A keeper of maps and prints

“Nothing is more expensive than cheap framing," says Michael W. Perry.

“Nothing is more expensive than cheap framing,” says Michael W. Perry.

By FRANCINE BREVETTI

Occasionally people enter Michael Perry’s shop at 1837 Divisadero Street and ask for maps of the Island of California. They’ve come to the right place. Among his treasures, Perry has a selection of images of this popular fallacy of the 16th and 17th centuries — that California once was its own island.

At Michael W. Perry & Co., browsers find only prints of museum quality. Images range from his personal favorite, Native American, to botanicals, architecture, landscapes and portraits — and the ever-popular maps, especially of early San Francisco. Military and naval images, depictions of heraldry and food also make up his inventory. Three pages from the Nuremberg Chronicle, a 15th century depiction of stories from the Bible and world history, are the oldest pieces in his shop.

A print is not a reproduction, Perry emphasizes. Rather, a print is pressed from a metal plate and each impression is considered an original. At the shop is a kind of motherboard of ages past: an antique copperplate he protectively keeps stashed away, the very instrument used for creating prints.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Perry inherited his appreciation of fine prints from his father, who was an engraver. The art form also appeals to Perry’s passion for history.

He started collecting antique prints as a young man and eventually came under the tutelage of a master framer who taught him museum quality framing. Proper framing technique is essential for conserving museum quality art like much of the work he offers; anything less, he says, will harm the art.

His expertise as a framer spread by word of mouth, even while he was working in investments and trusts for Wells Fargo.

Perry says the 9/11 catastrophe, coupled with news of his sister-in-law’s terminal illness, woke him up to what he really wanted to do: start his own business as a purveyor and framer of these precious objects.

“Life is too short to spend it doing something boring you hate,” he says. While easing out of his position at Wells Fargo, Perry spent a year finding his storefront on Divisadero Street, between Pine and Bush, which he has occupied for more than a decade. He already had his own private inventory of museum quality art and continues to buy from auctions and dealers.

In addition to those ambling into his Dickensian storefront, clients across the country and beyond buy artwork from his online store. He enjoys considerable repeat business from a wide spectrum of collectors, ranging from CEOs of major technology companies to small business owners and neighbors who live nearby.

Perry says his local clients come from all over the Bay Area to purchase antique prints and maps and have him do framing.

“Due to my location, it’s not typical to get tourists just walking in,” he says. But visitors with an interest in antique prints and rare maps find him. “They usually do their research on the Internet and then seek out my gallery when they visit.”


One longtime patron is David Dawson, proprietor of Dawson Custom Workroom, which serves interior designers with fabrics and accessories. Years ago, Dawson idly walked into Perry’s shop out of curiosity. Since then, he has purchased almost 50 pieces of art and had Perry frame them.

Dawson has a hunger for maps. He typically buys those depicting a place he has recently visited — which often includes France and London. Since Dawson serves interior designers, he has been a conduit for Perry’s trade with other designers as well.

Many customers come to Perry’s store to preserve family heirlooms with the proper frame.

“Nothing is more expensive than cheap framing, because in the long run the art can be damaged and lose value,” he says. “Consumers may not realize the damage until long after the framing job has been done.”