The oldest house in Ocean View, built in 1857, has a new addition — little Sadie Case, eight months old at the time of this writing. An amiable young lady, her gleeful gabbling pervades the Antique Prints shop on Central Avenue, and brings a smile to the faces of the several patrons wandering about.
Robert Seamans, Case’s grandfather, is “off gallivanting,” according to his daughter, Kerry Case, but she and her husband Brandon have the family art business well in hand.
No mean feat — in all, they have more than 200,000 antique prints to look after.
Surprising to think it, but as Brandon pointed out, his father-in-law had managed to amass one of the largest print collections in the United States over the past 35 years.
Enough to fill a thousand galleries — but the Cases manage, with a little shuffling.
As they explained, the Seamans were originally from the Washington, D.C. area, and developed a deep affection for the prints back in the mid-1960s — the way they preserved the past and, from an artistic standpoint, the beautiful, meticulous workmanship. They started collecting, and within five years had enough of a stock to open the shop.
“It was kind of their dream of theirs, to move from D.C. to the beach and start this business,” Kerry pointed out.
She grew up in the area (her father still lives in the portion of the house adjoining the shop) and graduated from Indian River High School in 1990. She attended Rosemount College, then the University of Delaware, and graduated with her degree in art history (what else?) in 1995.
By Kerry’s account, it was by good fortune that she attained an internship at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, but her background and studies might have had something to do with it.
After the Met, she went to work for premiere auction house Sotheby’s and then an art gallery or two (plus a stint on Wall Street). Her mother had been ailing for some time, and Kerry returned to Delaware during her final decline (2001). Several months later, the tragedy of Sept. 11 piled grief upon grief — Kerry had come to love New York in the more than seven years she spent there, and she lost friends at the World Trade Center that day.
But around the same time, she met Brandon. “You have to make it through the bad to get to the good, I guess,” she said. And her father seemed to have done the same — four years later, she said he seemed to be embracing life, to the extent that he’d begun to actively encourage the Cases to take over the family business.
“We went to New York for a couple days last week — he called and said, ‘How could you leave me here to run the store by myself? It’s August.’” Kerry recounted. “I told him, ‘Dad, you’ve been running the store for the last 34 years,’ — ‘Yes, but I’m retired now,’ he said.
“And after we got back from New York, the next day, he got in his car and drove off to Maine,” she grinned. So, it’s mainly up to the Cases now — but Seamans couldn’t have asked for better successors.
Alongside Kerry’s experience in the field, Brandon has added his own interest, and a fine arts degree from the University of Delaware (he studied marketing and operations management as well).
In the beginning, Antique Prints was by appointment only, but the Cases now hold open store hours — and parcel artwork to several smaller shop spaces, in Lewes, Queenstown, Md. and Williamsburg, Va.
In Ocean View, they stock Delmarva-specific maps and city scenes, botanicals, shells, and fish — but there’s probably no subject so obscure that Brandon and Kerry don’t have it catalogued in a back room somewhere.
They’ve branched into original oil paintings as well, particularly nautical themes, but as far as the house specialty, their name says it all — Antique Prints, primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries.
There’s a set of maps based on John Smith’s surveys, conducted in 1612, and another set based on Peter Jefferson’s surveys — President Thomas Jefferson’s father, that is, and the lands he received in exchange for that work probably placed his son in the position of prominence that made his ascent to the presidency possible.
And Brandon showed matted prints depicting some of the nation’s great cities when they were still small towns.
“It’s the Great Divide of art and history,” Kerry pointed out. “There’s nothing else that captures a scene of Baltimore before the streets were paved.”
As Brandon added, engraving created snapshots for the many Americans who knew nothing of the country beyond their backyards. He noted pages from “Picturesque America” in particular — a book he said President George W. Bush frequently offered as a gift to visiting foreign dignitaries.
“Before cameras, this was the only way to get an image across to a large number of people,” Brandon noted. However, while these engravings were mass-produced, they’re quite unlike modern reproductions, he continued. Artists and engravers worked side by side, taking between 500 and 600 hours to create a single plate, not to mention the watercoloring by hand afterward.
And the plates would wear out after a certain number of engravings, bringing the “first striking” to a close. That’s what the Cases are offering at Antique Prints — images from the initial run.
“A lot of people buy just because they like the subjects, others buy because they’re historians,” Brandon noted. “But I think everybody likes the romance of the antique prints — they just have that feeling. The toned paper, the watercoloring, the script-writing, carved into the plates by hand — that’s not typeset — just the overall attention to detail.”
And as the Cases move from framed painting to matted print, offering affectionate comments over each one, they seem to reverently preserve that heritage.
For more information about Antique Prints, call 539-6702 or stop by the shop at 42 Central Ave., in Ocean View.