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Harry Shaw Newman 1896–1966

January 2021

On August 12 last, the editors of AMERICAN HERITAGE sustained a deeply felt loss with the passing of Harry Shaw Newman, a member of our Editorial Advisory Board.

Mr. Newman, known to some as the “Prince of Prints” and to others as “Mr. Americana,” entered into his lifelong work when he discovered in the attic of his grandmother’s old boarding-house in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, two large-folio Currier & Ives prints. He promptly took them to a local antique shop and sold them at what he thought to be a very good price. Rising to the bait, he abandoned his previous job and became a “runner”—one who works out of his car buying and selling antiques.

He was a born salesman, and he came to know prints and to know he loved to sell them. In 1926 he purchased the Old Print Shop in New York, then run by two employees; today it has a staff of twelve. Mr. Newman soon became an acknowledged authority in the world of prints, maps, and American art, and he was particularly famous for his leadership in restoring to fame the work of Currier and Ives. He worked closely with the late Harry T. Peters of New York, the greatest collector of all in that field, and he also helped to build the notable collections of Irving S. Olds, the naval print expert, and William Coverdale, a specialist in Canadian subjects.

Early in the game Mr. Newman recognized the untapped lode of American prints existing in Europe, and made frequent trips there. Many examples of American printmaking were thus repatriated. Once he brought back a fine Bennett aquatint of Boston which he thought might interest Maxim Karolik, a discerning Boston collector. Mr. Karolik said he would purchase it on the condition that Mr. Newman successfully remove the print from a heavy board on which it had been mounted. After a painstaking and risky removal, Mr. Karolik received his Boston aquatint. But Mr. Newman had the dealer’s delieht of keeping four other Bennetts that came to light underneath.

As the print business continued to thrive after the war, Mr. Newman started publishing a small but delightfully written catalogue which is now in its twenty-sixth year, The Old Print Shop Portfolio .

With a vocation like American prints, one does not need an avocation. Harry Newman did like fishing, and when ill health forced him to abandon it, his wife, Helen, would drive him to the races. The turf, after all, was even dearer to printmakers than the pursuit of the elusive trout. He was a very “clubbable” man, in the best old New York sense, a member of the Grolier and the Century, but the best club of all to his intimates was his comfortable, fascinating, and utterly unpretentious headquarters at Lexington Avenue and Thirtieth Street, where the knowing and appreciative could meet for the kind of talk that turns work into pleasure and commerce into friendship.

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