Botanical prints are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, making them a fun and rewarding find when treasure hunting at flea markets. With their intricate scientific illustrations and vintage aesthetic, these decorative prints allow you to add a touch of nature and old-world charm to your home. Here’s what to look for when perusing flea markets for beautiful botanical prints to take home.
What Are Botanical Prints?
Botanical prints feature detailed illustrations of plants, flowers, trees, and wildlife. They were originally created for scientific purposes like plant identification, but today they are collected and displayed for their artistic merit.
Most antique botanical prints date from the 17th to 19th centuries. They were printed from engraved copper plates, and then carefully hand-colored. The early ones were made before color photography was invented, so botanical drawings were the only way to accurately record the natural world. Leading botanical illustrators like Georg Dionysius Ehret created beautiful artwork documenting exotic plants from around the globe.
Later on, botanical prints became popular for decorative uses. Cottages and greenhouses were adorned with framed prints of flowering vines, ornamental shrubs, fruit trees, and brilliant bouquets. Their blending of science and art makes them wonderful vintage finds.
Where to Find Botanical Prints at Flea Markets
Flea markets are treasure troves for uncovering antique and vintage botanical prints. Keep your eye out for:
Old framed prints: Classic black wooden frames holding detailed botanical drawings are a common flea market find. The framed prints are ready to hang as-is on your wall. Examine them closely for condition issues like staining, foxing, tears, or missing glass. Botanicals with damage can often still be restored.
Individual prints: Unframed prints are also fairly easy to come across. Look through the flat files, old magazines, and stacks of loose paper at flea market stalls. These single sheets may have damage like yellowing or small tears, so sort carefully for the best specimens.
Books: Flip through the pages of old books to uncover botanical illustrations printed on single pages or folded plates. Books on plants, gardening, herbs, medicine, natural history, and biology commonly contain vintage plant prints suitable for framing.
Curio cabinets: Dealers who specialize in natural history or cabinet of curiosities-style items may have individual botanical prints or full plant sample books for sale. These specialized prints can depict unusual plants and flowers.
Entire collections: If you’re lucky, you may stumble across a large collection of botanical prints already neatly packaged up for easy transport home. Bundles sold together like this will give you an instant set of matching prints to work with.
Tips for Finding the Best Prints
When sorting through piles of botanical prints, keep an eye out for:
- Bright, rich colors: The hand-coloring on antique prints can fade or brown over time. Look for ones with vivid, intense colors that pop. Reds, blues, and greens should not be dull or muddy.
- High print quality: Inspect the quality of the engraving lines, and make sure the print is crisp and clear without much blurring. The finer details of the plants and insects should be visible.
- Scientific details: Botanicals made for scientific documentation include detailed dissections of plant structures, explanatory text, and biological classifications. These have more desirable historic accuracy.
- Signature: Prints signed by renowned early illustrators like Maria Sibylla Merian or Pierre-Joseph Redouté are particularly rare finds worth snatching up. Unsigned prints can still be beautiful too.
- Subject matter: Choose prints featuring your favorite flowers like roses and tulips, interesting medicinal plants, or exotic species like orchids and cacti. Appeal to your personal taste.
- Size: Smaller prints under 8″ x 10″ are fairly common, but larger ones make more of an impact when framed. Giant prints can be pricier but make quite the statement.
How to Use Botanical Prints at Home
There are endless creative ways to decorate with the botanical prints you find:
- Frame prints individually or in sets to hang on walls in entryways, bedrooms, bathrooms, or as part of an art gallery arrangement.
- Display prints using antique plate rails, decorative pins, easel stands, or by leaning them against bookcases or shelves.
- Arrange matching prints in symmetrical grid, diagonal, or heart-shaped orientations for impact.
- Pair botanicals with vintage garden tools, watering cans, gloves, and baskets to enhance the horticultural style.
- Lean larger prints on the floor propped against walls and furniture for pops of color.
- Layer prints under glass tabletops to create one-of-a-kind transparent coffee tables or desks.
- Use prints like wallpaper to cover door panels, hallways, cabinets, lampshades, or dresser drawers.
- Incorporate prints into making memory and vacation scrapbooks, stationery, bookmarks, and greeting cards.
The vintage charm and intricate details of botanical prints give them broad interior design appeal. Let your creativity guide you in giving these beautiful works of scientific art a new life in your home.
Types of Botanical Prints to Look For
There are a few specific categories of antique botanical prints that are particularly interesting finds to search for:
Fruit and Flower Studies
Prints depicting elaborate bouquets, garlands, wreaths, and arrangements of flowers and fruit make stunning art. Look for botanical illustrations of popular flowers like roses, tulips, poppies, peonies, chrysanthemums, and magnolias. Citrus fruits like lemons and oranges also have beautiful vintage prints.
Early herbals documented plants used for healing remedies and early medicines. If you like antique medicine bottles and medical history, keep an eye out for old prints of medicinal plants like foxglove, ginseng, chamomile, feverfew, and elderberry.
Orchids and Exotics
Prints showcasing delicate orchids, tropical palm trees, cacti, carnivorous plants, and rare exotic species like lotus, magnolia, and birds of paradise have an adventurous, faraway appeal. They’re a glimpse into previously undiscovered flora.
Mushrooms and Fungi
Mushroom hunting and identifying edible fungus varieties has experienced a revival. Prints of different mushroom species provide a vintage edge to display mixed with your modern finds. Truffles, morels, and puffballs are artistic specimens.
Sea Plants and Coral
The ocean holds beautiful, alien-looking plants. Prints of underwater discoveries like coral formations, seaweed, kelp, and anemones are an unusual niche to explore. Frame ocean prints for beach houses.
Expert Tips for Repairing and Restoring Botanical Prints
Botanical prints found at flea markets often show signs of age. Don’t worry about flaws – many are relatively easy fixes:
- Carefully remove any tape, tacks, or sticker residue lingering on print surfaces with a craft knife, eraser, and gentle solvents. Avoid pulling the paper.
- Mend small tears and missing chunks using archival mending tissue and wheat starch paste. Most tears can be stabilized to make prints displayable again.
- Remove unsightly stains using art gum erasers very gently. Hydrogen peroxide also lifts many stains. Avoid abrasives. Work slowly to not damage paper.
- Eliminate foxing, those rusty-looking age spots, by carefully dabbing with peroxide or citrus solvents. Severely foxed prints may never be perfect.
- Remove creases and wrinkles by pressing under weights or using a low-heat iron through tissue paper. Work slowly to release wrinkles without scorching paper.
- Brighten faded colors in areas by lightly applying new watercolor paints matching the original tones. Light washes of color integration can revive dull prints.
- Reduce heavy yellowing of paper by placing in a sealed box in indirect sunlight with an oxygen absorber pack for a few weeks. Interleave with acid-free tissue.
- Fill in missing sections by scanning the print, photoshopping areas, and printing patches to carefully glue into losses. This takes practice but can work.
- Consider matting and framing very delicate prints rather than trying to restore them and risk further damage. Framing still allows display.
Don’t be daunted by condition issues on flea market botanical finds. With a little time, care, and restoration work, even flawed prints can be brought back to their former glory. The end result of framed plant artwork will be well worth it.
Displaying Your Botanical Collection
Once you’ve amassed a collection of botanical prints from your flea market explorations, it’s time to consider how to display them creatively:
Complementary Color Scheming
Group prints together using complementary colors like purple flowers paired with yellow lemons or red roses with green ferns. These color combos will make your prints pop.
Creating symmetrical arrangements of prints on a wall can look very striking. Center identical prints on either side of a focal point print for balance.
Use floater frames that hold multiple prints together to create cohesive square or rectangular sets of prints to hang.
Backing Prints with Paper
Choose papers in bold patterns, colors, or metallics to back prints before framing them. The backing material will show through any glass mat sections for an artistic effect.
Mixing Prints with Plants
Intermingle real succulents, air plants, and trailing vines growing in pots or mounted with framed botanical prints for a living plant gallery display.
Boards of Prints
Arrange small 4″ x 6″ prints in grid formations on square boards hanging on the wall. This works well with medicinal herb prints or sea plant oddities.
Leaning Against Bookshelves
Prop large unframed prints against bookcases or lean them on mantles or window sills as artistic accents. The vintage books support the theme.
Connect three prints together in interesting combinations to form a joined panoramic arrangement as the center focus of a wall grouping.
Let your creativity guide you in finding ways to display and enjoy your botanical print collection. They’ll quickly become prized vintage focal points full of nature’s artwork in your home.
Frequently Asked Questions About Botanical Prints
Are old botanical prints valuable?
Botanical prints can be very valuable depending on the artist, print quality, age, species depicted, and condition. Unsigned prints in good shape can sell for $50-$200. Rare prints by famous early illustrators can fetch over $1000. Unique exotic species or large flawless prints also command higher prices.
What is the best way to frame botanical prints?
Framing under glass or plexiglass protects prints from dust and damage. Use acid-free matting and backing materials. Choose wide plain moldings in black, wood tones, silver, or gold that don’t distract from the print itself. Floater frames conveniently hold stacks of prints to flip through.
Should I restore my damaged flea market print?
Light restoration like mending tears or deacidifying and pressing prints can stabilize them for display. But heavy restoration can reduce value for serious collectors. Make repairs gently based on how you intend to use the print. Damaged prints still make great decor for those not collecting for investment.
What is the best way to display botanical prints without frames?
Options like leaning large prints against walls, pinning individual prints to wall moldings, or using easels or stands to prop prints work well. Lay prints flat inside large glass tabletops. Peel-and-stick removable wall decals also avoid damaging prints.
Are botanical prints still created today?
Botanical art is still practiced today using both traditional and digital methods. Contemporary prints come in a range of styles from abstract designs to revival of the elaborate Victorian style using etching, lino printing, digital prints, and other modern takes on this vintage art form.
For nature lovers, flea market botanical prints offer the thrill of scientific discovery combined with the charm of antique artwork all in one find. As you search through piles and boxes looking for the perfect print subjects and frames, the thrill of the hunt comes alive. Once home, prints can be displayed as accent pieces, focal points, or entire collections showcasing your unique flea market finds. Let botanicals turn your home into a vintage greenhouse, sanctuary of nature, or cabinet of curiosities filled with fascinating plants from across the globe.