The American firm of Currier and Ives has a very secure place in art history. They could even be described as a cultural phenomenon of the Victorian era. This company produced a huge number of prints from paintings as black and white lithographs that were hand colored. From 1834 to 1907, Currier and Ives cornered the market in affordable prints and even promoted its lithographs as “colored engravings for the people.”
|The Sailor's Return - Currier & Ives 1847|
Nathaniel T. Currier was the artistic one. After working for several lithographic firms, he opened his own business and began producing prints of actual events that captured the attention of ordinary Americans. Ives was James Merritt Ives, the company’s bean-counter, who was invited by Currier to become his partner. Ives wasn’t just good at book-keeping but he also had a sharp idea about popular art and what would sell. The partnership prospered.
At least 7,500 lithographs were produced by this firm. Many famous artists worked for Currier and Ives, including Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (sports), George H. Durrie (winter scenes) and Fanny Palmer (landscapes). Currier and Ives’ lithographs touched on almost everything in American life during this period – the growing cities, the railway, hunting, conflict in the West, gold mining, exploration, politics and much more. The lithographs could be purchased for anywhere from 25 cents for a small piece to $3 for a larger one. The firm was also innovative in being able to sell through multiple outlets from bookstores to street vendors to its main shop in New York. The business expanded as far as London but eventually collapsed after being overtaken by new technologies.
Today, Currier and Ives’ work is still in demand from collectors. Prices can go very, very high. The most expensive piece of their work sold by AbeBooks was a winter sports hunting scene for $8,500. Thankfully, there are many cheaper examples to be found on AbeBooks and also numerous books encapsulating their finest prints in a single volume plus a handful of reproductions.