A Busy Day in Dollville, My First Encounter with Bessie Pease Gutmann’s Art

Some antiques and collectibles reach out and grab you.  Your brain tells you, “I must have that!”  So it was when I saw the small metal sign entitled, A Busy Day in Dollville.  Dated 1911, it advertises Diamond Dyes.

The year was 1979.  The price was $130.  Normally, I would have balked at such a large expenditure but not that day.  Jim didn’t have to twist my arm at all.

At the time, we were veteran collectors of antique advertising, but we worked on a somewhat limited budget.  We knew that Diamond Dye cabinets were highly sought-after country store collectibles, and we had even managed to acquire a couple of them at reasonable prices.  This sign, we knew, was rather rare.  And the image of the little girl dying her doll’s dress was so sweet and appealing.  (Never mind that a small child standing close to a boiling pot of dye on a stove is insanely dangerous!) In a matter of minutes, the transaction was complete and the sign was on its way home with us.  Since then, it has always been prominently displayed with our other advertising pieces.

Quite honestly, I don’t know how familiar I was with the artist Bessie Pease Gutmann when we bought the sign.  However, we didn’t have to do any research to find out that she painted the original picture; her name is prominently signed on the lower left corner of the image, and there’s a rather detailed description about her on the back of the sign.  The Wells & Richardson Company, makers of Diamond Dyes, was justifiably proud that they were able to reproduce the painting of so famous an artist.  When the sign was made, it was the first time that any of Gutmann’s art was used in advertising.  I can’t find any confirmation that it remained the only advertising item attributed to her, but it may well be.

As the years have gone by, I’ve become quite familiar with Bessie Pease Gutmann’s art.  Anyone who frequents flea markets and antique shops is bound to encounter her famous baby prints, A Little Bit of Heaven and The Awakening many times over.  Once, back when I was writing for a local newspaper, I visited the home of a Bessie Pease Gutmann collector.  Every inch of wall space in her living room, dining room, hallway, stairwell, and bedroom was covered with rare and beautiful prints, many of babies and children, but many of beautiful young women and romantic couples as well.  It was an eye-opening experience for me, and while I don’t actively collect Bessie Pease Gutmann, I always recognize her prints and take a moment to admire them when I see them.

Finding biographical information about Bessie Pease Gutmann is not all that easy.  Apparently, she gave very few interviews in her lifetime.   She was born in Philadelphia in 1876, studied art at several schools as a young woman, and was an independent commercial artist when Gutmann & Gutman, a company that did art prints, hired her in 1903.  Three years later, she married Hellmuth Gutmann, her boss, and had three children who often served as her models.  She was a working mother long before working mothers were commonplace.

Bessie Pease Gutmann illustrated 22 magazine covers between the years 1906 and 1920.  She illustrated books and created innumerable art prints.  However, as far as I know, there is only one self-framed tin advertising sign that bears her work, and that is A Busy Day in Dollville.

A search of the internet will turn up many examples of this illustration, but nearly every one of them is a reproduction.  The original has a black border and measures 11 ½ by 17 inches.  In addition to the 1911 copyright date, it is also well marked as being manufactured by American Art Works of Coshochton, Ohio, one of the premier makers of tin signs and trays during the first decades of the 20th century.

Finally, a clear sign that you have an original is the cardboard backing with the lengthy description of Bessie Pease Gutmann’s work.

“Winsome” is one of the adjectives used to describe this illustration on the reverse of the sign.  I knew that I had won something when I purchased it.  It was an appreciation for an early 20th century artist who knew exactly how to capture her subjects’ expressions in such a way that she couldn’t help but elicit an emotional reaction from the viewer.  A Busy Day in Dollville remains to this day one of my favorite pieces of advertising art.

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12 Responses to A Busy Day in Dollville, My First Encounter with Bessie Pease Gutmann’s Art

  1. Myra Schiffmann says:

    Always great to learn more about artists who have left a legacy to collectors. Thanks for a wonderfully informative article!

  2. Dianne Barches says:

    I am 73 and born in Chicago Illinois,1939. The picture I have is “IN DISGRACE”. My grandmother gave it to my Mother the day I was born but had it in her house for a number of years so it is pretty old. It has the poem on the back and says “Copyright G & G, These Copies Not To Be Sold, Printed in U.S.A. and singed M. Leona Harig or maybe Harvy, hard to read last name.

    Back of picture has the old brown paper wrapping but it is quite torn around the edges and in the upper left corner of the wood fram there is a small tag that reads “… of 792. I can’t make out the numbers before the word “of”. Behind the brown paper is hard carboard and it is held in place with old nails. The frame is white with aqua pin striping, size of fram is 15 x 19 and the border has a signature lower left hand side on painting itself. The border has the name in block letters “IN DISGRACE” and on the right hand side of border says: 792 (c) Gutmann & Gutmann Inc NY Made in USA.

    What I find interesting is in the signature of her name. I recenty purchased a print by Bessie Pease entitled THE REWARD (GIRL WITH ICECREAM CONE GIVING IT TO HER DOG) and it is definitely a copy in that it is on glossy paper and has no markings except for title of picture (no poen on back) and her name in lower left corner but the letters in her name are not the same as letters in my picture. The last name on the copy is printed and on my copy it is cursive. Would you know why this might be. I want to pass this on to my great grandchild but am interested in knowing more of its history and if this is an original copy. Who could I contact.

    • admin says:

      Hi Diane,

      First of all, thanks for showing interest in our site!

      In regards to your question, I think you have an original print. Beyond the fact that the time of you receiving the print is right to be an original (my understanding is that the print was done in 1935, so it lines up perfectly with your story), all of the things you described to me about the print line up with an original. Here is a link to a great website that explains how to tell an original Guttman print from a reproduction:


      Having the “Guttman and Guttman Inc”, the poem on the back, and the number 792, which is an edition number, are all signs of an original. I don’t quite understand what you mean when you mentioned the difference in the signatures on your reproduction print and original print, but I still feel fairly confident given all of the other information you gave me to suggest that you have an original print. Congratulations! Depending on the condition of the print, estimates I have seen on value range between $100-$200.

      Also, “The Reward” and “In Disgrace” were both originally produced about the same time and meant to complement each other, so you happen to have two prints that are meant to be together, even if only one is original. I hope this helps answer your question.

  3. Judy says:

    I have an original print of ” Message of the Roses” Bessie Pease Gutmann, that Has been in my family longer than I have and I’m 60.
    I have seen another 2 similar style prints, one was a smart looking lady in a yellow/lemon dress & I think the other one was in pale blue. I might have more luck tracking these done if I had the title of these pictures. Can anyone help.

  4. Ron Cameron says:

    I have just found an original of this wonderful advertising sign. Knowing that condition is everything, the sign shows obvious wear and tear. The front is not to bad, some loss of color, scratches, etc. The cardboard on the reverse has been wet, and has shrunk some. Almost enough to be close to falling out. It has a hole in the middle of the print and the upper left is missing altogether.

    Can you give me an estimate what you might think tis item may be worth? Whatever its value, it is a really neat find.

  5. Jennifer Flowers says:

    I also have the exact item in the same condition as the one above. It was found by someone in a attic and given to me for a birthday present.

  6. Lynnette Guitard says:

    I have a original a busy day in dollsville do you know how much an original is worth?

  7. Donna McCarthy says:

    I have an old print, not original. This is a picture of children from several countries, with a boy dressed as Uncle Sam….a girl dressed as (I’m guessing) Lady Liberty. The children of other countries are looking down at Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty. I’m guessing it’s from a child’s story from WWI. Gutmann & Gutmann NY the identy numbers or letters are in the bottom left …. they are not readable.
    Could you identify it for me? I don’t care about the value. I know it is just a sweet old print. As I am getting older, and just enjoy this print.
    thank you,
    Donna McCarthy

  8. carolann stephens says:

    I have an original picture of the Mischief it was published in 1924 #729 and was wondering if it is worth anything I would like your input
    Thank you

  9. elizabeth says:

    I grew up with “In Disgrace” hanging in my bedroom. I was very special to me I was si drawn to that painting. I memorized and would recite the poem on the back. Even though I did not have a dog as a child it tugged at my heart strings. Imagine my heartache when my mother gave it away when I was away at college. I am looking for the poem on the web and can’t find it. Can you direct me to a source where I might read it. At my age I can only remember the first few lines…. “One day my little dog & I, Rusty was his name”… Thank you for this site.

  10. Emilie Sladek says:

    I have a print by BPG of two young girls taking clothes from a toy trunk. It has no title, unless it’s under the matting. It has her name in the usual place, in the lower right hand corner. It has a “C” in a circle with the letters R. C. Co. 1908 around the circle. I have searched everywhere, short of going to a gallery, and have found no information about this picture. It is approx. 6″ x 7″. Where can I find any information on this lovely piece?
    Thank you for any help you can provide.

  11. COBY blankenship says:

    I have a busy day in doll Ville sign can u give me any value

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