Currier and Ives: Master Printmakers

Posted on Nov 07, 2010 under ARCHIVES | No Comment

This time of year, the name Currier & Ives is as famous and as much in demand as Santa Claus! Consumers throughout the world decorate their homes in Calendars, Prints and Candles embossed with Currier & Ives Artwork!

Here is a short history of the famous Master Printmakers company and their lithographs!

Currier and Ives was a successful American printmaking firm headed by Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888) and James Merritt Ives (1824–1895). Based in New York City from 1834–1907, the prolific firm produced prints from paintings by fine artists as black and white lithographs that were then hand colored. Lithographic prints could be reproduced quickly and purchased inexpensively.  The firm called itself “the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints”.

Nathaniel Currier (1813–88) was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts on March 27th, 1813, the second of four children. When Nathaniel was eight years old, his father died tragically, leaving Nathaniel and his 11-year-old brother Lorenzo to care for their mother, 6-year-old sister Elizabeth and 2-year-old brother Charles. At age fifteen, Nathaniel started working as an apprentice for William and John Pendleton, a Boston lithography shop. In 1833, 22-year-old Nathaniel moved to Philadelphia working for M.E.D.Brown, a noted engraver and printer. At some point, he partnered with Stodart and his early lithographs were issued as Stadart & Currier.  Dissatisfied with poor returns on this business venture, Currier ended the partnership in 1835 and set up shop as N. Currier, Lithographer until 1856. Realizing that there was a market for current news, Currier turned out several disaster prints and other inexpensive lithographs that illustrated local and national events, such as “Ruins of the Planter’s Hotel, New Orleans”, which fell at two O’clock on the Morning of the 15th of May 1835, burying 50 persons, 40 of whom Escaped with their Lives. He quickly gained a reputation as an accomplished lithographer.

Currier & Ives first appeared in 1857.  Currier invited James Merritt Ives (1824-95) to become his partner.  James Merritt Ives born March 5,1824 in NYC.  He was married to Caroline Clark (1852). She was the sister-in-law to Nathaniel’s younger brother, Charles, who recommended James to his brother.

The Artists:

At least 7,500 lithographs were published in the firm’s 72 years of operation!  Artists produced two to three new images every week for 64 years; producing more than a million prints by hand-colored lithography! For the original drawings, Currier & Ives employed the work of many celebrated artists of the day including: J.F. Butterworth, George Inness, Thomas Nast, C.H. Moore, and Eastman Johnson.

The Leading Artists of the firm were Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait who specialized in sporting scenes; Luis Maurer, genre scenes; George H. Durrie, Winter Scenes and Fanny Palmer who liked doing picturesque panoramas of American Landscape.  She was also the First woman in the United States to make a living as a Full-time Artist!

The Business Genius:

Currier & Ives small prints sold from 5 cents to 20 cents and large works for $1.00 to $3.00. They branched out from selling in their shop to pushcart vendors, peddlers and bookstores.  They sold as retail and as wholesale and established outlets in cities across the country and London, England.  They sold through the mail and internationally through a London office and agents in Europe!

The Popularity:

By the 19th century Victoria, their prints were among the most popular hangings of the day! In 1872 they proudly launched their catalog which became a staple publication throughout the country.

Currier died in 1888 and Ives remained active until his death in 1895.  Both Currier & Ives sons followed in their fathers’ footsteps until their liquidation in 1907.  With the improvements in printing and photoengraving, the demands for lithographs had gradually diminished.

A Personal Note:

Over the years the popularity of Currier & Ives prints have flourished around the world.  Most popularly around the Christmas and Winter Holidays.  Currier & Ives -  Calendars, Posters, Framed Prints, Candles, etc. represent a huge buyers market.  I am sure both Currier & Ives would be proud!

Have a Great Day!


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