By Karen Knapstein
Browse through your local antique mall and I’ll bet you’ll find any number of vintage paint by numbers (PBN). When they were introduced as a pastime for adults in the 1950s, members of the fine art community scoffed. “Every man a Rembrandt?” Indeed!
Today, contemporary paint by numbers are appreciated for their hobby value, while vintage pieces are sought after for their kitsch and decorator appeal.
Paint By Numbers Appeals to Various Interests
Uma Anderson, proprietor at the online shop Dairyland Vintage on Etsy.com, is an enthusiastic buyer, seller, and collector of vintage paint by numbers. She explains her attraction to the “art”: “The beauty of paint by numbers is, given the wide range of subject matter, there is a match for most any collection or decor. Woodland scenes and deer fit a rustic cabin decor, horses for the ranch look, flamingos for the mid century kitschers, farm and pastoral scenes for the shabby cottage folk, and so on... Dog and cat people can even collect paintings of their specific breed.”
When queried about what themes are more popular than others (i.e., what sells and what doesn’t), Uma says, “long story short, everything sells.”
Nudes Among Sought-After Subjects
She divulges one of the more obscure (and higher priced) PBN subjects: “Though not everyone’s cup of tea, the paint by number nude is highly sought after.
“Unlike the mass produced canine, feline, and landscape kits which were painted by an entire generation of budding young artists,” she explains, “the nude canvases were created for the much narrower adult market. I have to imagine that these nude kits were not offered up with the standard paint by number fare at the local Woolworths, but in more specialized hobby shops. From what I understand these kits had no cover art making marketing more of a challenge.
Anderson continues, “At any rate, due to their rarity, paint by number nudes fetch a high price. As a collector, I own three: two purchased on eBay several years ago from sellers who didn’t know what they had, and a miniature found in a junk shop here in Wisconsin. I recently sold a duplicate of one in my collection. It was an unframed canvas and I originally thought to ask $100, but at the last minute decided to reach for the stars and listed it for $225. It sold in a week.”
Mother Mary Leading Spiritual Figure Among PBN
Anderson says other popular themes that sell well for her are deer, horses and dogs. She says, in general, landscapes are slower sellers, but religious paintings are popular. Specifically, the Virgin Mary sells best, and “Jesus is a close second.”
“However,” Anderson says, “The Last Supper is apparently a dud. The one in my Etsy shop has been sitting for a few years and has even sold once and was returned. I have two more just like it that I haven’t yet bothered listing.”
When it comes to displaying PBNs, Anderson says, “My own pieces are displayed throughout my house as opposed to a paint by number statement wall (though I love this look in other homes). I’d like to think they blend in by color and theme in each room and don’t overwhelm.”
“As both a collector and a seller, I never pass up a paint by number when thrifting [except for very messy paintings obviously done by young children].”