Will Barrymore prints bring fame, fortune?
Dear Helaine and Joe: I would appreciate your opinion on the enclosed pictures. Could they possibly be by THE Lionel Barrymore? They are brass (I guess) etchings that I purchased many years ago at a household auction. They are very attractive, but do they have any value? -- J. R., Everglades City, Fla.
Dear J. R.: Right up front, we can say that these prints are kind of, sort-of by the famous actor Lionel Barrymore.
Lionel Herbert Blythe was born on April 28, 1878, in Philadelphia to actors Georgiana and Maurice Drew, who used Barrymore as their stage name. Barrymore’s siblings were the famous -- even iconic -- actors John and Ethel Barrymore.
Lionel Barrymore began a successful career on the stage in the mid-1890s, but he apparently put that aside and moved to Paris with his wife Doris Rankin (married 1904 to 1923).
He is said to have studied painting in Paris from the early 1900s to about 1905 when he decided to return to the United States to “go into the family business” of acting.
Another source says Barrymore studied art in Paris in 1908, and in his book, “We Barrymores,” Barrymore wrote that he was in Paris in July 1909 when Louis Bleriot flew his monoplane across the English Channel. No matter exactly when Barrymore was in Paris, he did study painting there in the early years of the 20th century.
Barrymore’s film career began around 1911 with famed director D.W. Griffith. In 1931, Barrymore won a best actor Academy Award for his role in “A Free Soul,” but today’s audiences know him best for his roles in “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and “Key Largo” with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.
Barrymore is also remembered for his characterization on radio of Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and his portrayal of “Dr. Gillespie” in the “Dr. Kildare” movies of the 1930s and ‘40s. But despite his success as an actor, Barrymore is thought to have done it for money and was not happy with the profession.
On many occasions, Barrymore could be found on the set drawing and doing etchings between scenes, and in 1935, the Society of American Sketchers named one of his pieces one of the best prints of that year. Barrymore allowed a few of his images to be reproduced, and his originals (pencil drawings, pen and ink) sell for between around $100 and $200 on today’s market.
As we just stated, Barrymore did authorize some prints of his images to be made -- but these two gold-toned foil images are not part of that grouping. If J. R. will look closely, she will see that there is the phrase “Stand Pkg. Corp.” with the copyright symbol, and it is our understanding that these were produced by the Brown and Bigelow division of the Standard Packaging Corp. circa 1955 (Lionel Barrymore died in 1954).
This company was founded in 1896 and produced advertising specialties and promotional products. These gold-toned Barrymore prints usually came in sets that were contained within portfolios, and we have seen conjecture that they were made as late as the 1970s.
These gold-toned Barrymore prints are not uncommon, but their price does seem to be on the rise -- if only slightly. Framed, the pair retails for $50 to $100.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself” (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.