Home » Currier and Ives: American printmaking firm during Victorian era

Currier and Ives: American printmaking firm during Victorian era

Currier and Ives: A very successful American printmaking firm, Currier, and Ives was headed by Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives. The firm was based in New York City from the years 1834 to 1907, a tenure of 72 years.

During this time, it produced prolific prints from paintings that were drafted by fine artists as black and white lithographs, that were hand colored.

Currier and Ives
Nathaniel Currier

These lithographic prints used by the firm could be reproduced quickly and be purchased inexpensively and the firm has popularly called itself the ‘Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints’. The lithographs were advertised as ‘colored engravings for the people’.

Nathaniel Currier

Nathaniel Currier had been known as an American lithographer revered for his firm Currier & Ives, which he headed with James Ives. He was born on March 27, 1813, in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Currier and Ives
A portrait of Nathaniel Currier.

His parents were Nathaniel and Hannah Currier. Currier had attended public school until the age of fifteen before being apprenticed to the Boston printing firm of William and John Pendleton. The

Currier and Ives Lithographs

The Pendleton had become popular as the first successful lithographers in the United States. Lithography had been only recently developed in Europe. Currier learned the process of lithography in the shop.

Currier and Ives

Currier had also worked for M.E.D Brown in Philadelphia in 1833. He moved to New York City the next year to start a new business with John Pendleton. Pendleton had, however, backed out and the new firm was known as Currier & Stoddart and had lasted only a year. Nathaniel had also been a New York City volunteer fireman in the 1850s in addition to being a lithographer.

James Merritt Ives

James Merritt Ives was known to be an American lithographer, bookkeeper, and businessman. He was responsible for looking over the business and finances of Currier & Ives, along with Nathaniel Currier. He was born on March 5, 1824, In New York City. His father was the superintendent of Bellevue Hospital in the city.

His art education proceeded through visits to art galleries and the Astor Library. His talent as an artist soon gave him an insight into what the public desired and his skills in business and marketing strategies was invaluable for the growth of the firm.

Currier and Ives
Currier and Ives- James Merritt Ives

He was married to Caroline Clark on June 24, 1846. Caroline was the sister-in-law of Currier’s brother, Charles Currier. Charles was the one who had recommended Ives for bookkeeping to Nathaniel. This is how Ives was hired for Nathaniel’s firm, N. Currier, Lithographer in 1852.

Ives had made significant contributions in modernizing Currier’s bookkeeping methods and reorganize the firm’s inventory and streamline the methods for production. He was eventually offered a full partnership by Currier in the firm, thus making it be called as Currier and Ives, making him the general manager.

The Firm – Currier and Ives

More than 7500 lithographs had been produced in the 72 years during which the firm was operational. The artists were known to produce two to three new images every week in the 64 years, 1834 – 1895.

More than a million prints had been produced by hand-colored lithography. Currier and Ives had employed or used the work of many celebrated artists of the day. The lithographs were produced on lithographic limestone printing plates on which the drawings were done by hand.

Currier and Ives

The stones often took more than a week to prepare for printing. Each of the print was pulled by hand by a dozen or more women.

Most of these employees were immigrants from Germany who had a background in art and worked in an assembly line fashion, with each one in charge of a particular color. The remuneration would be about $6 for every 100 colored lithographic prints produced.

Currier and Ives Paintings

The drawings would be bold and direct and the favored colors were clear and simple.
The lithographs were produced in black and would then be colored by hand. New techniques were developed and the publishers started producing full colored lithographs that started developing softer effects making them look more like paintings.

Currier and Ives

With the lithography representing every phase of American life, the firm Currier and Ives was known to be the most successful and prolific company of lithographers in the United States.

Currier and Ives Printmaking

The themes included everything from the rural and city life, hunting, fishing and whaling, clipper ships, yachts and steamships, historical scenes, scenes from the Hudson and Mississippi rivers, politics, railroads, comedy, portraits and still lifes.

Currier and Ives

The firm had occupied three stories in a building at 33 Spruce Street in New York since 1866. The artists, stone grinders, and the lithographers had worked on the fourth floor and the colorists on the fifth floor. While the small works would be sold from five to twenty cents, the large works would be sold for about $1 to $3 per piece.

Currier and Ives

The branch even branched out from the central shop in New York City to sell the prints through pushcart vendors, led James liars, and bookstores. The firm sold retail as well as wholesale by establishing outlets in cities all around the country and in London.

Sales were also made through the mail. The Victorian public had interests in current events and a sentimental taste and took to the firm’s products greatly.

More Info On- James Merritt IvesGeorge Inness, NoblemanSpinster