Currier And Ives, Who We Were And Who We'd Love To Be

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JPK Huson 1863

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Ebenezer Bell, 88th Pennsylvania died May 5th at Laurel Hill, 1864. Currier and Ives , the famous firm then established in New York City gave free rein to our involvement in the war- a widow's memories documented on their print. There are prints like this one, another has a column of ghostly soldiers marching from a cemetery as the widow weeps.

" The Parting ", cropped because the image is so wonderful you'd hate to miss it. Intent of thread isn't a comprehensive look at the firm or even their work between 1824 and 1907- it's to offer anyone the chance to go see for yourself. LoC is an incredible resource, this collection just part of our 250 years around here.
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They're all here- or a good chunk. Fair warning, you'll be late for work, ignore the laundry and pretend you didn't hear the phone ringing.
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?st=grid&co=pga


Currier and Ives prints are synonymous with those ' quaint ' images we seem to love- nostalgic renderings of an America we either love or wish to forget. A few remain famous. Anything with a sleigh, pacing horse and maybe a picturesque farmhouse makes us all gooey over collective memory. And why not? It was us. The thing is, Currier and Ives, the firm, gave us all our collective memory and more. The firm's history includes our awful years- those of loss, pain, turmoil and death. They left us that, too, if we'd but go look.

The firm did a lot of what we'd probably call ' cheesy ' today- these wonderful women batting eyes at the artists number in the dozens. " Eliza ", " Ella ", " Sarah ", along with improbably colorized flowers.
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And horses horses horses- racing, running, rearing copious horses. And some just waiting for you to go look at them.
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Long bios are a snore, I know so will try for brevity and add the best link I've seen. Two Bostonian brothers, the Pendletons began their print company in 1824- a 15 year old named Nathaniel Currier became an apprentice. Like a lot of major firms, this one went through moves, changes, sell outs and staff reorganizations before finally firmly sealing success as ' Currier and Ives '. With the addition of Nathaniel Ives, a vague family connection to Currier our History was secured. It had been almost 30 years in the making but the early 1850's saw printing firm Currier and Ives established in NYC and catching fire.

The Planter's Hotel Fire, New Orleans, 1835 was one of our national tragedies. That May morning saw 50 people in peril, 40 who escaped- it was the biggest story out there. Nathaniel Currier's now famous image seems to have been the beginning of it, why we have the images we do and why a company that closed its doors in 1907 remains a household name. It's just us .

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And all our memories.

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JPK Huson 1863

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They were incredibly productive! Love to know how and where prints were marketed? There were historic moments, famous figures, ( and our country wasn't that old ), romantic, idealized men and women, horses horses horses and what we'd call ' cutsie ' today. You know- kittens, puppies, little kids? You could spend a few hours browsing just those on LoC, there must be a gazillion more.

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All our finest and worst moments were commemorated. Ellsworth's death was huge news.

We have two prints that have been hanging on family walls since someone brought them home 150 years ago, one of Lincoln's family, one of Washington's.

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Arioch

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I'll never forget this....

Eons ago....I had a friend who was a bit on the transient side of life at the time (weren't we all in our youths...) who was house sitting in a DC row house at the time.

The house was owned by a landlord who owned several rental properties around the city....like, about 20 properties. My friend was set up in one small bedroom...that was all the space he needed anyway. The house was packed, I mean PACKED...with furniture and very eclectic odds and ends....and of course, some useless trash....

I went to visit him one day and was fascinated by everything in the house. He told me that the landlord used this property as their 'storage place' for everything that they had pulled out of the other properties...and didn't know what to do with, yet.

The walls up the stairs to the 2nd floor and everywhere else on the second floor were packed with framed Currier and Ives civil war themed, original prints....I spent they day wandering, marveling, and looking at them....all original...I was stunned....

There were a lot of other ephemera as well....but it's the Currier and Ives prints that have always stuck with me....I actually have always had an appreciation for historic lithograph prints and have collected several through the years (Uncle Sam 'I want You!' originals,...'Loose Lips Sink Ships'...those sorts of things). My Dad worked in the printing industry...So, I knew because of my own life experiences what I was looking at, and could tell they were the real deal....

There were hundreds in this place....I told my friend what I thought of them (these are worth a pretty penny, ya know...). He passed that info on to the owner. The owner had held on to them simply because they liked them....and was delighted to know that they actually had some value....I did try to make an offer for some...but was politely turned down...again, they liked them...and that was why they kept them.
 
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James N.

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… There were hundreds in this place....I told my friend what I thought of them (these are worth a pretty penny, ya know...). He passed on that info on to the owner. The owner had held on to them simply because they liked them....and was delighted to know that they actually had some value....I did try to make an offer for some...but was politely turned down...again, they liked them...and that was why they kept them.
As "collectibles" Currier & Ives prints have been popular for nearly a century and some have achieved staggering value, particularly what are called large folio prints. The reproduction above was one I got badly burned by many years ago on the overoptimistic hope it *might* be real. (It wasn't.) It depicts the famous antebellum racehorse Lexington in a print originally published ca. 1857 and if it was authentic would have been worth far more than the $200 I foolishly paid for it. I've kept it all these years to remind me not do buy things without studying them first!

However, I find I still have an affinity for the things but try to confine my purchases to what are called genre subjects like the two girls below from the 1870's which I picked up at a recent flea market (including the 1880-1890's frame) for the princely sum of $20! But as with all antiques and collectibles the bywords are Condition, condition, and condition meaning mine aren't worth very much at all because they have faded, been stained, torn, or badly cropped in order to fit into too-small frames like this one has. In addition to the most popular Nathaniel Currier or Currier & Ives there were several other contemporary printmakers like M. W. Kellogg and J. Baillie.

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I have previously posted photos of some of the others in my collection in another of Annie's threads on ladies' hairstyles: https://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/hairstyles-pre-civil-war-and-post-civil-war-era.143092/post-1755648

And another here: https://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/maj-gen-ulysses-s-grant-as-imagined-in-1862.143169/
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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OH goodness! Those prints are priceless James N. thank you! What's amazing is how many are on Ebay- who'd get rid of one?? @Arioch , had a friend who had a weirdly similar experience. He said it was a house actually untouched for over 100 years and the walls were literally hung ceiling to floor with prints. He didn't mention Currier and Ives, just how other-worldly it was walking into a house where nothing had been touched, including a packed attic. Wish I could remember why no one had done a thing, must have been a great story.

You are right. I just spent 30 minutes browsing the link you provided, and marked it for a return visit when more time is available. Thank you for this marvelous post.

Right? It's crazy interesting!! Boy, the cable companies, Facebook and social media must be wary of LoC. Who would go spend time there when there are all these treasures to investigate?
 

JPK Huson 1863

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As "collectibles" Currier & Ives prints have been popular for nearly a century and some have achieved staggering value, particularly what are called large folio prints

Sorry, what is a ' folio print ' please? Was that something the companies produced in limited numbers and advertised? As with Lexington, maybe after some famous race? It's something I haven't been able to figure out. How were these companies able to advertise their current prints?
 

JPK Huson 1863

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There seems to be a ton of war images. Quality varies, I think? One of Stoneman's Raid is much less amazing than say, one of Fort Pickens. That could be just my opinion however based on personal preferences. Plus you get spoiled- Harpers and Frank Leslie's gave us such splendid images it's too easy to get picky!

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JPK Huson 1863

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From 1848, before Ives was added to Currier, the French Revolution. I'm unsure you'd love the burning of the royal carriages on one's dining room walls but to each his own.

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Arioch

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LOL!!...I've never seen that 'dog' print....The first thing that came to my mind were the old Coolidge prints...the dogs playing poker...(I actually still have a few of those up in the 'man cave'....Ahem...) I wonder if this might have been an influence on Coolidge?...Hmmmmm...

Sorry, what is a ' folio print ' please?
It's a print about the size of the old 'Life' magazine...as opposed to the size of, say, a 'National Geographic' magazine. if I remember correctly (I'll leave the quick Google check, nit-pick to others) it started as a reference to the original printing press, style...and then just became synonymous with that size of print.
 
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James N.

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OH goodness! Those prints are priceless James N. thank you! What's amazing is how many are on Ebay- who'd get rid of one??
There seems to be a ton of war images. Quality varies, I think? One of Stoneman's Raid is much less amazing than say, one of Fort Pickens. That could be just my opinion however based on personal preferences. Plus you get spoiled- Harpers and Frank Leslie's gave us such splendid images it's too easy to get picky!
No, not this. Hopefully. Love these scenes Currier and Ives ( and the other printers, thanks for the reminder JamesN ) left us...
My pleasure; to address some of the other comments: Firstly, I've looked before, and most of those on Ebay and that you see in antique shops and malls and at flea markets are FAKES or at the very least reproductions. One notable producer of reproductions from at least the 1950s through the 1960's and into the 1970's was an insurance company (Hartford?) that issued an annual calendar featuring them including many of the interesting variants you've pictured. (Though not necessarily the same ones.) Even framed they can usually be identified as repros due to their size and shape - like a modern calendar rather than an authentic C&I print - and if looked at carefully the telltale DOT PATTERN in the colors made by the modern printing process.

As for quality, one reason it varies so much is because especially when Currier began printing them in the 1830's they were the prime means of getting out illustrated NEWS - remember this was well before the advent of Harper's and Leslies' Illustrated Weekly's. Currier's first "scoop" was a print of a recent disastrous fire in New York City, and since he was himself a volunteer fireman fires remained for him a "popular" subject for prints. Race horses weren't just "pretty" animals - they were the sports heroes of the day and whichever had just won the latest "big race" was sure to have his portrait made! Naturally political figures of both parties during election years were sure to have prints made for sale to their supporters - another badly-cropped one I have, although the title and print information and date have been cut off in framing is almost certainly from the election of 1860 and is a black-and-white portrait of Stephen Douglas that I got in an estate sale of a descendant of William Thornton, one of Douglas' Illinois political allies.

The Douglas is another small print and black-and-white no doubt to make it CHEAP. Large size, highly colored prints were fir decorative purposes, whereas smaller ones with less color were often rushed into production in order to beat one of the competing publishers to the punch. One like that I have, Retreat of the Mexican Army From Buena Vista, is poorly drawn - no doubt the "artist" had NO idea what the Mexican army looked like, but had heard that Northern Mexico was mountainous, so he drew the BACKS of hundreds of Mexicans running away through a mountainous landscape; the only two colors used on this small print are blue of the uniforms and green of some trees, etc. The above print of Stoneman's Raid is definitely one in the "news" category, especially since in hindsight it was largely unproductive of positive results and has been forgotten except as a sidebar to Chancellorsville. The Fort Pickens, though very much in the news in early 1861 along with Fort Sumter is more of a landscape than a strictly "news" print, much like a seascape or sailboat picture, which were also favorite subjects.
 
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