Print Prices in a Pandemic

Currier & Ives, The Life of a Hunter. 'A tight fix'

What did 2020 mean for print collecting?

Currier & Ives (after A. F. Tait), Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix’ [Lithograph, 1861].Currier & Ives (after A. F. Tait), Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix’ [Lithograph, 1861].

Since the beginning of the pandemic, print sellers and collectors have been trying to figure out how to continue doing what they love in a socially distanced world. One of our dealer members was pleased to sell some prints online in early spring only to realize that because of local shelter-in-place rules, the purchased prints were trapped in a closed storage facility.

The art world was already growing increasingly proficient in the virtual realm before 2020; Covid-19 only accelerated the shift. But according to industry reports, the pandemic hasn’t been kind to art galleries forced to close their doors: online art buying may be up, but overall sales are down.

What did this year mean for historic print collectors? Many were already comfortable scrolling eBay listings and making online bids. But these activities were enjoyed in addition to the in-person parts of collecting that disappeared: visiting fairs, dropping into print galleries, and getting together with fellow enthusiasts.

Print collectors were also now part of what one writer termed “a captive audience” for one of the last remaining outlets open to them: online auctions. In an entirely unscientific review, we decided to take a look at the auction results recorded on the site liveauctioneers.com and share the highest prices realized for a Currier & Ives print each month in 2020.

The Year in Currier & Ives

Note: The sold prices listed below do not include the buyer’s premium or any other additional fees or taxes; multiple-print lots were not included.


December 2020

$7,500 (21 bids)

American Forest Scene. Maple Sugaring.

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (artist), N. Currier [Lithograph, 1856]

Jackson’s Auction (December 1, 2020)

 

 


November 2020

$9,000 (1 bid)

The City of Philadelphia

Parsons and Atwater (artists), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1875]

Arader Gallery (November 7, 2020, sale)

 

 


October 2020

$5,000 (18 bids)

“Trotting Cracks” at the Forge

Thomas Worth (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1869]

California Auctioneers (October 11, 2020, sale)

 

 


September 2020

$1,200 (17 bids)

Fashionable “Turn-Outs” in Central Park

Thomas Worth (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1869]

Nye & Company (September 2, 2020, sale)

 

 


August 2020

$25,000 (6 bids)

Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix.’ 

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1861]

Nate D. Sanders (August 20, 2020, sale)

 

 


July 2020

$1,100 (1 bid)

Holidays in the Country. Troublesome Flies.

Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1868]

Arader Galleries (July 25, 2020, sale)

 

 


June 2020

$6,000 (21 bids)

Abraham Lincoln. Andrew Johnson, Grand, National Union Banner for 1864.

Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1864]

Cowan’s Auctions (June 26, 2020, sale)

 

 

 

 


May 2020

$5,000 (3 bids)

The Life of a Hunter. ‘Catching a Tartar.’

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1861]

Concept Art Gallery (May 15, 2020, sale)

 

 


April 2020

$7,500 (28 bids)

The Port of New York. Birds Eye View from the Battery, Looking South.

Parsons & Atwater (artists), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1872]

Arader Galleries (April 25, 2020, sale)

 


March 2020

$3,000 (9 bids)

New York and Brooklyn. With Jersey City and Hoboken Water Front.

Parsons & Atwater (artists), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1877]

Shapiro Auctions (March 22, 2020, sale)

 

 


February 2020

$17,500 (14 bids)

Across the Continent. “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way”

F. F. Palmer (artist), J. M. Ives (lithographer), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1868]

Kotler Galleries & Auctioneers (February 13, 2020, sale)

 

 


January 2020

$1,200 (11 bids)

A Parley. Prepared for an Emergency.

James Cameron (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1866]

Arader Galleries (January 25, 2020, sale)

 

 


The anecdotal conclusion among some print collectors is that there has been an increased interest in historical prints, including Currier & Ives, during the pandemic. And with rising interest comes rising prices. One member estimated that online auction prices seemed to have gone up even as much as 25% for C& I prints.

The big seller during the pandemic was an old favorite: Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix’ (1861). It sold for $25,000 in August. Sotheby’s website also recorded a $30,000 sale price for another copy of the print in January.

It’s fun to look at the pricey prints, but one of our dealer members doesn’t think that’s where the real story is to be found. He has noticed that the notable change isn’t with the big-ticket items, which have regularly commanded high prices. The increased interest is for his less-expensive Currier & Ives prints, including ones with condition issues. In recent years, most of those wouldn’t have sold at all.

In a 2019 post on his Antique Prints Blog, AHPCS board member Chris Lane assessed that antique prices had been dropping since the turn of the millennium and that he’d noticed a decline in serious collectors: “The economic disaster of 2008 knocked most of these collectors out of the market, and frankly, few have come back in even a decade later.”

While stalwart collectors feel the burn from increased bidding, for the field of historic print collecting in general, it brings new optimism. As one member shared, “What the increase means to me, is there is an increasing in interest in Currier & Ives, after almost two decades of decreasing interest. Personally, I am loving it and hoping it continues.”

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Image Credits

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (artist), N. Currier, American Forest Scene. Maple Sugaring [Lithograph, 1856]. Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery.

Parsons and Atwater (artists), Currier & Ives, The City of Philadelphia [Lithograph, 1875]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Currier & Ives, “Trotting Cracks” at the Forge [Lithograph, 1869]. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thomas Worth (artist), Currier & Ives, Fashionable “Turn-Outs” in Central Park [Lithograph, 1869]. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Currier & Ives (after A. F. Tait), Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix’ [Lithograph, 1861]. Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2007.186

Currier & Ives, Holidays in the Country. Troublesome Flies [Lithograph, 1868]. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York [58.300.19].

Currier & Ives, Abraham Lincoln. Andrew Johnson, Grand, National Union Banner for 1864 [Lithograph, 1864]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Currier & Ives (after A. F. Tait), The Life of a Hunter. ‘Catching a Tartar’ [Lithograph, 1861]. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York [57.300.64].

Parsons & Atwater (lithographers), Currier & Ives, The Port of New York. Birds Eye View from the Battery, Looking South. [Lithograph, 1872]. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery.

Parsons & Atwater (lithographers), Currier & Ives, New York and Brooklyn. With Jersey City and Hoboken Water Front.[Lithograph, 1877]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

F. F. Palmer (artist), J. M. Ives (lithographer), Currier & Ives, Across the Continent. “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” [Lithograph, 1868]. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery.

James Cameron (artist), Currier & Ives A Parley. Prepared for an Emergency.  [Lithograph, 1866]. Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library.