Currier & Ives, "Frozen Up," 1872
Currier and Ives, based in New York City from 1834 to 1907, was a very successful American printmaking company. Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) and James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) produced prints from paintings by various artists as black and white lithographs that were then hand colored. Known as “the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints” with lithographs advertised as “colored engravings for the people,” that could be reproduced quickly and purchased inexpensively. The company produced over 7,500 lithographs during its 72 years of operation.
Nathaniel Currier was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts 27 March 1813. The family was very poor. When he was 8 years old his father died and it became necessary for Nathaniel and his older brother, Lorenzo, to work odd jobs to support his mother and their other two siblings. When he was 15 he apprenticed with William and John Pendleton in their lithography shop located in Boston. At age 20 he moved to Philadelphia and began doing contract work for a noted engraver and printer named M.E.D. Brown. A year he was making lithographs under the name of Stodart & Currier but his partnership with Stodart only lasted one year. In 1835 he created a lithograph of a fire that swept New York City’s business district. That print was so successful it sold thousands of copies in four days. He then began working alone as “N. Currier, Lithographer,” for about 20 years until 1856 producing many current news and disaster prints.
In 1857 Currier approached his bookkeeper and accountant, James Merritt Ives, about becoming his partner. Ives was about 10 years younger than Currier, and had married the sister-in-law of Currier’s brother, Charles. It was Charles who recommended Ives to Currier. Ives became general manager handling the financial side of the business and also helped Currier select artists and craftsmen. He had a knack of knowing what would be popular and began adding images the firm could produce to expand the range into political satire and sentimental scenes, like sleigh rides in the country and steamboat races. The card shared this week would fall into the category of sentimental scenes.
All the lithographs were produced on lithographic limestone printing plates, the drawings done by hand. Each print was then pulled by hand and then hand-colored by a dozen or more women who worked in an assembly line fashion. The company occupied three stories in a building in New York with the printing presses on the third floor, artists, stone grinders and lithographers on the fourth floor, and colorists on the fifth floor. Small works sold for 5 to 25 cents, larger pieces went for $1 to $3 each. As the firm grew the products were made available via pushcart vendors, peddlers, and book stores selling both wholesale and resale. Currier & Ives prints were considered appropriate home decorations according the American Woman’s Home in 1869. Currier died in 1888 and Ives continued on until his death in 1895. The sons of both Currier and Ives followed in the business until improvements in offset printing and photoengraving diminished the popularity of lithographs. The firm was liquidated in 1907.
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