Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Back to school

Today marks the start of the school term, a bittersweet time where the kids head back to a new year of learning and parents readjust to having no children around. 2016/17 was a great holiday but after six weeks off both kids and parents are ready for the school term to begin.

The cost in economic terms of NZ's long summer school holiday must be quite large, perhaps offset in GDP terms by increased spending on travel, accomodation and holiday activities but in terms of a productivity hit for a family run business such as NZ Fine Prints the school holidays are a bit of a trial. Business is reduced to the bare minimum of getting prints shipped out the door, there is no spare time for planning, cataloguing or dealing with artists - anything outside of the ordinary is pushed forward into late January when we are back at work without the children under foot.  Looking back the family memories of the holidays are will be a big bunch of good times but we have really tried the patience of some customers along the way - but what alternative there is to tag team parenting reduced to part time hours over the school holidays eludes me.

Glenn Jones' print of coloured
crayons labeled in te reo Maori
Back to school is also part of what NZ Fine Prints are doing in 2017.  Pre-internet we had a division of our company devoted to supplying NZ schools with art education materials, particularly large colour reproductions of famous paintings.  This part of our business has reduced to a fraction of what it was now that teachers can access colour images over the internet for classroom use, basically we ended up selling school teachers with discounted prints for their homes rather than providing educational resources for the classroom!

We still think that kids growing up should be surrounded with good quality prints of paintings that are more than the purely decorative, to learn about art history and to appreciate what a rich visual culture has been created by artists over the past 500 years but we no longer import a purely educationally focussed range of prints.

Posters and prints will always be on walls of kiwi kids classrooms so we are expanding the prints for children/kids art collection in 2017 to include educational posters such as NZ and world maps (including NZ map posters in Te Reo Maori), and we're adding some great kiwiana ABC posters for the pre-school learners as well.

Monday, 12 December 2016

We worried NZ might run out of prints to publish (back in 1977!!)

To mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of NZ Fine Prints we have been delving into our company archive throughout 2016. We unearthed this gem of an article where one of the founders of our gallery (then trading as Avon Fine Prints) was found to be musing on the imminent demise of the business - because we would soon run out of suitable New Zealand prints to publish! Forty years later we are still managing to find new prints for our customers to buy, and the trend to a greater choice seems to be accelerating with more prints being published each succeeding year than ever before!  Don was great at generating publicity and the notion that success was spelling the end of a business should perhaps be seen in this light...

A twinge of regret now, but… Success spells the end of a business

Christchurch Star, November 19 1977, p16

A business which folds after a decade might not represent success to some. But when Don Ellis set up Avon Fine Prints Ltd in Christchurch he knew it was only a matter of time until the business destroyed itself.

So the demise comes as no surprise, but it still brings a twinge of regret.

In its wake lie at least 200 different limited editions of prints of some of the finest historical paintings in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. More than 20 of these editions have sold out, some with spectacular increase in value. Another 60 or 70  editions have only between 10 and 200 prints to sell. (An edition usually comprises between 750 and 1000 prints.)

Once they’re gone, so virtually is Avon Fine Prints.

Print publisher Don Ellis in 1977
“Avon prints are not being completely phased out. New issues will possibly be made at the rate of one or two a year, and for a short time the paper prints will be made available to collectors,” says Mr Ellis. “It is also likely that another limited edition book or two will appear over the Avon imprint - but most of the Avon group’s activities these days are centred in the Capper Press, with its reprint books and New Zealand art prints; in Avon Picture Mouldings; in the educational division with its imported educational prints; and in Campbell Grant, best known for The Silver Shop.”

Most of the paintings printed by Avon Prints have been out of copyright - the work of very early New Zealand and Pacific artists. If copyright is still functioning, it is usually negotiable, or royalty arrangements can be reached.

At present Mr Ellis is trying to negotiate with a group of New Zealand artists whose work embraces the 1920s and 1930s.  Largely, Mr Ellis is guided by his own preference for paintings, although there is no foolproof way of knowing which works will win public approval as prints.

Some are much more popular than others - for no apparent reason, he says. “All the publisher can do is to feel for his market, have a good idea what he thinks should be done, ask other artists, critics, gallery directors for their opinions, distill all the information and come to a decision.”

Now that the early print business has come to an end, Mr Ellis looks forward to spending more time  working with Capper Press, a business which specialises in the reprinting of old books - particularly those which are extremely specialised. Among reprints to date are Freda du Faur’s book Conquest of Mt Cook, W.S. Green’s The High Alps of New Zealand, Sir Henry Brett’s White Wings, T.H. Pott’s Out in the Open, and numerous others. All these have a limited demand, but are fascinating in their own right, Says Mr Ellis. Among those he has personally found most entertaining and interesting are a couple on herbalists and doctors, and one called Colonists’ Guide: an Encyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge, a book which includes advice on how to cook, how to grow vegetables, and generally, how to stay alive.

Many of the books which are reprinted are chanced upon or brought to light by members of the public; others are selected by the firm. Without a reprint many of them would either disintegrate through old age, or else perhaps be lost in archives.

Begun as a hobby, Avon Fine Prints is the only company of its kind in the world devoted wholly to the publication of historical maps, prints and charts in limited editions. Until this month the prints were available unframed, but now sales of framed prints only will be made.

Why the change? Says Mr Ellis: “The selection and publication of limited edition prints is an intensely personal choice; there are very few historical paintings left to do, and the prints done cannot, of course, be reprinted, so that this side of the business is coming to a natural close.” The balance of the limited edition print stocks are to be transferred to the wholesale and retail framing division of the Avon group of companies, the Picture Shop, in Hereford Street.

When Mr Ellis began the business, people generally had no idea what a print was, he says. Nor did they possess much knowledge or appreciation of New Zealand’s early works of art “People certainly wouldn’t entertain New Zealand prints at that time so we had to have a sales aid, and that in our case was the limited edition print. “We came in on a rise of historical interest in New Zealand - and it has been this which has sustained the interest in the prints. “People suddenly became interested in their town or environment and bought a print of their area. The set of four views Auckland 1852 by P.J. Hogan is one of the best known groups. “The prints helped people to become interested in their own indigenous New Zealand art, and we would like to think that what we’ve done has helped to further stimulate their interest.”

People buying the early limited editions did so in the knowledge that once the edition was sold out, there were no more available. It was a sought-after commodity. “The problem which occurs, however, is that at some time you must run out of suitable paintings from which to take prints.” And with this prospect looming, Mr Ellis started Capper Press about five years ago.

Mr Ellis’s interest in art stems from his childhood. As a young man he built up quite a collection of early New Zealand paintings and eventually decided to start his own business in prints. The Auckland series was one of the first printed and “it went like a rocket”, says Mr Ellis.

Consequently, the business was soon on a firm footing, and today can claim credit for the publication of at least 200 different prints.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Screenprinting with NZ printmaker Greg Straight

The printmaker Greg Straight working on his new edition
Catching Rays, a new limited edition print by NZ printmaker Greg Straight, encapsulates just about everything we like to see in a contemporary print by a New Zealand artist.

It's technically proficient, printed with great attention to detail, it has crisp lines and dense colour.

The artwork is large scale (it's on a full A1 sheet) and in a small edition (just 25 prints).

It depicts something unique to NZ in with a creative and distinctive artistic voice that is both thoughtful and decorative. The design on the rays wings may at first glance appear to be just a riff on classic Maori motifs but there is definitely something bat(man) like about the patterns on a second look.

Checking colours of the artist's proof
Catching Rays is also great value, you are buying a very large handmade print by a popular artist for just $300.

We also love the subject, New Zealand's sea creatures like sting rays haven't had as much exposure in contemporary art (compare the vast range that is available to buy in the ever popular native birds and native plants collections) but they deserve to be celebrated by our artists to the same degree.

Greg with his print "Catching Rays"
(available to buy here)
 Artist/illustrator Giselle Clarkson whose "Fish Species of NZ" print came out a couple of years ago is another artist whose interest in depicting NZ's sea creatures is making us wonder if a new kiwi wall art trend is stirring.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Mailing dates for Xmas gifts 2016

From now until Christmas is the busiest time of the year sales wise for NZ Fine Prints. Art prints are perennially popular Xmas gifts and making sure we deliver on time for Xmas around the world and throughout NZ has been something we have been doing for 50 years!!

Official mailing dates are below, these apply to our standard delivery service. There may be other delivery options available outside of our standard service/pricing so if you think you are running out of time please call us on 0800 800 278 in the lead up to Xmas, we may be able to work something out for you.

NZ Fine Prints Christmas Mailing Dates for 2016 are as follows:

Delivery worldwide at our standard rate of just $NZ15 (for any number of prints):


Please order your gifts by Wednesday 7th December 2016

UK & Europe, East Asia, North America & South Pacific

Please order your gifts by Friday 2nd December 2016

Rest of World

Order Xmas gifts by Wednesday 30th November 2016

Xmas Delivery to NZ Addresses

Standard Delivery for $NZ6 (for any number of prints)

We need to have your orders for prints being delivered as gifts for Xmas by 3pm Tuesday 20th December 2016

Deadline for next day courier delivery via CourierPost with guaranteed delivery for Xmas day is 3pm Thursday 22nd December 2016

Framed Prints - please order 10 working days before these mailing dates to ensure we can deliver by Christmas.

Gift Vouchers

NZ Prints also deliver gift vouchers by mail to NZ addresses if ordered by 22 December - and email gift vouchers are even being purchased on Xmas day itself and delivered instantly around the world. Now that is last minute Christmas shopping!

Shipping & Delivery Updates

As we get closer to Xmas we will update any delays or known issues with Xmas delivery on our shipping & delivery page.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Local art publishers have world-wide circulation

2016 has been the 50th anniversary of the founding of our company. This has been a great reason to revisit our history, much of which we have in scrapbooks (actually bound book proofs with blank pages of their earliest publications) dating back to the 1960s.  This article is from 1973 and is particularly interesting as it features the founders of New Zealand Fine Prints Don & Enid Ellis, discussing how they started in the art publishing business with Christchurch reporter David Young.  A note on the name change - in the 1990s the publishing and mail order businesses of Avon Fine Prints and Capper Press were merged into a single company around the time we shifted focus to publishing and online retail when our catalogues went online at prints.co.nz).

Local art publishers have world-wide circulation
"Local Art Publishers" article from 1973
The Queen, the Pope, President Nixon, Emperor Hirohito and Mr Trudeau are among the recipients of the work of a Christchurch company, Avon Fine Prints Ltd.

One of Avon’s more monumental achievements, Cook’s Artists, a collection of the drawings and paintings done by men on Cook’s voyages, became the official New Zealand Government book for 1969.

That year was the tricentenary of Cook’s discovery of New Zealand and the book went to official recipients and private collectors all round the world.

“You name the country - we sent it there”, says Mr D.G. Ellis, who with his wife,
Enid & Don Ellis of Avon Fine Prints
runs Avon Fine Prints.

Both aged about 30, the couple have for the last seven years been publishing reproductions of early New Zealand paintings and prints as well as facsimiles of fine, historical books.

Publishing, not printing, is their line, their speciality being limited, hand-numbered prints of scenes which, while not common, are not unfamiliar sights on carefully decorated walls.

“We are a pirate outfit really,” said Mr Ellis when I telephoned to ask about his operation.

But in a personal interview, this same candour revealed that his and his wife’s interest in New Zealand nineteenth century art is considerable. The couple have an extensive personal collection and it was Mr Ellis’s father’s knowledge of the subject which really led to the establishment of the present business.

World hunt
Returning from Australia in the early 1960s with a bundle of New Zealand paintings by such artists as Hoyte, Gully and Lindauer - all purchased for about £30 and resold here for considerably more - Mr Ellis jun. went hunting for similar material round the world.

His best deal, he says, was a Lindauer which he bought for £20 and sold for £900 - the then top price for a New Zealand painting.

But while the market knew no bounds, the supply of material was distinctly limited.

“So”, he explained, “we had to print our own stuff.”

Mrs Ellis said that in the early 1960s they did a great deal of original research with the help of the librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library (Mr Tony Murray-Oliver), who suggested that they start publishing limited edition prints.

To start with they did three tiny Canterbury prints by Holmes, hand-coloured, each with a run of 300.

Since then the company has published about 160 editions of prints by artists such as Blomfield, Chevalier, Gully, Hodgkins, Hoyte, Lindauer, Nairn, Sharpe and Wilson, as well as a series of early New Zealand town scenes.

Surprisingly, there is little original work of Canterbury, Mr Ellis pointed out. Canterbury was settled later than many other areas and Dr Barker was on the scene with his camera almost before the artists could set up easel.

Again, the New Zealand material that is suitable for reproduction is limited and Avon Fine Prints is now moving into other Pacific countries to continue its work.

It is the only company of its type in this part of the world, so includes Australian and Hawaiian art among the work it reproduces.

“We can do it in New Zealand because the printing works are geared to smaller runs than elsewhere”, said Mrs Ellis.

“We have the advantage of being able to do a run as small as 300 - which other countries just won’t touch - and we can still obtain quality from our printers.”

Why do people buy prints?

Essentially, say the Ellises, they like the picture for aesthetic, historical and decorative reasons. They also buy prints as an investment.

The object of a limited edition is that it will at least hold its value, monetarily, as well as providing an inbuilt reassurance to buyers that not everyone owns a copy.

The prints do appear to be a reasonable investment - a $6 Canterbury print now sells for $24 and others from limited editions show similar upward movement.

An offshoot of the Avon company is Capper Press, which produces unlimited editions - usually about 2000 - of New Zealand paintings, which sell more cheaply.

Capper Press also publishes facsimile copies of such early New Zealand books as Knocking about in New Zealand by Charles Money.

But the most spectacular undertakings have been Avon’s large, historical book productions.

Apart from the Cook publication, which contained much original research and previously unpublished material, Avon reproduced Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand, by S.C. Brees, as a facsimile which sold for $60 and which now changes hands for $125.

Now Avon has just completed the printing of a facsimile edition of New Zealand: Graphic and Descriptive by C.D. Barraud (1877).

The giant book, with its 22in by 17in pages, printed on special paper with 76 illustrations including 24 colour plates and a Moroccan finish is a colossal undertaking. The 1000 copies being printed require 11 tons of paper, and special, unmarked skins for the leather cover.

Subscribers from around the world have paid their $35 deposit on the $150 subscription price and, following in the tradition of the 97 year-old original, will have their names bound into the volume - one of the few departures from the true facsimile.

Interestingly, some of the names in the back are the same as the ones in the front - the descendants of the original subscribers in some cases have followed in their grandparents’ footsteps.

Only a few copies remain of the original volume and many of these are now scattered.

“We’re not interested in publishing new books - writers drive me up the wall. We like our authors dead 100 years,” Mr Ellis said.

Not justified
As far as paintings are concerned: “We’d like to go more modern - a lot more modern - but there are not the sales in this country to justify this. 

“Today people in this country are getting sophisticated - they know what they want.

“We’re not arty-minded or anything like that, but we’re interested in good New Zealand paintings and we are leading people to the situation where they can make a choice,”

Mrs Ellis put in: “We are sales and commercially orientated, but our work stems from an interest and a knowledge in our material. You’ve got to put a premium on these things.”

With one exception - when the work was sent to Hong Kong - all the printing is done in New Zealand.

Avon pays reproduction fees to the individual and the institution owning the material. It is often institutions which constitute a large proportion of the buyers of reproductions.

Its reputation now firmly entrenched in so many parts of the world, Avon Fine Prints could continue to keep Christchurch on the map for some years to come.

But however they develop, the Ellises are determined that their work will never loom so large that their personal touch in business is lost.