AHPCS gets more questions about Currier & Ives items than about any other type of print. There is a lot of confusion about who Currier & Ives were and what exactly constitutes an “original Currier & Ives.” Currier & Ives prints have always been central to AHPCS, and this is a great place to find answers to your questions. Lots of our members are fans of Currier & Ives and many of our dealer members actively buy and sell C&I prints.
Who were Currier & Ives?
“Currier & Ives” was the name used by a New York printmaking firm from 1857 until 1907. The business had its beginnings in two predecessor firms involving Nathaniel Currier: first as Stodart & Currier (1834) and then as N. Currier (1835 to 1856). Currier was a printmaker and businessman; James Ives started as the firm’s bookkeeper in 1852 and five years later became Currier’s partner. Neither was an artist, so though all Currier & Ives prints were published by the partners, they were drawn and lithographed by other persons. Nathaniel Currier retired in 1880 and died in 1888 and James Ives died in 1895. The firm, under the direction of their sons Edward West Currier and Chauncey Ives, carried on until 1907. Though the name of the firm changed over time, all prints produced by this firm, even before 1857, are often referred to as “Currier & Ives prints.”
Some things to remember:
o Currier & Ives were printmakers; they were not artists nor did they make any trays, plates, mugs, calendars, or similar items
o The only original Currier & Ives are prints made between 1834 and 1907
What are original Currier & Ives prints like?
Almost all Currier & Ives prints are hand-colored lithographs. The images were printed in ink from lithographic stones onto fairly thick sheets of wove paper and then were hand-colored. Under moderate magnification, the black-ink image of an original print should show the characteristic pattern of a stone lithograph.
Though Currier & Ives did issue a few chromolithographs, the majority of the original prints have coloring that was applied by hand. The smaller and less expensive prints were usually colored by a group of young women, each applying a different color; images with large runs were often colored using stencils. These prints will often show some sloppiness in the coloring. The expensive prints were generally colored individuall by skilled colorists, and consequently will be much better done than smaller prints. Many originals will have gum arabic on them to add depth to the color and this can be seen by holding the print at an angle to a light. Currier & Ives did issue some of their prints uncolored, and since very few reproductions are uncolored, this is a good clue that one has an original.
Though Currier & Ives did not issue their prints in standard sizes, the prints are usually grouped into three basic size categories:
o Small folio: approximately 8″ by 12 1/2″
o Medium folio: approximately 10″-14″ by 14″-20″
o Large folio: anything over about 14″ by 20″
How do I spot a reproduction?
Telling a reproduction from an original can sometimes be very easy and other times quite difficult. Below are some tests you can make which might tell you what you have.
o Most Currier & Ives reproductions are made from a dot-matrix process. If you look through a fairly powerful magnifier (e.g. 10x) and you see little dots (either black & white or color), then you have a reproduction.
o You can compare your print with the description in the standard Currier & Ives references. If you compare the exact title and size and it does not match the description, you likely have a reproduction. Note that original prints do vary a bit in size, but the measurements should be within about 1/2” of the recorded size.
o Original Currier & Ives prints were printed on a fairly thick wove paper with a matte finish. Many reproductions are on thin paper and/or glossy paper. The more you handle original Currier & Ives prints, the more familiar you can become with what the paper should be like.
o Look for any printed information which indicates the print is a reproduction, e.g. “reproduced from” or a copyright notice, etc. Some reproductions are obvious if one looks closely at what is printed around the image.
Unfortunately, quite a number of Currier & Ives reproductions will pass most tests that the non-expert can put them to. These are the right size, are printed by lithography, and are hand colored. The best of these are collotypes, which though printed lithographically, show a different pattern to the ink under magnification. In these cases, it is usually best to consult an expert.
The most famous series of top-quality reproductions are the twenty large folio prints issued by Andres Inc. from New York in 1942. These are approximately correct in size and are hand colored. If one has a print from the following list of their reproductions, one should be especially careful in checking for originality. Remember, as reproductions were more recently issued than the originals, it is more likely that one will come across a reproduction than an original.
- “Across the Continent”
- “American Express Train”
- “The American National Game of Baseball”
- “American Winter Scenes -Evening”
- “American Winter Scenes -Morning”
- “Central Park Winter -Skating Pond”
- “Clipper Ship ‘Sweepstakes'”
- “Clipper Ship ‘Red Jacket'”
- “High Water on the Mississippi”
- “Home to Thanksgiving”
- “Hudson Highlands”
- “Landscape Fruit and Flowers”
- “The Lightning Express Trains”
- “Low Water on the Mississippi”
- “May Morning”
- “New England Winter Scene”
- “The Old Grist Mill”
- “The Road, -Winter”
- “Seasons of Life -Childhood”
- “Seasons of Life -Middle Age”
What is a Currier & Ives restrike?
A Currier & Ives restrike is a print made from the original stone, but issued after Currier & Ives were no longer in business. When the firm closed, its lithographic stones were sold at auction, most effaced. A number of printsellers acquired the remaining useable stones and made new prints from them: these are restrikes. S. Lipshitz, from England, Joseph Koehler, and Max Williams are the best known of these publishers. Most of Koehler’s prints were from the “Darktown” series, though he also issued a small folio “Washington as a Mason” and a large folio image of Abraham Lincoln. Williams, around 1912, reprinted six of the large folio Clipper Ship images:
- “Clipper Ship -Dreadnought ‘Off Sandy Hook'”
- “Clipper Ship -Dreadnought ‘Off Tuskar Light”
- “Clipper Ship -Flying Cloud”
- “Clipper Ship -Ocean Express ‘Outward Bound'”
- “Clipper Ship -Sweepstakes”
- “Clipper Ship -Three Brothers”
As these are from the original stones and are hand colored, they can be identified only by their weaker impressions and color and the fact they were printed on thinner paper than the originals.
Currier & Ives restrikes have a unique market niche between originals and reproductions. As they were printed from the original, hand-drawn lithographic stones, and as they are quite old and rare, they do have a market value. This is well below the price of the originals, but also well above that of reproductions.
How much is my Currier & Ives print worth?
The American Historical Print Collectors Society cannot give out evaluations of prints. We have many member dealers, however, who can provide an appraisal for individual prints or a collection. There are also a number of price guides that list Currier & Ives prints. These guides must be used with caution, but they can at least provide some guidance for values.
There are multiple factors that determine the value of a Currier & Ives print, the most significant being, in order of importance: size, subject, and condition.
Size (assuming very good to excellent condition)
o Small folio: prints range from about $75 to $3,000
o Medium folio: prints range from about $150 to $5,000
o Large folio: prints range from about $400 to $60,000
o Lowest value: topics include name prints, children, religious, memorials
o Middle value: foreign views, genre, historical, political, fruit & flowers
o Highest value: winter scenes, American views, sporting
Condition: important factors include
o Color and impression
o Tears/holes, especially into the image
o Width of margins (though we think this is over-emphasized by many collectors)
Where can I find more information about Currier & Ives?
If you want specific information about a particular print, you can either contact one of our member dealers through the AHPCS Dealer Directory.
Prints can also be researched in one of the standard reference books on Currier & Ives listed below. Note that for the majority of the over 7,500 different Currier & Ives prints there is not much more information to be found about an individual print other than the original date of publications and perhaps the name of the artist.
Standard Currier & Ives References
The following works contain the most comprehensive listing of Currier & Ives prints. These books, and others with useful information on the firm, can be found in many libraries and they are also sold by many of our member dealers.
Frederic A. Conningham Currier & Ives Prints. An Illustrated Check List
This is the first and most used standard reference on the firm. The first edition listed about 5,700 different titles and by the time the last edition was issued in 1983, the list had grown to almost 7,000. It is to this “Conningham” list that most collectors and dealers refer to when citing a Currier & Ives print, the number often being given as, e.g., “C:1458.”
Gale Research’s Currier & Ives. A Catalogue Raisonné
This is an equally impressive and even more comprehensive listing of prints compiled and published by the Gale Research Company. This massive two-volume set is not as often used as the more practically sized Conningham, but it does contain more items (7,500 listed titles) and has useful cross-references and indexes. It is, unfortunately, out-of-print.
The AHPCS Currier & Ives list
Despite the existence of the huge catalogues compiled by Conningham and Gale, new titles still turn up from time to time. An effort is being made by the American Historical Print Collectors Society to maintain a current listing of Currier & Ives prints not recorded in either Conningham or Gale. The hope is that any newly discovered Currier & Ives prints will be sent to us for inclusion there.
Thanks to Christopher W. Lane, Donald Cresswell, and Carolyn Cades of the Philadelphia Print Shop and the Philadelphia Print Shop West for allowing AHPCS to adapt some of their material on Currier & Ives for use on this site.