Treasures: Lionel Barrymore Prints Were Mass-Produced

These are gold-toned, but do they glitter in the eyes of collectors?

Dear Helaine and Joe:

Please tell me the value of these gold etchings of Lionel Barrymore sketches and how to go about selling them for my mother.

Thank you,

J. K.

Dear J. K.:

This is not the first time we have addressed the issue of the gold-toned images that carry the “signature” of the great actor Lionel Barrymore in the margin. We discussed this issue about five years ago, and unfortunately, they have not become of more interest to collectors in the intervening half-decade.

One of the prints belonging to J. K.’s mother is titled “Point Pleasant,” the other “Point Mugu.” We are not quite sure where Point Pleasant might be located because most of the images Lionel Barrymore created were from locations in California and New England, but there are Point Pleasant locations in California, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Point Mugu, on the other hand, is easy to locate. This is located in Ventura County, Calif., near the city of Oxnard. The name is thought to be derived from the Chumash (a seagoing Native American people living in Southern California between about Malibu and Morro Bay). “Mugu” is said to be from the Chumash word “Muwu,” which means “beach.”

Lionel Barrymore was born April 28, 1878, in Philadelphia. His parents were actors Georgiana Drew and Maurice Barrymore, who had been born Maurice Blythe. Young Lionel wanted to be an artist and sometime in the mid-1890s went to Paris to study art.

He returned to the United States in the early 1900s to enter the family business of acting. He had his first role in a Broadway play in 1907, and his first credited film role came in 1908 with the silent film “Paris Hat.” Lionel Barrymore was not really happy with acting and could be found drawing between scenes on movie sets.

He did produce some etchings during his lifetime, and these can be valuable. But the images in today’s question were mass-produced years after the actor’s death in 1955 by Brown and Bigelow, which is a company best known for its production of calendars and promotional materials for entities such as insurance companies. Estimates of the prints’ age vary from the late 1950s to the 1970s.

Although it is a bit fuzzy in the photographs supplied by J. K., we believe the Brown and Bigelow logo is in the lower-left corner of these images. The “Barrymore” pieces normally came in sets in a portfolio. They must have been printed in rather large numbers because they are available both online and in antiques malls across the country.

At least one of the prints appears to be damaged. We definitely see four longitudinal creases in the Point Mugu example, and these will make the image practically worthless. The Point Pleasant example may be in good condition, but its monetary value for sales purposes is probably less than $50.

Read the original article online on the NJ Herald.