Everyone has heard of a "Currier & Ives print," but many do not know what this term means. "Currier & Ives" was the name used by a New York printmaking firm from 1857 until 1907. This business had been in operation since 1834, first as Stodart & Currier (1834) and then as N. Currier (1835 to 1856). Though the name changed, all the prints produced by this firm are usually referred to as "Currier & Ives prints."
Nathaniel Currier was a printmaker and businessman; James Ives started as the firm's bookkeeper in 1852 and five years later became Currier's partner. Neither was an artist, so though all Currier & Ives prints were published by the partners, they were drawn and lithographed by other persons. Nathaniel Currier retired in 1880 and died in 1888 and James Ives died in 1895. The firm, under the direction of their sons, Edward West Currier and Chauncey Ives, carried on until 1907.
The Currier & Ives firm was in the business of producing lithographed prints intended to be sold to the general public for framing and display in the home or at work. Calling themselves "Printmakers to the People," they provided for the American public a pictorial history of their country's growth from an agricultural society to an industrialized one. For nearly three quarters of a century the firm provided "Colored Engravings for the People" and in the process became the visual raconteurs of nineteenth-century America.
The firm produced a variety of images, including pictures of newsworthy events and prints depicting every subject relating to American life: sports, games, home life, religion, children, hunting, fishing, entertainment, trains, ships, views of cities, and so forth. Currier & Ives used all sorts of sources for their prints, including staff artists who are unknown today, as well as a group of more famous artists such as Louis Maurer, Thomas Worth, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Frances ('Fanny') Flora Bond Palmer, George H. Durrie, Napoleon Sarony, Charles Parsons, and J. E. Butterworth. Currier & Ives were also not above borrowing images from other print publishers, both American and European.
Currier & Ives' prints were sold either directly from Currier & Ives' shop or through other printsellers. The firm's shop in New York was a popular place to browse through their ever changing inventory. Images of current events and personages were always shown in their window for passers by. Currier & Ives also used others to market their prints, maintaining a brisk wholesale business. [Click here to see a Civil War period wholesale print flyer by the firm.] Their prints were sold by itinerant sellers who would push carts filled with prints through the streets of New York and other cities, as well as from more established print shops around the United States and even overseas. The quality and variety of Currier & Ives's prints meant that other printsellers were always eager to carry the latest images, thus insuring a wide distribution.
Beginning in 1930, as complete as possible a listing of known Currier & Ives prints was compiled and published by Frederic A. Conningham, entitled Currier & Ives Prints. An Illustrated Check List. (Available from our bookshop) The first edition listed about 5,700 different titles and by the time the last edition was issued in 1983, the list had grown to almost 7,000. It is to this "Conningham" list that most collectors and dealers refer when citing a Currier & Ives print, the number often being given as, e.g., "C:1458." An equally impressive and even more comprehensive listing of prints was compiled and published by Gale Research, but this massive two volume set is not as often used as the more practically sized Conningham. Including the Gale listing, the number of recorded Currier & Ives prints is now over 7,500 different titles! Still, new titles turn up from time to time and an effort is being made by the American Historical Print Collectors Society to maintain a current listing of Currier & Ives prints not listed in Conningham or Gale. This listing is maintained on the World Wide Web at [www.ahpcs.org].
Most Currier & Ives prints are hand colored lithographs, but Currier & Ives did issue some of uncolored prints and also a number of chromolithographs. The prints were intended for a mass market, so they were sold inexpensively. The smaller prints sold for about 20 cents each and the larger ones for between $1 and $3. The smaller and less expensive prints were usually colored by a group of young women, each applying a different color, and images with large runs were often colored using stencils. The larger and more expensive prints generally were colored individually by skilled colorists.
Though the firm did not issue all their prints in standard sizes, the prints are usually grouped into three basic categories. Small folio prints are approximately 8" by 12 1/2"; medium folio are approximately 10"-14" by 14"-20"; and large folio are anything over about 14" by 20."
In 1932 a jury of twelve Currier & Ives experts and collectors selected a group of what they considered to be the "Best 50" large folio Currier & Ives prints. For fifty days running, these prints were illustrated and described in the New York Sun. This publicity created much interest, and subsequent newspaper sales, so that the following year the "Best 50" small folio prints were also selected (four medium folio prints were included in this list). These two lists created an instant market for the 100 prints chosen and the lists have been reprinted in almost every general book on Currier & Ives published since.
In 1988 a new, more democratic process of selecting the "Best 50" was sponsored by the American Historical Print Collectors Society (AHPCS). "The Best 50 - Revisited" was begun by a panel of experts who selected the "Top 100" of both large and small folio prints. These prints were then presented in a ballot to the entire membership of the AHPCS, which then selected the "New Best 50" large and small folio prints. A handsome book, Currier & Ives. The New Best 50 (available from our bookstore) was published in 1990 with all the new "best" prints illustrated in color and with an analysis of the differences between the original and new lists.
The prints from all four lists are very collectible and usually command a premium price. They are all wonderful prints, generally considered to be the best of the Currier & Ives oeuvre. Among the over 7,500 original Currier & Ives prints there are many others that are just as wonderful. Though it is marvelous to acquire a "Best 50" print, collectors should not feel that they ought to limit themselves to these prints. However, it is there is an added value to acquire one of these "Best 50" prints.
Addresses & Dates
|Stodart & Currier||137 Broadway and 1 Wall Street||1834-35|
|N. Currier||1 Wall Street||1835-36|
|148 Nassau Street||1836-37|
|152 Nassau Street and 2 Spruce Street||1838-56|
|152 Nassau Street and 2 Spruce Street||1857-65|
|152 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street||1866-72|
|125 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street||1872-74|
|123 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street||1874-77|
|115 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street||1877-94|
|108 Fulton Street and 33 Spruce Street||1894-96|
|33 Spruce Street||1896-1907|
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