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Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) & James Ives (1824-1895)

Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) & James Ives (1824-1895)
Lithographs with original hand-coloring

The publishing firm of Currier & Ives created the most popular and highly regarded lithographs of quintessentially American scenes ever produced.  The quality, vast scope and engagingly populist style of their works have made their names synonymous with an idealistic vision of nineteenth-century American promise and optimism.  Currier & Ives' broad productivity was accompanied by consistently high standards of printing and hand-coloring, and their ability to draw on original works by many of the finest American genre painters of the times, including (among many others) Fanny Palmer, Louis Maurer, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait and George Durrie.  Even (or perhaps especially) today, Currier & Ives prints are paragons of Americana.  Indeed, to most Americans over forty years of age, their firm’s name has the ring of a household word or familiar brand name, perhaps as recognizable as Proctor & Gamble or Arm & Hammer.  It is a name that conjures up a particular view of America’s past. 
When Currier & Ives emerged onto the popular scene, the public’s appetite had been whetted by what amounted to a media boom that took place in the United States during the 1840s and 1850s.  The introduction of photography, more rapid methods of picture printing (including lithography), and the rise of illustrated journalism exploited, among the urban bourgeoisie of the period, a strong interest in topical information, fine art, and plain amusement.  Currier & Ives produced an unprecedented inventory of titles for this audience, a move that dramatically lifted the firm above its competition, and elevated their imagery to iconic status.
Currier & Ives was founded in New York in 1835 by Nathaniel T. Currier, who had been apprenticed as a youth to the Boston lithographic firm of William S. & John Pendleton.  In 1857, James Merritt Ives, the company's bookkeeper and Currier's brother-in-law, was made a partner.  Generally, Currier supervised production while Ives handled the business and financial side.  Currier & Ives prints were decorative and inexpensive, ranging in price from 20¢ to $3.  Their subject matter ranged from rural life, ships, trains, animal and sporting scenes to religious images and spectacular news events.  The firm produced more than 7000 titles and became the largest and most successful American lithographic publishing company of the nineteenth century.  In the intervening years, neglect and disregard has led to vastly diminished numbers of their surviving works.  Prints that once existed in thousands of examples are suddenly rare collectors' items, a situation that has only become more pronounced over time, to the extent that several of the most desirable Currier & Ives lithographs exist in just a handful of examples.