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Currier and Ives

Currier and Ives

Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) and James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) were partners in the firm of Currier and Ives, the most important 19th-century lithographic company in America. Their prints were widely sold across the nation.

Nathaniel Currier, born in Roxbury, Mass., was apprenticed in his teens to a Boston lithographic firm. He established his own lithography business in New York City in 1835. The lithographer James Ives, born in New York City, entered into partnership with Currier in 1857. Currier retired in 1888, Ives a few years later; but the firm was carried on by their sons and flourished until 1907.

Lithography had begun in America in the 1820s. It was quicker and less expensive than engraving, hence the remarkable success of the firm of Currier and Ives. Soon after setting up business they produced extensive folios, usually based on paintings. Some of the work was crude, but the quality varied considerably. The star artists of the firm were Arthur F. Tait, who specialized in sporting scenes; Louis Maurer, who executed genre scenes; Fanny Palmer, who liked to do picturesque panoramas of the American landscape; and George H. Durrie, who supplied winter scenes.

So well known did Currier and Ives become that it was common to refer to any large mixed batch of prints as Currier and Ives prints. The firm was astoundingly prolific and produced prints on practically every aspect of the American scene. In the 1870s they issued four catalogs featuring 2800 subject titles.

Currier and Ives sometimes focused on current events. (In 1840 Currier produced what may have been the first illustrated "extra" in history when he depicted scenes of the fire that had broken out that year aboard the steamship Lexington in Long Island Sound.) Political cartoons and banners were commonly produced, like the Presidential Fishing Party of 1848, showing the candidates with fishing poles trying to hook fish on which names of various states are inscribed.

Historical prints were another field, and copies from the historical paintings of John Trumbull were especially popular. The Civil War print Battle of Fair Oaks, Va., May 31, 1862 shows the first balloon ever used for warfare observation. Sentimental prints included one showing a married couple walking along a riverbank and another showing a girl taking care of her little sister. There were also prints for children, such as Robinson Crusoe and His Pets and Noah's Ark; country and pioneer home scenes, which included Early Winter, a beautiful scene of people skating on a frozen pond before a snow-covered country cottage; and lithographed sheet music. Still other categories were Mississippi River prints, including On the Mississippi Loading Cotton and Midnight Race on the Mississippi; railroad prints that sometimes featured minute descriptions of trains, as in "Lightning Express" Trains Leaving the Junction; and home prints, which were produced in especially large quantities.

Currier and Ives avoided controversial subjects, although there was at least one print showing the branding of slaves prior to embarkation from Africa. Prints of sporting events focused on prize fights (like the 1835 match between John C. Heeman and the English champion Tom Sayers), boat races, and even, in the early stages of its development, baseball.

As America expanded, so did the demand for Currier and Ives prints. Today they provide a vivid picture of daily life in 19th-century America.

Further Reading

Harry T. Peters, Currier and Ives: Printmakers to the American People (1942), is the authoritative work, containing 192 plates and an excellent introduction. Both Colin Simkin, Currier and Ives' America (1952), and Roy King and Burke Davis, The World of Currier & Ives (1968), contain useful introductions and reproductions. See also Currier's own Currier & Ives Chronicles of America, edited by John Lowell Pratt and with an introduction by A. K. Baragwanath (1968). □

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Currier and Ives

CURRIER AND IVES


CURRIER AND IVES became America's most famous lithographers by perfecting the process of printing with treated stone in the mid-1800s. Currier and Ives prints, widely known and collected in their day, became the ideal art for a democracy, mass produced and affordable, but still of high quality. Over their many years in business Currier and Ives, and the many artists who worked for them, depicted both the mundane and the historic in over 7,000 different prints. Still reproduced today on calendars and cards, the prints have long represented an idealistic vision of the nineteenth century, with an emphasis on distinctly American scenes, both cultural and natural. While the firm produced lithographs of tragic current events, such as fires and war, collectors have paid more attention to their many sentimental representations of everyday life, such as sporting events and westward pioneering.

Nathaniel Currier began his printing career as an apprentice in Boston as a very young man. By 1835, having relocated to New York City, Currier had opened his own business, first in a Wall Street office and later moving to his famous Nassau Street shop. Currier's business included publishing, printing, and engravings, but by the time James M. Ives joined the firm in 1852 Currier had already established a reputation for his popular lithographs. Ives came to the firm first as a bookkeeper, but his responsibilities expanded and in 1857 his name was added to that of the firm. Nathaniel's brother Charles also worked with the firm, in an informal arrangement, and contributed to the business primarily through his invention of a new crayon used to treat the stones before printing.

Currier's first great success came with an 1840 print entitled, "Awful Conflagration of the Steam Boat 'Lexington' in Long Island Sound." This timely print was distributed with news of the tragic event, first in New York and then around the country. Its extremely wide distribution insured interest in future Currier works, and helped inaugurate a new era of pictorial journalism. "Rush stock" prints of newsworthy events became an important part of the business, but "stock prints," of city views, baseball games, horse racing, sailing ships, and home-life scenes, among many other everyday portraits, remained the primary topics of the lithographs. Numerous Currier and Ives prints depicted America's natural scenery, especially in tourist areas such as the White Mountains and the Catskills, providing remembrances for tourists or visual access for those who could not afford to travel. While Currier and Ives prints came in different sizes and carried different prices, the firm became most famous for its colored lithographs. Printed first, then hand colored by women working in the Currier and Ives factory, these prints became both beautiful and affordable popular art.

After Nathaniel Currier retired in 1880 his son Edward ran the firm with Ives. By 1907 both families were out of the business, which folded shortly thereafter. Although the lithographs never lost their appeal, and indeed gained in value after the firm closed, improvements in photography doomed lithography as the chief means of illustrating everyday life.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baragwanath, Albert K. Currier and Ives. New York: Abbeville Press, 1980.

Le Beau, Bryan F. Currier and Ives: America Imagined. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001.

DavidStradling

See alsoPrintmaking .

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Currier & Ives

Currier & Ives, American lithographers and print publishers, who produced highly popular hand-colored prints of contemporary scenes and events in American life. Nathaniel Currier, 1813–88, b. Roxbury, Mass., founded the business in New York City in 1835, and in 1857 formed a partnership with the able artist and businessman James Merritt Ives, 1824–95, b. New York City. The prints, in which were depicted horses, yachts, trains, newsworthy events, and scenes of nature and outdoor recreation, have become prized collectors' items. Both Currier's and Ives's sons followed their fathers in the business, which was eventually liquidated in 1907.

See H. T. Peters, Currier & Ives, Printmakers to the American People (1929, special ed. 1942); J. L. Pratt, ed., Currier & Ives Chronicles of America (1968).

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Currier and Ives

Currier and Ives

The decorative and hugely popular colored lithographs mass produced by Currier and Ives in the nineteenth century and familiar to subsequent generations through Christmas cards and calendars illustrate sporting scenes and sailing ships, noteworthy triumphs and disasters, Indian uprisings and comic vignettes, rustic beauty and domestic bliss, and, in general, evoke an idealized and sentimental view of life in nineteenth-century America. Typically, a well-known artist's work would be reproduced as a black-and-white lithograph, hand colored by a team of women, and distributed by the thousands at costs ranging from a few cents to a few dollars, depending on size. The firm was founded in New York City in 1834 by Nathaniel Currier, employed James Merritt Ives in 1852, and became Currier and Ives in 1857; the two were succeeded by their sons, who managed the company until its closing in 1907, by which time more than seven thousand different prints had been produced.

—Craig Bunch

Further Reading:

Baragwanath, Albert K. Currier and Ives. New York, Abbeville Press, 1980.

Currier and Ives: A Catalogue Raisonné. Detroit, Gale Research, 1984.

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