1,000 pieces of artwork during his lifetime!
Fox was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1860, but immigrated to the United States somewhere between 1885 and 1890. He worked as an artist both in Toronto and in the United States. He began his work as a commercial artist in the early 1900s and continued until the early 1930s (Fox died in 1935 in Chicago). Fox was commissioned by both calendar companies and art print publishers.
Fox worked primarily as a painter early in his life, but began producing the works for which he is best known after he moved his business to Philadelphia at the turn of the century. Fox himself lived at this time in various communities in New Jersey and finally settled on a farm in West Long Branch, N.J. Later, Fox moved to Chicago to be closer to one of his major clients, the John Baumgarth Company.
Fox painted in his studio every day – from memory, sketches, or photographs. It is said that he often completed a painting in a single day. Interestingly for collectors, Fox sometimes used a pseudonym when he was not pleased with his work or if a pseudonym was requested by a client. So, if you run across a print that appears to be the work of Fox, but bears another name, it could still be a Fox print.
R. Atkinson Fox prints are not difficult to find. They regularly appear in antique shops, shows, malls, and auctions. This should come as no surprise when one realizes that they were reproduced in the millions. The great wealth of prints produced means that prices are reasonable today. While some Fox prints come with hefty price tags, most can be had for well under $100. I regularly spot Fox prints in the $35 to $65 range. It’s difficult to find Fox prints for under $35, but it can be done. One source that offers some under $35 prints is eBay. Beware the shipping costs for prints sold on eBay, however, especially if they are framed. Shipping costs can easily run in excess of $10, which can turn what at first seems a bargain price into a much more expensive piece. Also beware reproductions. Some Fox prints have been reprinted.
Part of the price tag comes from the frame. Fox prints are often found in frames that have quite a value themselves. This can add to the cost, so one way to get a good deal is to look for attractive prints in poor quality or damaged frames – or better yet, unframed. Of course, this leaves one with the problem of locating a frame, but many Fox prints are standard sizes and may fit into a frame already in your collection.
Fox prints are often advertised as “signed.” Almost always, the signature has been reproduced along with the print itself. While such a piece is technically signed, it was not hand-signed by Fox himself. The signature adds no value beyond identifying the piece as a Fox print.
After purchasing a Fox print, take care to protect it. A print that has survived since the 1920s or 30s can easily be destroyed in a fairly short period of time if displayed in direct sunlight. The damage will not be noticeable on a day to day basis, but sunlight will quickly fade any paper collectible and Fox prints are no exception. Damp areas should also be avoided. Never store old prints in basements or any other area with excess moisture.
While some collectors amass a collection of dozens of prints, most of us have far more modest collections. I keep my eye out for R. Atkinson Fox prints at all times – seeking cow prints especially. Even so, I have yet to find another to add to my collection. While I’ve found dozens of beautiful prints, I haven’t found another that is quite as enchanting as the first. My failure to find additional prints is of no consequence. I enjoy the one I already have on a daily basis. Remember, a collection need not be large to be enjoyable. Some will argue that one is not a collection, but that doesn’t matter either.
Fox produced more than 1,000 pieces of artwork, so take your time if you’re searching for your own special piece. If, like me, you have limited display space, then it pays to be choosey. You will find that special piece someday, just as I did at that little household auction some years ago.
The R. Atkinson Fox Society can be found on the internet at www.rafoxsociety.com. The society is, in its own words, “…dedicated to unite collectors of R. Atkinson Fox artwork through a quarterly newsletter and yearly convention. The purpose of the society is to share information and provide an educational means to learn about the Golden Age of American Illustration in which R. Atkinson Fox was a significant contributor.” The society webpage includes a nice assortment of information that admirers of Fox will find of interest.
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