Currier & Ives: the Essential Decoration for Victorian Homemaking

From humble beginnings in the Victorian era, Currier and Ives became a successful New York-based printmaking firm that produced more than a million prints of hand-colored lithography.

Catharine Esther Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, authors of American Woman’s Home (1869) considered Currier & Ives prints essential for proper homemaking:

The great value of pictures for the home would be, after all, in their sentiment. They should express the sincere ideas and tastes of the household and not the tyrannical dicta of some art critic or neighbor.

Lithography is a method of printing reliant on the fact that oil and water don’t mix. The process allows precise control over where ink will adhere to a print plate. The result is beautifully detailed artwork.

Currier and Ives made prints from paintings by fine artists as black and white lithographs that were then colored by hand.

Lithographic prints were inexpensive to buy and the firm labeled itself “Publisher of Cheap and Popular Prints” and advertised “colored engravings for the people”.

Nathaniel Currier from Massachusetts started the firm in 1834 when he was 21. Having apprenticed with Pendletons of Boston to learn the trade, he found success creating lithographs of local and national events.

In 1857, Currier’s bookkeeper James Merritt Ives became a partner. Ives had a keen sense for gauging what the public wanted and helped select the images that the firm would publish.

Employing celebrated artists for original works, Currier and Ives prints were among the most popular wall hangings of the Victorian era.

The 1872 Currier and Ives catalog proclaimed:

… our Prints have become a staple article… in great demand in every part of the country… In fact without exception, all that we have published have met with a quick and ready sale.
Bringing Home the Logs, Winter Landscape, 19th century (colour litho) by Currier, N. (1813-88) and Ives, J.M. (1824-95); colour lithograph
Bringing Home the Logs, Winter Landscape, 19th century (colour litho) by Currier, N. (1813-88) and Ives, J.M. (1824-95); colour lithograph
The Farmers Home - Summer, 1864
The Farmers Home – Summer, 1864
Salmon Branch, Granby Connecticut, 1869
Salmon Branch, Granby Connecticut, 1869
The Trout Pool
The Trout Pool
The Return From The Woods
The Return From The Woods
The Road - Winter by Otto Knirsch, published by Currier and Ives, 1853
The Road – Winter by Otto Knirsch, published by Currier and Ives, 1853
Hero and Flora Temple, 1856
Hero and Flora Temple, 1856
Western River Scenery, 1866
Western River Scenery, 1866
Echo Lake, White Mountains c. 1875
Echo Lake, White Mountains c. 1875
American Homestead Winter. Published by Currier & Ives, 1868
American Homestead Winter. Published by Currier & Ives, 1868
Three Jolly Kittens
Three Jolly Kittens
The levee, New Orleans, 1884
The levee, New Orleans, 1884
The Falls of Niagara-From the Canada side, 1868
The Falls of Niagara-From the Canada side, 1868
Winter in the Country. Published by Currier & Ives, c1863
Winter in the Country. Published by Currier & Ives, c1863
The Drew Grand Saloon
The Drew Grand Saloon
The Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party
The American Fireman
The American Fireman
Winter morning in the country. Published by Currier & Ives, c1873
Winter morning in the country. Published by Currier & Ives, c1873
Sailor departure Black-eyed Susan
Sailor departure Black-eyed Susan
Robinson Crusoe and man Friday, 1874
Robinson Crusoe and man Friday, 1874
Off for the war, 1861
Off for the war, 1861
Home in the wilderness. Published by Currier & Ives, c1870
Home in the wilderness. Published by Currier & Ives, c1870
A mansion of the olden time. Published by Currier & Ives, between 1856 and 1907
A mansion of the olden time. Published by Currier & Ives, between 1856 and 1907
New York showing Equitable Life building
New York showing Equitable Life building
Morning in the Woods, 1835
Morning in the Woods, 1835
Life in the Country - Evening
Life in the Country – Evening
Washington crossing the Delaware on the evening of Dec 25th. 1776, previous to the battle of Trenton. Published by Currier & Ives, c1876
Washington crossing the Delaware on the evening of Dec 25th. 1776, previous to the battle of Trenton. Published by Currier & Ives, c1876
Kiss-me-quick, 1840s
Kiss-me-quick, 1840s
Grand, national, temperance banner - dedicated to every son & daughter of temperance, throughout the union
Grand, national, temperance banner – dedicated to every son & daughter of temperance, throughout the union
Hunting, Fishing and Forest Scenes
Hunting, Fishing and Forest Scenes
Friendship love and truth
Friendship love and truth
Flora Temple (famous racehorse)
Flora Temple (famous racehorse)
Central Park by Currier & Ives, 1862
Central Park by Currier & Ives, 1862
Brooklyn Bridge - connecting the cities of New York and Brooklyn, looking west, 1883
Brooklyn Bridge – connecting the cities of New York and Brooklyn, looking west, 1883
American Homestead Spring
American Homestead Spring
American Homestead Autumn
American Homestead Autumn
American Homestead Summer
American Homestead Summer
A Home on the Mississippi
A Home on the Mississippi
1883 battery detail of City of New York
1883 battery detail of City of New York
West Point Hudson River, NY, c 1900
West Point Hudson River, NY, c 1900
New York and Brooklyn, with Jersey City and Hoboken water front, 1875
New York and Brooklyn, with Jersey City and Hoboken water front, 1875
The City of Chicago, c. 1874
The City of Chicago, c. 1874
Washington City from the new dome of the Capitol, looking east, 1892
Washington City from the new dome of the Capitol, looking east, 1892
The City of San Francisco, 1878
The City of San Francisco, 1878
The New York yacht club regatta, 1869
The New York yacht club regatta, 1869
The Lincoln Family, (published 1867)
The Lincoln Family, (published 1867)
The harvest moon, c 1870
The harvest moon, c 1870
The fruits of temperance, 1848
The fruits of temperance, 1848

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David James

David James

I'm an Englishman in Boston. History is a joy—it binds us, it connects us, it guides us. I'm interested in making history more accessible and more fun. Join me on this fantastic voyage through time.

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