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.