The Wainwright Signed Prints

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Guest post by Graham Wilkinson.

Many people know about the Wainwright signed prints and may have even collected a few depicting their favourite locations. One question that occasionally arises concerns how many different prints were actually published. This is a subject that has interested me over many years and here I will share what I have learnt. Let me emphasise at the outset that this is an ongoing pursuit and if you can add to the story, I hope you will get in touch.

I bought my first “Wainwright Print” back in 2008 from an outdoor shop in Whalley. Over the years since then, I have added considerably to my collection, but each new acquisition still provides the same excitement as I admire the beauty of AW’s penmanship then reflect on how this item has passed briefly through the great man’s hands for the signature to be added. As my collection grew, I too wanted to know how many prints were published. Sadly, the official records no longer exist so I spent several years compiling my own list after studying auction sales (including eBay), corresponding with other collectors who responded to an earlier appeal for help, and having some enjoyable conversations with Andrew Nichol, former book publishing manager at The Westmorland Gazette.

It was Andrew who came up with the idea for the prints back in 1984. Wainwright fans had been keen to acquire his original drawings, and this had pushed up prices beyond the reach of many. The signed prints were seen as the next best thing, especially as each one would be hand-signed by its celebrated creator. AW’s support was encouraged by a 25p payment that was provided on signing, not later when sold. The signed prints were available from 31 March 1985, ready for Easter.

Most of the actual illustrations are 8 by 6 inches which is the same size as in the sketchbooks for which they were drawn. Almost all are predictably in landscape format. With the surrounding white border, the prints measure 10 by 8 inches.

Four different sets of prints were produced: firstly, came the Lakeland series, then the Dales, followed by Kendal in the nineteenth century and finally Ribble. There was a gap of several months between the launch of each collection. AW thought his Kendal in the nineteenth century drawings were his best, but these do not come up for sale very often and neither do the Ribble series. Andrew would take the prints to AW’s Kendal home in batches of 500 for him to sign over a few days. Each signature was beautifully crafted in his customary green ink. He would regularly sign two batches each week. The prints are “open edition” as opposed to “limited edition” – they were never numbered so it is uncertain how many were produced. 

I know of 73 signed prints that were published and the titles are shown below in the form they appear on the prints, along with the drawing number from the sketchbooks from which they came. These are what I understand as the Wainwright prints: they all fit a standard format and were sold by different retailers in Cumbria and beyond and marketed directly to the public by the Westmorland Gazette through adverts in local newspapers across the country.

Lakeland Collection

  1.  BOWFELL, from Lingmoor Fell (1) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  2.  SCAFELL PIKE, from Throstle Garth (2) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  3.  THIRLMERE (3) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  4.  LANGDALE PIKES, from Lingmoor Fell (24) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  5.  THE BUTTERMERE VALLEY (35) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  6.  FRIAR’S CRAG, DERWENTWATER (38) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  7.  THE NORTH-WESTERN FELLS (39) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  8.  THE CONISTON FELLS (49) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  9.  ULLSWATER, from St. Sunday Crag (78) A Lakeland Sketchbook
  10.  BORROWDALE (143) A Second Lakeland Sketchbook
  11.  GREAT END, from Styhead Tarn (174) A Third Lakeland Sketchbook
  12.  DERWENTWATER, from Castle Head (238) A Third Lakeland Sketchbook
  13.  WASDALE, from Great Gable (240) A Third Lakeland Sketchbook
  14.  PATTERDALE (241) A Fourth Lakeland Sketchbook
  15.  LANGSTRATH (243) A Fourth Lakeland Sketchbook
  16.  SKELWITH FORCE (303) A Fourth Lakeland Sketchbook
  17.  BLENCATHRA, from Castlerigg (327) A Fifth Lakeland Sketchbook
  18.  WASTWATER, from Greathall Gill (330) A Fifth Lakeland Sketchbook
  19.  VIEW FROM ORREST HEAD (348) A Fifth Lakeland Sketchbook
  20.  ASHNESS BRIDGE (386) A Fifth Lakeland Sketchbook
Great End, from Styhead Tarn.
Ashness Bridge.

Dales Collection

  1. HIGH FORCE (2) A Dales Sketchbook
  2. MAIN STREET, DENT (6) A Dales Sketchbook
  3. INGLEBOROUGH (10) A Dales Sketchbook
  4. MUKER (24) A Dales Sketchbook 
  5. RICHMOND CASTLE (29) A Dales Sketchbook 
  6. GAYLE (33) A Dales Sketchbook
  7. AYSGARTH FORCE: the lower falls (37) A Dales Sketchbook
  8. RIPON CATHEDRAL (43) A Dales Sketchbook
  9. FOUNTAINS ABBEY (44) A Dales Sketchbook
  10. KNARESBOROUGH (54) A Dales Sketchbook
  11. VILLAGE GREEN, ARNCLIFFE (55) A Dales Sketchbook
  12. BURNSALL (57) A Dales Sketchbook
  13. BOLTON ABBEY (59) A Dales Sketchbook
  14. WYCOLLER (67) A Dales Sketchbook
  15. THE BRIDGE AT BARNARD CASTLE (78) A Second Dales Sketchbook
  16. CAUTLEY (83) A Second Dales Sketchbook
  17. THORNTON FORCE (88) A Second Dales Sketchbook
  18. HORTON-IN-RIBBLESDALE CHURCH (92) A Second Dales Sketchbook
  19. WEST TANFIELD (121) A Second Dales Sketchbook
  20. MALHAM (138) A Second Dales Sketchbook
Aysgarth Force, the lower falls.

Kendal Collection (All prints from Kendal in the nineteenth century)

  16. ENTRY LANE, KENDAL (104)
  18. FELLSIDE, KENDAL (115)
  19. THE SYKE, KENDAL (119)
  20. THE SYKE, KENDAL (120)
Stramongate, Kendal.
Fellside, Kendal.

Ribble Collection (All prints from A Ribble Sketchbook)

  1. PEN Y GHENT, from Selside (5)
  6. DOWNHAM (34)
  7. PENDLE HILL, from Downham (35)
  9. CLITHEROE, from the Castle (43)
Pendle Hill, from Downham.

Uppercase lettering is used for the main part of the print titles with lower case for most suffixes. In the Sketchbooks, all titles are in lower case except, of course, for the capitals on proper nouns. Some print titles were abbreviated from the sketchbook originals, and this was not always because of space limitations on the prints. For instance, Blencathra, from Castlerigg Stone Circle was rather long and was reduced to BLENCATHRA, from Castlerigg. There seems less need to have reduced The Patterdale Valley in the book to simply PATTERDALE on the print. There were a few other minor modifications – for instance, Penyghent, from Selside in A Ribble Sketchbook became the spaced out PEN Y GHENT, from Selside. I could go on but none of this amounts to a hill of beans so I will stray no further into terra anorakia.

The format for each print was always the same. The location title in green lettering in the bottom left corner was produced as part of the printing process and so has been less vulnerable to fading than AW’s hand-written green signature in the bottom right. There is generally a characteristic dot either side of the trailing final stroke of his signature. Some West Tanfield prints show a black signature – perhaps his regular green pen had simply run out of ink. These dark signatures are certainly different from the ones with a sepia tinge caused by ageing or fading, particularly from direct sunlight damage. If the signature fading problem had been anticipated, greater care would probably have gone into AW’s choice of pens. But no-one would have been thinking about the conservation of the prints in later decades. According to Andrew, the best seller was Langdale Pikes, from Lingmoor Fell. The whole of the Lakeland series have always been the most popular and this is reflected in the second-hand prices. Conversely, some of the Dales prints have been available for as little as £20 or less which is remarkable for such attractive items, each with a hand-drawn signature. The 21 prints in the Kendal series is a strange number and may have simply been due to an oversight. The Scottish Mountain Drawings were considered for a fifth series, but the idea was not pursued. 

Some of you may have come across other signed prints and here are the ones I know about. In 1985, Bob Swallow, an enterprising manager at the Lancaster branch of the Leeds Permanent Building Society gave his mortgage customers a set of 4 Lakeland signed prints. These were larger than the published prints and comprised: Ashness Bridge, Derwentwater from Castle Head, Scafell Pike from Throstle Garth and Langdale Pikes from Lingmoor Fell.

Occasionally, a signed print entitled Langdale Pikes, from Chapel Stile comes up for sale. I once bought this print at an auction and can report there are many differences to the published prints – for instance, it is a different size, and the title is in lower case. Moreover, would you want to publish a print with this title when you already had LANGDALE PIKES, from Lingmoor Fell in the public portfolio? The back of my print said it had been donated by the artist to Cumbria County Scout Council “to help Council funds” so I suspect a small print run was made for when AW received requests for help from local charities. Strangely, all the signatures on the prints I have seen are faded so perhaps he signed them all in one batch using a pen with poor quality ink.

Another one that has been brought to my attention is Heron Corn Mill, Beetham. I know that postcards were made using AW’s illustration of the mill. I have seen a scan of what could have been a signed print. Alongside the signature was the date – 1978, which again makes it different to the 73 published prints. If this was a hand-signed print rather than a pre-printed card, it would almost certainly have been done as another small batch with sales through local outlets. Once again, I feel this was probably AW helping a Cumbrian organisation in a time of need by using his artistry to raise funds. A print of Sprinkling Tarn was once mentioned, and I would be very interested to hear from anyone who knows about this one.

All of these additional prints have important differences to the ones I have listed and in my opinion are not part of the four series that were published for the general public to buy. 

There have also been cards that were printed showing Lakeland scenes taken from the sketchbooks. AW’s signature is bottom right, but this was produced as part of the printing process. The location name is absent on some cards and once again the size is different from the published prints. New collectors can easily be fooled into buying these on auction sites thinking they are authentic hand-signed prints. Sometimes the cards come up for sale in frames and this can add to their plausibility. Attractive as they are, they are highly unlikely to have been hand-signed. If you do have your eyes on a genuine signed print, check that the signature has not faded, or the paper turned a light shade of brown because of direct exposure to the sun. 

Following an earlier published article about my findings, I have very occasionally had correspondence with people who have contacted me to say they have a print that I have missed from the list. After further investigation it has been a great pleasure to tell them that their “print” is actually a very desirable original drawing. But if you do have a signed print that has not been mentioned above or if you can add something to the story in other ways, it would be great to hear from you. This research remains a work in progress. 

Graham Wilkinson
December 2021

Wainwright photo courtesy of The Margaret Duff Collection

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  • Tim says:

    Fascinating article. Didn’t realise so many different ones. I bought about 6 prints (unframed) direct from WG’s offices when first produced for £10 each. And just got 4 more recently via auction for very little more, but framed as well. A bargain considering see them being offered for £40+ each often. Only got so much wall space, so not sure if worth going for complete set, but maybe a few more if still find bargains!

  • Peter Valli says:

    Thank you Graham.
    A really interesting and informative article!
    I think all of us in the group are always hungry for more information and insights into the Great Man’s works especially if wanting to build a small collection of them…
    One of the facts I didn’t know is that the titles in green were printed as such and not hand written!
    Have to say, very well matched in colour to the signatures!!
    (I guess I’m a little disappointed but how obvious…it would have taken poor AW forever to hand title each one!)
    I have a question..!
    Being the proud owner of some of the prints, I’ve noticed that some of the titles are indeed in green while others are in black (but still hand signed in green ink so I guess aren’t later facsimiles).
    Would you know why this is?
    Were there different print runs with this difference?
    Would love to know…
    Thank you again for your much appreciated time and knowledge!

  • Graham Wilkinson says:

    Hi Peter
    Thanks for your comments – and thanks also to Tim for his earlier contribution.
    I have never seen any of the 73 published prints with location title in black ink. Are yours the same size that I mention ie 8 by 6 inches for the actual illustration and 10 by 8 inches for the full print with white border? If so, you are welcome to send me scans using my email address at the end of the article. Best wishes.

  • Peter says:

    Hi Graham,
    Thank you for responding so quickly!
    I will definitely get back to you on this but unfortunately the prints in question are safely tucked away in my shop which I’ve now closed for the holidays!
    I’m a picture framer and I was going to frame them in January after the Christmas madness!
    In the meantime, have a great Christmas and if I may I will email you in the new year…I’d love to know more about this if possible!
    Best wishes


    Hi Peter
    To be continued!
    All the best to you for Christmas and the New Year.

  • Thanks for this informative piece, on the back of it I bought my first 3 signed prints for £10 each, all from the Dales collection (West Tanfield, Gayle and Village Green, Arncliffe), which arrived today and all have the customary green ink signature with the two dots.

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