Vintage American would not be complete without a representation of the Currier and Ives lithography. Most of us have some memory of a Currier and Ives print hanging in our parents or grandparents homes, or in a favorite antique shop. These prints convey the spirit of American expansion, technical development, pastoral and city living during the 19th Century.
Nathaniel Currier (1813 – 1888) established his firm at 1 Wall Street in 1834. He began his apprenticeship in lithography at the age of 15 with William and John Pendleton of Boston. He became publicly known when he produced a lithograph of the Planter’s Hotel in New Orleans after a fire in 1835. At the time, illustrated news was scarce and the lithograph of the hotel fire was done in such a way to report it as news. This began a career for Currier which combined his artistry for lithography along with a desire to illustrate grand and great aspects of American life, politics, and history.
In 1852, Currier hired as bookkeeper, James Merritt Ives (1824 – 1895), who became his partner in 1857. Ives brought a shrewd business sense and taste for perfection to the firm, that combined with Currier’s skill in lithography forged the success of their firm. The two proceeded for the next 70 years to produce the lithographs that many of us have come to love, depicting our American heritage, from their shop in New York City.
During the 70 years of the firms existence, they produced prints depicting almost every aspect of American life. It was very important to them to capture historical events, but the demand for cheap, decorative prints increased, compelling them to supply the demand as they were shrewd businessmen.
The firm of Currier and Ives produced more than 7,000 different lithographs including such subjects as: the pioneer and westward expansion; the life of the Indian; the history of the United States’ in its wars and heroes; politics presented with humor; hunting; fishing; horse racing; boxing; all manner of sports; religious themes and the rightness of temperance; pastoral life and farming; simple small town and city life; children, fruits and flowers to decorate Victorian homes; in essence all manner of American experience represented in beautiful and colorful images.
Some of the most popular series of lithographs from the firm of Currier & Ives include:
American Farm Scenes
Currier and Ives produced a series of lithographs about American farm life, known as American Farm Scenes, showing each season and the type of work done on a typical farm in the 1800s during winter, spring, summer, and fall.
American Railroad Scenes
The Currier and Ives series of lithographs known as American Railroad Scenes, is one of their most popular series. Railroad lithographs gave the Victorian patron something exciting and exhilarating along with scenes of American landscape. With the bold engineer at the controls ready to blast the whistle, the dapper conductor running a tight ship among passengers, and the hard working men shoveling coal into the mighty steam engine – this series suited the farmer or mill worker buying dollar art to the aristocrats decorating a gilded home.
Hunting and Fishing Scenes
The Currier and Ives Hunting and Fishing series of lithographs, once again show drama in art. Today, these scenes may seem shocking to those of use who purchase our meat within the safe confines of the cellophane wrapped package at the grocery store, but to the 19th Century American, these were normal scenes, part of life and existence.
The Currier and Ives firm used the artwork of an artist named Arthur Fitswilliam Tait who had come from England to the United States in 1850. A dedicated outdoors man, he spent decades sketching the backwoods of New York State while pursuing his passions of hunting and fishing. From his New York studio, he readily sold his sketches and paintings.
The firm of Currier and Ives bought many of his paintings and made them into prints. Although some of the photographic accuracy of Tait’s paintings were lost when the canvases were copied onto lithographic stones, still the vibrant drama was conveyed along with the recognizable use of color that is particular to Currier and Ives.
American Sailing and Shipping Scenes
Currier and Ives recorded the history of steamboat development in American through a series of shipping lithographs. Below are shown some of these lithographs; one with a steam ship cutting through the strait in the Hudson River channel surpassing the clipper ships of sailing lore; another of the various craft typical on the Mississippi River; and finally ships sailing by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.
American Wilderness Scenes
Many of the Currier and Ives Western wilderness scenes were the stuff that dreams were made of. With brilliant colors and dramatic rugged artistry, they portrayed aspects of the West that Easterners read about. This series of lithographs covers National Park scenes, prairies with wild horses running free, conflicts between settlers and Native peoples, the wagon trains, and just the drama of settling the West that captured the imagination of many in this country and around the world.
American Village Scenes
Currier and Ives produced a series of very vivid and colorful lithographs that captured the American village or small town life as it was in the 1800s.
This firm of lithographers were not only skilled at their craft, but were expert at judging the buying tastes of Victorian America. Many well bred Victorian folk would never get to see these scenes in person, but they would display them above their mantels with pride.
Currier and Ives also did a line of lithographs that showed a more pastoral nature that appealed to people for their living and dining room walls. Shown here is a family of quail from this series of pastoral nature scenes.
For more detailed information about these famous lithographers, Nathaniel Currier and James Ives, please see the Currier & Ives Foundation run by the descendants of the two families.
*Vintage American has permission from the Currier & Ives Foundation to reprint Currier & Ives lithographs.