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"The Old Print Gallery was established in historic Georgetown in 1971. We have since grown into one of the largest, most diverse and respected print and map shops in the United States. Our clients include museums, private and corporate collections, designers and the public buying for home and office."
The Old Print Gallery was established in historic Georgetown in 1971 by three partners, James C. Blakely, James von Ruster, and Judith Blakely. The Blakelys had dreamed of a print gallery for some time. In fact, they spent their 1969 honeymoon on a print-buying expedition in New York City. But in Washington, both antiquarian book dealers and galleries warned them that the city would not support an antique print gallery. Others had tried and not succeeded. Undaunted, they opened in April with little fanfare and were gratified when they grossed several hundred dollars their first day.
Focused on antique historical and decorative prints, the gallery quickly grew into one of the largest, most diverse and respected print shops in the U.S. It evolved into a knowledgeable resource for private collectors, public institutions and corporate collections. To increase and improve gallery offerings, Judy undertook numerous buying trips, sometimes two-week forays to New England, sometimes short jaunts to the South and Midwest. Eventually she traveled abroad, to England and the Continent. She bought significant prints at New York auctions, schlepping them back on the Metroliner. All the while, James Blakely was charming visitors at the gallery with elaborate explanations and tales about the prints on display. It was his vision and enthusiasm that kept the gallery pushing forward. By 1974, the gallery was issuing illustrated catalogs nationwide.
During the high-flying 1980s, the gallery expanded into antique maps and began providing appraisal and paper conservation services. James von Ruster oversaw the conservation lab and custom frame shop, which educated clients on the importance of preservation framing.
The gallery facilitated the growth of several important collections, particularly in the areas of Washingtoniana, Western Americana, and historic prints. It provided artwork for major government venues, including the National Portrait Gallery, State Department, and the U.S. Capitol. Movie directors came calling as well. Ken Burns used maps and prints from The Old Print Gallery for his Civil War epic. The partners also brokered the sale of private collections, including one of the largest color-plate book libraries of the period.
Throughout the 1990s and early 21st century, the gallery continued in good times and bad, even after the death of James Blakely in 1992. In 2006, The Old Print Gallery merged with The Old Print Shop of New York City. Mr. Von Ruster and Mrs. Blakely viewed this move as the best way for The Old Print Gallery to continue to serve art collectors, both local and national. It also enabled the gallery to expand its inventory by offering 20th century and contemporary American prints to its clients. Mr. von Ruster retired in 2010 and Mrs. Blakely greatly reduced her hours in 2011. The gallery continues under the direction of Laura Graham, offering the finest prints and maps to both sophisticated and new collectors.
After creating a formal exhibition space to display and promote contemporary and early 20th century works, the gallery began presenting shows in the fall of 2010. As a new venue for contemporary art, the gallery has attracted notable local printmakers, as well as many supplied by The Old Print Shop. Besides gallery openings, the gallery hosts printmaking workshops and artist talks.
The gallery will continue to serve the Washington art community and beyond, introducing new and noteworthy printmakers, while furthering knowledge of significant and collectable historical works and maps. It is this celebration of both old and new that makes the Old Print Gallery a distinctive art destination.