I’m 28, and I look like a teenager. In fact, when I go to clothing stores, I often get asked if I’m shopping for a dress for my sweet sixteen. I get carded at R-rated movies, and don’t get me started on what it takes for me to order a glass of wine at a restaurant.
Somehow this ties into the fact that I firmly believe I was born in the wrong century. Ideally, I would have been Fitzgerald’s muse (shove over, Zelda), or I would have romped through wheat fields with Jane Austen and put flowers in her hair.
Unfortunately, I’m stuck here in 2012. I’ve resigned myself to internal monologues with my 1920s and 1800s counterparts, and I’ve made my peace with being the youngest person ever who forages through dusty antique shops with unusual vigor. So imagine my elation, my pure joy, atstumbling upon The Philadelphia Print Shop West. Crossing Chris Lane’s threshold is like walking out of snooty Cherry Creek circa 2012 (I live here so I can say that) and walking into the oasis that is the uncomplicated era of yesteryear.
Lane, who opened the original Philadelphia Print Shop in, gasp, Philadelphia opened this sister store in Denver almost two years ago.
“We have the same inventory, and we share the same website. We ship prints back and forth, but obviously I have much more Western material here. We have Western maps, Indian prints and Western scenes. It’s just a different emphasis,” he says.
An obvious academic, Lane got his MA at Oxford University before coming back to the U.S. to get his PhD in philosophy but ended up taking a year off to work for a man in the antique print industry.
“I decided I loved the business but hated the guy’s guts so the only thing to do was to open my own business,” he says.
Lane has written three books on prints, many academic articles and even gives lectures on the subject.
“All my training was in research. My partner was a rare book librarian. We probably have the best reference collection of any dealer in the world,” he says. “Whenever we get a new print we research it, find who did it and why it was done. Then we type up a description, and we provide that information to our clients. The stuff we sell is beautiful, but that’s not how we approach selling. When you buy something it’s not just attractive. You understand its place in history. These prints are a part of history.”
It’s this historical lean that differentiates The Philadelphia Print Shop West from being just another antique shop. The store is quite big really, especially considering the specialized inventory, and classical music floats through the shelves of prints. Bring out a silver tray with a crystal bottle of Rémy Martin, and call me happy.
Lane and his partner are kind of big deals when it comes to the world of antique prints and maps. In fact, they’ve been doing appraisals on The Antiques Roadshow for about 15 years. Despite their fame, it seems that Denver still has a way to go when it comes to appreciating this type of art.
“There is less awareness in regards to the type of material we deal with,” Lane says. “A lot of what I’m doing is to open [clients’] eyes to what this stuff is. However, the really strong thing out here is maps.”
In fact, there is a even a Rocky Mountain Map Society. Who knew? Even more impressive is that fact that The Philadelphia Print Shop West is home to the first map to ever depict both North and South America (done in 1540, might I add).
The shop boasts about 70,000 prints and maps ranging in price from $35 to $55,000. (Yours truly bought two prints for a grand total of $87. Bargain hunter? I think so.)
“Their value comes from their appearance and how they were created. Most of the prints we sell get their [monetary] value from their historical value,” Lane says. “Everything has to be judged for its context—the socioeconomic factors that created it. I like things that are a little strange. We’ve got a target up there, an Indian face with a target right in the middle. It’s a German print, and it’s just fascinating that they would do that because it’s so not PC. But it’s a part of the history. You have to appreciate these things for their historical significance. You can’t judge them by today’s moorings.”
Whether created centuries ago or done just for fun, art inspires and intrigues me. It makes me stop, stand still, and admire a slice of time caught forever on canvas.
Perhaps you are not enamored of the musings of a girl who believes she is in the wrong century or those of a semi-drunk with a doomed relationship or even the social commentary of a feminine wordsmith for that matter. But if you appreciate art, in all it’s historical significance and aesthetic beauty, then stop by The Philadelphia Print Shop West, and settle in for the long haul.
While I may look 16 to some, at Lane’s store I am transported back to a time where literary know-how meant something and good music was not just for the stuffy aristocracy. At this store, I forget that it’s 2012, and I remember that I belong.
The Philadelphia Print Shop West
2819 E 2nd Avenue
Denver, CO 80206