Understanding Wallace Nutting Signatures and Dating Wallace Nutting Pictures

A proper understanding of the Wallace Nutting signature process can not only help you to authenticate a Wallace Nutting picture, but it can help you to date it as well. Authenticating a legitimate “Wallace Nutting” signature is probably the most difficult part of Wallace Nutting collecting because Wallace Nutting rarely signed pictures himself.

It can be safely assumed that Nutting signed some of his earliest pictures, before he hired employees and as his business was growing. We also know that he signed some later pictures as gifts to friends or favors to associates. And throughout the years he undoubtedly signed some pictures in the Studio. But for all practical purposes, Nutting probably signed perhaps no more than several thousand pictures out of his overall output of literally millions of pictures.

Rather, it was his colorists, or more specifically, his Head Colorists, who signed the Wallace Nutting name. As a result, when you buy a Wallace Nutting picture, you are buying a picture with the Wallace Nutting name on it, not a picture signed by Wallace Nutting himself.

In the Wallace Nutting Studio, after each picture was colored and mounted on the mat board, it was returned to the Head Colorist who actually signed the Wallace Nutting name. And considering that Wallace Nutting was in full-time business between 1905-1941, and he had a part-time business between 1900-1904, he obviously had many different people signing his name over the 40+ year period. This accounts for the many different Wallace Nutting signatures that will be found on his pictures today.

And with so many different “authentic” signatures, this is the easiest thing for a forger to fake. As a result, differentiating between authentic and fake Wallace Nutting signatures is the hardest thing for a new collector to master.

I will be the first to admit that even I cannot authenticate each and every signature I see. In nearly every instance, I can determine which signatures are authentic, and which are fakes. But every once in a while a picture comes along that I just don’t know whether its real or not. There are a few signatures that look like they might be 70-90 years old, yet aren’t recognizable as a signature I have previously seen. When shown to a group of very experienced collectors, more often than not there is a lack of unanimous agreement regarding its authenticity. Which means that no one knows for sure.

The good news is that most fake Wallace Nutting signatures are relatively easy to detect…once you know what to look for.

This is the only in-depth attempt at visually exploring legitimate Wallace Nutting signatures that we are aware of. We ask that you take this article for what it is intended to be: an in-depth look at Wallace Nutting Signatures. But it does not include all legitimate signatures. That would be a physical impossibility.

Basically, we have divided Wallace Nutting signatures into 3 distinct time periods:

Early Southbury…1904-1910

• Late Southbury-Early Framingham…1911-1930

• Late Framingham…1930-1941

Each period has certain characteristics which we will try to explore. But before we explore many of the different colorist’s signatures, let take a brief look at Wallace Nutting’s own signature.

Wallace Nutting’s Personal Signature: Prior to the days of desktop publishing, e-mail, cell phones, Federal Express, UPS, Priority Mail, Land line Long Distance Service, and all the other modern means of communication, Wallace Nutting had little alternative but to correspond via the US Mail. And since Wallace Nutting was relatively famous, especially in his later life, he corresponded with many individuals, many of whom kept copies of his letters.

Wallace Nutting also actively promoted most of the books that he wrote, especially by attending book signings where he would often sign his books upon request.

And we know that he signed various pictures over the years.

So between his letters, books, and pictures, there is a pretty good sampling of his handwriting and signatures available for comparison. And it is pretty obvious once you have reviewed his signature and correspondence that Nutting’s handwriting was not what you would call neat. So when you consider Nutting’s relatively poor handwriting, and the large volume of signatures that were needed as his business grew, it becomes obvious that he needed someone to sign his name to his pictures.

You should understand that Nutting’s handwriting obviously changed over a 40-year period. When he started the Southbury business, he was 44. He died in Framingham in 1941 at the age of 80. Everyone will have different handwriting between the ages of 44-80, especially when working in a rushed business atmosphere, and Wallace Nutting was no exception.

Early Southbury Signatures…1904-1910: It can be safely assumed that Nutting signed most of his earlier pictures, especially during his beginning years. Volume was small, he was still testing the commercial possibilities for his pictures, and he had no employees until around 1905.

Once he opened the Nuttinghame Studio in Southbury, and as volume grew, he began to hire various employees to help in the day-to-day activities associated with the business. At this point, Nutting turned over the picture signing responsibility to several of his trusted employees.

At first, these employees were trained to copy Wallace Nutting’s personal signature, especially with the distinctive formation of the final “g” in “Nutting“, which had a tail curving to the right instead of the left. Many people today mistakenly think that any early signature with that right-curving tail is Wallace Nutting’s own signature. Unfortunately, that is an incorrect assumption to make. Since the colorists signed so many pictures, and Nutting signed so few pictures, the probability is that Nutting did not sign it. Plus, who can confirm with 100% certainty that Nutting always finished the “g” with the tail curing right rather than left?

The earliest signatures were typically signed in Pencil. I typically use the date of 1910 as the transition year from Pencil-to-Pen signatures. This doesn’t mean that a pen was never used before 1910. Nor does it mean that a pencil was never used after 1910. However, I think that we can safely say that most Pencil Signatures would date a picture at 1910 or earlier.

How else can an Early Southbury Signature be identified and dated?

• If the signature is in pencil, it is probably early Southbury

• If the picture has a white, reversed-out block copyright on the image, the signature is probably early Southbury. Some of the earliest pictures contained a longer copyright marking, e.g. “Copyright 1904, by Wallace Nutting” vs. a much more concise @WN’16. This longer copyright was phased out by 1905.

• Often times the subject matter will identify the picture as early Southbury. For example, certain titles that appeared in the 1904 or 1908 Picture Catalog, but which were not sold in later years, can be assumed to be early Southbury.

Late Southbury-Early Framingham Signatures…1910-1930: 1910-30 marked the peak period for Wallace Nutting pictures. His business was employing 200 people at this time, probably 100 of whom were colorists. His picture sales were at an all-time high, more signature signers were needed to keep up with production, and you will find a wider variety of authentic signatures during this period than any other.

The signatures from this period were typically signed in Pen. The most distinctive signature from this period having a bold and flowing appearance.

How else can a late Southbury-early Framingham signature be identified?

• If the signature is in Pen, and there is no black border around the picture, it is probably late Southbury-early Framingham.

• The signature was often bold and flowing in appearance. This is not to say that bold and flowing signatures were never used in the other periods, but rather the bold and flowing signatures were more typical of the 2nd period than the 1st or 3rd periods.

• The subject matter and location of a picture can help to date the picture. For example, Interior scenes from Nutting’s Colonial Chain of Houses will rarely have a Pencil signature because they weren’t photographed until after 1915, when Nutting purchased the first home within the chain.

• Pictures from Pennsylvania, New York, or Virginia were rarely signed in Pencil, because most of these were taken after he left Southbury and stopped using the Pencil signature.

• The more concise copyright @ WN’16 are also indicative of this period.

• The color tone can also be indicative of the period. Pictures with more subdued color are typically from the Southbury-early Framingham period. Later Framingham pictures usually were more brightly colored than the earlier years.

Late Framingham Signatures…1930-41: By this time, Nutting was taking relatively few new pictures for commercial distribution. As interest in his pictures was fading, and with literally thousands of negatives already on hand, he relied primarily on selling images that he already had in inventory.

Generally, 1930’s signatures will be found on pictures having these characteristics:

• A black border, with a very colorful picture, will often times be found

• Signatures on black border pictures were typically smaller and more concise than the early bold and flowing signature. Presumably the bold and flowing signature might have competed with the black border.

• If the picture had an indented matting, without the black border, but having a much more brightly colored picture, it is probably from this period

• If the picture has a Copyright Label on the back, it is probably from this period.

Subject matter can also help to identify the type of signature used. For example, Floral arrangements and Garden scenes were only introduced on a larger scale in the 1930’s. Certain of these pictures were matted and signed, other were close-framed and signed directly on the picture itself. Sometimes the picture was signed in Pencil, other times it was signed in Pen.

Rarity of Pencil vs. Pen Signatures: Many collectors fail to understand the difference in rarity between the Pencil and Pen signatures. Although there are a few exceptions, the general rule of thumb is that Pencil signatures were used until 1910, and after 1910 Pen signatures were almost exclusively used.

This means that Pencil signatures must be rarer than Pen signatures because:

• Pencil Signatures were used for only 10 years (1900-1910), when production was at its lowest

• Pen signatures were used for more than 30 years (1910-1941), when production was at its highest

Those 30+ peak-production years of Pen signatures would indicate that perhaps 90% of all Wallace Nutting signatures were signed in Pen, while perhaps only 10% were signed in Pencil.

So with all other factors being the same, i.e., Subject Matter, Condition, and Size…a picture with a Pencil signature is rarer, and should probably be valued higher, than a comparable Pen signature. However, if any of these three factors are not the same, the type of signature used should become the least important factor in determining value.

Wallace Nutting Collecting Tips

• The Signature on a Wallace Nutting picture can help you to both authenticate and date the picture.

• Most Signatures were signed by the Head Colorist rather than Wallace Nutting himself.

• A Pencil signature usually represents pictures taken during the early Southbury period (1900-1910)

• A Pen signature, without a black picture border, more often than not will be from the late Southbury-early Framingham period (1910-1930).

• A Pen signature with a black picture border, will date the picture during the late Framingham period (1930-1941)

• Pencil signatures are significantly rarer than Pen signatures.

• A variety of factors including the picture coloration, matting type, frame style, signature, type of copyright, subject matter, and location of picture can all be used to date a Wallace Nutting picture.