- 1600 W. Beardsle Ave. Suite101
Elkhart, IN 46514-1800
- John James Audubon, Currier & Ives, Winslow Homer, Civil War, Natural History, Gustave Baumann
The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art hold an interesting letter from Ned Currier to his father, publisher Nathaniel Currier, written two days after Garfield’s death. Writing at nearly midnight, Ned recounted the day’s activity in the Currier & Ives print shop in New York City.
28 W. 27th St.
Sept. 21st 1881
My dear Father,
The demand for Garfield pictures is perfectly overwhelming, it surpasses everything.
We took twelve hundred and twenty-five dollars in hard cash over the counter today!! We could have sold more but we could not get them from the steamers.
We closed up tonight with not a stock print of Garfield in hand. All day the store has been crowded with people.
All the old campaign banners are sold. Six hundred of Bufford’s 22 x 30, bought today are nearly all sold. We raised the price three times and still they wanted them.
We expect a big day tomorrow. The demand for Lincoln is starting up a little.
Your affectionate son,
Source: Ned Currier to his father, Sept. 21, 1881, microfilm reel 2323, frame 0809-10, Nathaniel Currier Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
The frenetic business that Ned Currier witnessed that day reflected a public clamoring for any visual memento of the dead President. Newspapers reported that cities across the nation were draped in black. On September 22nd, the New-York Tribune described the city streets: “One could not turn in any direction without seeing emblems of mourning … Now and then could be seen a flag suspended across a street bearing a portrait of the dead President framed in black. Portraits were also framed in with drapery above doorways and displayed in shop windows.”
Currier & Ives had a long history of catering to the public’s hunger for images following tragedy. Nathaniel Currier’s national reputation originated from his success in quickly producing lithographs that depicted the deadly explosion of the steamboat Lexington in 1840. When a newsworthy event might translate into the increased sale of prints, Currier & Ives wasted no time focusing their manufacturing might towards the production of applicable images. The Library of Congress’s copy of Currier & Ives’s Death of General James A. Garfield (fig. 1) is stamped with a September 24, 1881, copyright date—only five days after Garfield’s death.
In his letter, Ned reported that production was stalled due to the limitations of the steam-powered printing presses. With their own stock of Garfield-related prints exhausted, Currier & Ives even purchased and resold the prints of a competitor: J. H. Bufford. Interestingly, Ned also observed an uptick in requests for Abraham Lincoln images—presumably, some customers felt reverberations from the shocking assassination of President Lincoln sixteen years earlier.
Currier & Ives wasn’t the only lithographic firm capitalizing on Garfield’s death. It was good business for any publishing house. Bufford’s firm reissued its lithographic portrait of Garfield in October 1881—identical except for additional text and a poem about Garfield’s death in the margin.
Fig. 2a-b. From left to right: J. H. Bufford, James A Garfield. President of the United States [Lithograph, 1881 ]. J. H. Bufford, James A. Garfield. President of the United States [Lithograph, copyrighted October 25, 1881]. Both images courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A collector recently queried us about a print she had of “Little Fannie” published by Currier & Ives. The collector wanted to know: Was this a famous child? How had Fannie ended up immortalized in a print? Who was Fannie?The truth is that Little Fannie could have easily have been Little Mary or Little Kate. Her picture falls into a genre known as “juvenile prints”—a large group of small-folio prints (usually 8 x 12.5 inches) of posed girls and, to a lesser extent, boys. While some were given broad titles like Little Sweetheart or Little Brother, many were titled with a specific first name.
Henry R. Robinson, Adelaide [Lithograph, ca. 1843]. Courtesy of the Harry T. Peters “America on Stone” Lithography Collection, Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
N. Currier, Little Kate [Lithograph, circa 1851]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Bobbie [Lithograph, 1867]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.
These prints were most popular in the 1840s and 1850s when the average American could little afford to have a portrait of their child painted or even photographed. Small-folio lithographs typically cost between 10 and 25 cents each. Daguerreotypes, made using a popular photographic process of the time, were more costly. In the early 1850s, newspaper advertisements promoted “daguerreotype likenesses” for 50 cents or more.
There were many unusual first names given to children in Victorian America, but the juvenile print titles are common ones. These names might be better understood as similar to the miniature license plates one finds in highway convenience stores engraved with hundreds of different names or even the “Truly Me” dolls from the American Girl company. The publishing houses didn’t want potential consumers wondering who the posed Fannie was–they wanted them thinking about their own Fannie or Mary or Kate.
In the mid-1800s, a number of lithography firms took advantage of a ready market desiring personalized prints, as well as a culture that sentimentalized and idealized childhood. In particular, N. Currier (and later Currier & Ives) in New York City and the Kelloggs of Hartford, Connecticut, published many of these prints.
For a 2009 Imprint article, collectors James Brust and John Zak explored which Currier & Ives prints were most popular in the 19th century. They noted that while the most desirable (and expensive) prints among modern collectors are steamboat, railroad, and winter scenes, the ones more commonly found for sale on eBay and in antique stores are juvenile, sentimental, and religious themes. They asked, “Does that mean these were leading sellers in their day, or do they simply accumulate in the marketplace because they are not popular with modern collectors and hence are not purchased?”
The article reviewed Currier & Ives sales catalogs dating from the late 1850s to the early 1880s to gauge which broad subjects appeared most frequently. Among five different catalogs, each listing between about 500 to 1200 small-folio prints, juvenile themes consistently accounted for between 11 and 14% of the total titles.
One interesting feature of these prints, noted by Brust and Zak, is their variety: “It would have been possible for Currier & Ives to create four or five generic pictures, vary them further with different hair coloring, then issue multiple versions of each with different names printed in the title. This would have left one family’s Mary looking like the next one’s Jane, but enabled buyers to find the name they needed for their child or loved one. But virtually each title is a distinct image, despite the fact that today’s collector likely sees little difference between the numerous portraits of pretty women and children.”
While discussing a similar type of print of stylish young women issued by these same lithographic firms, costume and textile historian Lynne Zacek Bassett writes in Picturing Victorian America, “Lithographs such as Emeline, Eliza, and Lucina served as fashion plates for the style-conscious American Woman.” Given the similar attention paid to clothing, accessories, and hairstyles in the prints of children, it’s possible that the juvenile portraits played a similar role. If this was the case, then it also explains why there would be such variety; the prints would require regular updating to keep up with the newest style trends of the moment.
Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Martha [Lithograph, c. 1867-1871]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.
One of the reasons our querier asked about Little Fannie is that her print had a handwritten note on the back from a relative about a family member named “Fannie.” A print held by the Connecticut Historical Society of “Little Minnie” includes a faded handwritten inscription below the title: “Presented to Minnie …” from her teacher. Both of these examples, coupled with the sheer number produced, reflect that these prints must have been appealing (and inexpensive) personalized gifts in the 19th century.
E. B. & E. C. Kellogg, Little Minnie [Lithograph, 1863-1866]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.
Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Minnie [Lithograph, 1867-1871]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.
Currier & Ives, Little Minnie Taking Tea [Lithograph, ca. 1857-72]. Courtesy of the Flint Institute of Arts.
Currier & Ives, Little Minnie [Lithograph, circa 1862]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
By David G. Wright
Henry Farrer (1844-1903) was one of the most celebrated of the American painter-etchers during the late 19th century, and someone who today is far too underappreciated. He held leadership positions in the New York Etching Club, which became one of the prime movers in generating interest in etching within the American public for the majority of its existence. Farrer served as president for over twelve years, from 1881 to early 1894, when the club ceased to function. During the same time, he served as secretary of the American Water Color Society and achieved tremendous accolades for his work in that medium as well as in etching.
Henry Farrer was born in London, England, in 1844, and he immigrated to New York City in 1863. To date, Farrer’s Old New York series of fifteen views of historic buildings and locations in and around Manhattan, etched between 1870 and 1877, are considered to be his earliest etchings.
Farrer’s Tree Study (Fig. 1) may be an even earlier etching, dating from about 1870. This print, now in a private collection, had previously been sold by the Kennedy Galleries of New York City to a longtime print dealer. Tree Study clearly shows Farrer’s pre-Raphaelite roots and stylistically foreshadows his Old New York series. It predates the huge interest in etchings that developed within the United States—well before the formation of the New York Etching Club in 1877.Farrer’s attention-to-detail when studying trees—their overall shape, the branching structure, the arrangement of limbs, and the way that the foliage emerged from the branches—lasted throughout his entire artistic life as a focused fascination. This study represents one of his earliest etched attempts at such documentation. The variety of tree recorded here may have been the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) captured during its blooming season.
This would explain the otherwise somewhat curious “whipped cream” splotches seen in the upper branches. Farrer provided no clues as to the scale of the tree, other than what might be an indistinct and minuscule church tower seen off to the distant right. The very low ground plane and horizon line, as well as the large expanse of sky, created the sense of an immense tree dominating an open countryside. Another early undated etching by Farrer, a fine study of a tree titled Pelham Bay (Fig. 3), warrants comparison.Examples of Farrer’s studies that focused on trees abound. An undated watercolor (Fig. 4) undoubtedly done during this same early period, shows a tall, lone tree with a scale and perspective similar to that found in the etching.
Three pencil sketches, Figs. 5-7, all undated, may be studies at different seasons of the same type of tree depicted in this etching. The branch, leaf, and upper floral arrangement and treatment are all sympathetic.
The circa 1870 date for the etching is conjecture, but the artistic style in the work places it within Farrer’s earliest period, when he maintained a strong reliance on the Pre-Raphaelite doctrines. Pre-Raphaelite doctrines became popular thanks in large part to British art critic, author, and lecturer John Ruskin (1819-1900) and his five-volume Modern Painters series, written in the 1840s and 1850s. Ruskin advocated the need for artists to study Nature diligently, to work close-up and in detail, and not to editorialize on or adjust how Nature presented things.
Farrer’s attempt at etching began in 1869 and this work must date to shortly thereafter. The plate has no date or signature, but the pencil signature definitely appears to be in Farrer’s hand, comparing it to an 1870 dated signature (Fig. 8).
It may seem a bit strange that the etcher would add the phrase “Etched by” before his signature. Only one other example, a print from his Pelham Bay etching, has been seen that included such a qualifier.* Today, when we encounter such an attribution, it might signal that someone other than the original artist signed the piece, perhaps to help future viewers understand the work’s authorship. Or in some cases, such signatures point toward a misguided forging effort to increase the work’s value. In this case, however, since the handwriting matches so well Farrer’s authentic script, other possibilities need to be considered.
Perhaps Farrer felt that this etching— being one of his earliest and done c1870—needed the “etched by” qualifier in order to help the viewer understand what the medium actually was. In 1870, the American public had an extremely limited understanding of the process. At this early date, only a handful of artists in America understood or actively practiced etching. Of note, Farrer’s early studio neighbor, R. Swain Gifford, actually signed his 1868 etching of Storm Beaten Cedars on Martha’s Vineyard, in the plate, lower center, “Drawn and etched by R. Swain Gifford” (Fig. 9), which may have prompted Farrer’s pencil notation of several years later.Another anomaly with this early etching concerns the lack of an open bottom margin (Fig. 10)—an area free of etched line within the plate—something that Farrer included in almost all of his earliest etchings.
Most likely he created this work before he established that convention. Alternatively, but less likely, the date of this etching could be later—as late as 1877—when he entered into a transition phase with some of his etchings continuing to include the blank bottom margin, and others abandoning it.
In 1879, Farrer provided a list of his early etchings to Sylvester R. Koehler, who published a record of his most significant etchings to that time in the American Art Review (December 1879). That list did not include this example. The etching is rare and seen in only one private collection.
*Henry Farrer. Old Storm-Beaten Cedar, on the Sound, aka Pelham Bay (New York Public Library, Prints and Photographs Department, Farrer collection #23).
An architect by profession, David G. Wright, FAIA, has spent close to thirty years researching the lives and work of the American painter-etchers of the last third of the nineteenth century, a group of men and women who captivated the American art scene–and thrilled the American public–with evocative and stunning prints. He has written articles discussing the etchings of Robert Swain Gifford, Emily Kelley Moran, Mary Nimmo Moran, Thomas Moran, Stephen Parrish, and Stephen Ferris, to name but a few. In 2010 he published a two-volume work on Peter Moran, Domestic and Wild: Peter Moran’s Images of America, which received the Ewell L. Newman Book Award from the American Historical Print Collectors Society in 2011. For the past decade, he has been studying the life and work of Henry Farrer and recently completed a 150-page in-depth discussion of Farrer’s early etchings.
A print collector recently contacted AHPCS asking if we could provide any insight into two 1849 Nathaniel Currier prints lacking the predictable 152 Nassau Street address. (James Ives didn’t become a partner until 1857.)
For a typical 1849 Currier print, like Louisa below, one expects to see “152 Nassau St.” printed somewhere in the bottom margin:
These addresses are useful on undated prints because they offer a clue to the time of publication:
|1834-35||Stodart & Currier||137 Broadway|
|1835||Nathaniel Currier||1 Wall Street|
|1836-37||Nathaniel Currier||148 Nassau Street|
|1838-56||Nathaniel Currier||152 Nassau Street and 2 Spruce Street|
|1857-65||Currier & Ives||152 Nassau Street and 2 Spruce Street|
|1866-72||Currier & Ives||152 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street|
|1872-74||Currier & Ives||125 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street|
|1874-77||Currier & Ives||123 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street|
|1877-94||Currier & Ives||115 Nassau Street and 33 Spruce Street|
|1894-96||Currier & Ives||108 Fulton Street and 33 Spruce Street|
|1896-1907||Currier & Ives||33 Spruce Street|
This chart looks busy, but all of the addresses are located within a mile of each other in New York City. In the case of 148-152 Nassau and 2 Spruce Street, the addresses actually refer to the same property located on the southwest corner of Printing House Square in New York City.
Why, then, our recent emailer asked, do the bottom margins of two companion prints by artist John Cameron: The Crucifixion / La Crucificazion / La Crucifixion and The Resurrection / La Resureccion del Senor / La Resurrection have the credit line: “Published by N. Currier, Tract House, N.Y.”?
In the entry for The Resurrection in the standard reference Currier & Ives Prints. An Illustrated Check List, author Frederick Conningham parenthetically notes: “The only print I have seen with this address.”
Where was the Tract House, and what was Nathaniel Currier doing there?
A little detective work took us down a circular path. The “Tract House” building was, in fact, 144-152 Nassau Street.
The American Tract Society (ATS), a religious publishing organization founded in 1825, owned the southeast corner lot at Nassau and Spruce Streets (144-152 Nassau Streets). ATS was Currier’s landlord and, in 1847, they erected a five-story building, a new “Tract House.” A detail from an 1870s stereograph shows the building (after Currier & Ives had moved down the block to 125 Nassau) complete with a “Tract House” sign:So why did Currier (apparently) only use the “Tract House” address for those two religious prints? An answer comes from art historian Elizabeth Gilmore Holt in a 1972 paper on revivalist themes in American prints: “Currier received a contract from the American Tract Society for two folio-size prints, one the Crucifixion, the other Resurrection” (page 45).
“Tract House” tied the print back to the ATS but also reflected Currier’s actual address. “Tract House” was also a clear enough landmark that there are contemporary newspaper advertisements for other businesses locating themselves at the “Tract House” in the late 1840s.
The Brooklyn Bridge turns 137 years old today! After more than 13 years of construction, the bridge opened on May 24, 1883, connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn across the East River. At the time, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Its distinctive architecture has inspired art in a variety of mediums–including prints. Here we offer just a sampling of prints to celebrate the birthday of an icon.
Contemplated East River Bridge [Etching, ca. 1869]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Robert Bross (artist). The Foot Bridge Over the East River, New York [Wood engraving; Scientific American illustration, March 10, 1877]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Parsons & Atwater (Currier & Ives, publisher). The Great East River Suspension Bridge. Connecting the Cities of New York & Brooklyn – From New York Looking South-East [Lithograph, 1877]. Courtesy of the Huntington Library.
The Caisson [Wood engraving; Harper’s Monthly illustration, May 1883]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
A. Major. Bird’s-Eye View of the Great New York and Brooklyn Bridge, and Grand Display of Fireworks on Opening Night…May 24, 1883 [Lithograph, 1883]. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Currier & Ives. The grand display of fireworks and illuminations at the opening of the great suspension bridge between New York and Brooklyn on the evening of May 24th, 1883. View from New York, looking towards Brooklyn [Lithograph, 1883]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
General view of the Brooklyn Bridge [Wood engraving, ca. 1883]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Haasis & Lubrecht. The Wonderful East-River Suspension Bridge Connecting the Great Cities of New York and Brooklyn [Lithograph, 1883]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Franklin Square Lithographic Company. Bird’s-Eye View of the Great Suspension Bridge, Connecting the Cities of New York and Brooklyn – From New York Looking South-East [Lithograph, 1883]. Courtesy of the Huntington Library.
Raphael Tuck & Sons. New York Harbour with Brooklyn Bridge [Chromolithograph from a painting by Andrew Melrose, 1887]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Thure de Thulstrup. A Wet Day on the East River Bridge [Wood Engraving; Harper’s Weekly illustration, November 5, 1887]. Courtesy of the Old Print Shop.
L.W. Schmidt. Bird’s Eye View of the City of New York – Chromo [Chromolithograph, 188-]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Harry LeRoy Taskey. Frozen Assets [Lithograph, Public Works of Arts Project, 1934]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.
By James S. Brust
It was October 8, 1974, though at the time I made no special effort to remember the date. Driving up the coast of Maine at the start of an autumn trip through New England, I stopped at a cluttered, musty antique barn. Having grown up in New York City, I was familiar with “Currier & Ives” images through their frequent use on Christmas cards, calendars, advertisements and ceramic ware. But it was only a couple of years before that I’d picked up a book and learned that Currier & Ives were actually two men, not a generic term. They had run a very successful printmaking business a hundred years and more before, producing hand-colored lithographs with a wide range of images so popular they were still commonly seen. And most exciting, those original prints were still available. Somewhere I had read an article telling how to differentiate original C&I prints from later reproductions, and it came to mind as I noticed framed prints hanging on the wooden walls. Suddenly more interested, I saw many carried the words “Currier & Ives” and seemed to be the real thing.
I was drawn to a charming picture of a beautiful sleeping child sitting next to an oversized, vigilant, obviously loyal terrier—The Watchers. The frame was literally falling apart, the glass gone, the print stained and damaged—none of which bothered me at all. I asked the price, and was surprised to learn it was only fifteen dollars. “But it is undoubtedly an original Currier & Ives,” I pontificated. Of course it was also a wreck, but I had yet to learn how much that affected value. The dealer just smiled and said nothing. I happily paid him and bounced out of the shop, certain that I had gotten a great bargain.
Another two days down the road found me in New Hampshire, at the shop of a quiet, neatly groomed, older woman. She had a room with prints hung floor to ceiling. I went wild and picked out an American Homestead Spring marked sixty-five dollars, with a tear half way through the image.
“Do you collect Currier & Ives?” she asked with the measured tones of a true New Englander. Suddenly flushed with pride at the realization, I replied, “I now have two so that must mean I’m a collector.” “Well,” she said, pausing a moment for emphasis, “If you’re going to collect Currier & Ives, you’ve better have a lot of money.” Not the most supportive statement, but an unexplainable yet powerful affinity for these prints had already taken hold in this neophyte.
Another two days, another state (Vermont), another antique barn and another forty dollars bought my third Currier & Ives – The Roadside Mill – also in terrible condition. I headed back to NYC to visit my family before returning to California, anxious to show off my three treasures. My father and sister, out of respect for my obvious enthusiasm, said nothing negative, though it was simple to see from the looks they gave each other that they thought I was nuts. But the hook was now set, and nothing was going to curb my newfound passion. I reached for the Manhattan Yellow Pages, and found an establishment called The Old Print Shop, which happily was within walking distance. I telephoned and naively asked: “Do you have any Currier & Ives prints?” With the verbal equivalent of a straight face, I was politely told they did.
Walking into OPS a short white later, I realized there would be far greater heights to Currier & Ives collecting. Large, beautiful prints, which were not all torn to shreds. And, of course, prices ten or even a hundred times higher than those in musty barns. But I’d been warned (“if you’re going to collect Currier & Ives, you’d better have a lot of money”), and was undeterred. Prints of this caliber would have to wait for another day, but I knew that day would come.
Returning to California, I read more on C&I, corresponded with dealers, and soon joined a fledgling group called the American Historical Print Collectors Society. Forty years have now gone by, and that compelling attraction to these prints has never slackened. There is no doubt the events of that long-ago autumn immeasurably changed my life for the better.
And what became of those fateful first three purchases? Once I’d become a little more grounded in the importance of condition, numbers two and three were quickly sold. But not The Watchers. After all, it was my very first Currier & Ives print, and of great symbolic importance to me, so I plan never to part with it. The image remains charming, and I never tire of it. And since it was so beat up to start with, I was not worried about hanging it in less than ideal conditions. I hope readers won’t consider this an “overshare,” but it hangs over the toilet in our bathroom, where nature’s necessary activities lead me to look at it several times a day.
On October 8, 1974, I had gotten a great bargain. Not financially as I thought at the time – most collectors would never buy a print in such poor condition, and I understand why the dealer was pleased to get anyone to give him fifteen dollars for it. But that first Currier & Ives, and all that has flowed from it, has enriched me in ways I could never have dreamed of at the time. It may well be the best fifteen dollars I have ever spent.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 AHPCS News Letter.
Image credit: The Watchers [Currier & Ives, lithograph, undated]. Courtesy of James Brust.
Invisible enemies have long been an elusive subject to illustrate. But throughout print history, artists have tried their hand at capturing various angles of disease. When epidemics strike, we can try to pull back into our own print collections to see examples of medical prints, diagnostic illustrations, maps and surveys used as tracing tools, and even representational satirical images. However with American prints, there are few “medical images of any kind from around 1750 until the mid-nineteenth century. Not even of something as common as bleeding.”1
A hallmark of visuals—in whatever manifestation—is that they can tell us about events in real-time (as do those created today). Sometimes these showcase erroneous public health advice owing to an undeveloped understanding of the workings of the human body. But prints can also include those created by and for the scientific community, government agencies, and by the press to inform the public; still other pandemics proved the fodder for caricatures and cartoons. In my brief survey, I’ve seen few illustrations of American epidemics (I’ve looked for ones on smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, polio, malaria, and typhoid fever). Printed material with examples of popular medicine included illustrations in books and pamphlets used by physicians as well as engraved labels, trade cards, portraits of treating doctors and others.2
I am interested in exploring the intersection of medicine and material culture regarding pandemic history to share. As many of these images are great study-images, the images are available here. We hope to offer this as a multi-part series, and would love other institutions and dealers to submit their favorites so we can capture a range of prints, periods, places and treatments, especially of America.
An unillustrated version of this piece originally appeared in the AHPCS News Letter (Volume 44, Issue 4).
1. Charles Greifenstein, Curator of Archives & Manuscripts at the College of Physicians quoted as speaking to author Jim Murphy (p. 157) in his book An American Plague, 2003.
2. “Every man his own doctor”: Popular Medicine in Early America was an exhibition at member institution The Library Company of Philadelphia in 1998 and the entire full-text exhibition catalogue is available in Google books. It is a wonderful and well-illustrated read, particularly relevant during the current pandemic.
Fanny Palmer was one of Currier & Ives’ most important and prolific artists — and her oeuvre of nearly 300 prints gives the impression of artistic invincibility. But in the small book Currier & Ives (1950), Frederic A. Conningham notes: “The only type of work she did not do was the horse racing print. According to Louis Maurer who worked with her, the one thing Mrs. Palmer could not draw was a horse.”
Being able to draw a horse well was very important at Currier & Ives. When they finally closed their doors in 1907, Currier & Ives had published almost 700 prints of horses and horseracing — 10% of their total output. In Currier & Ives: Printmakers to the American People (1942), Harry T. Peters estimated that Currier & Ives produced more horse prints than all of the other American lithographic firms combined. Their output makes sense given the ubiquity of horses in both urban and rural America — in 1867, there were 8 million horses in America for a population of about 31 million. The nation’s obsession with horse racing also exploded in popularity at this time, creating demand for specific portraits of famous stallions and mares.
If anyone at Currier & Ives was in a position to judge a well-drawn horse, it was Louis Maurer; he was one of the primary artists of horses on staff. When Nathaniel Currier first saw Maurer’s skill drawing horses, he reportedly gave him an immediate raise.
A firm grasp on equine anatomy would seem to be essential to a successful horse picture. The Louis Maurer Collection at the American Antiquarian Society includes multiple pencil sketches of horses.Maurer’s careful attention to the shape of a horse can be seen in his Preparing for Market, a Currier lithograph from 1856. So the obvious question is how do Palmer’s horse-focused prints compare? There isn’t an easy answer because artists (like Maurer and Palmer) were known to contribute their specific skills to another’s print uncredited. A “good” horse on a Palmer print might actually be Maurer’s work.
Palmer’s American Farm Yard – Morning (1857) turns out to be quite similar to Preparing for Market, and the horses look acceptable.It’s the background horses in Palmer’s companion print, American Farm Yard – Evening (1857), however, that provide some clue as to the sort of Palmer horses that Maurer may have disliked. They are more rounded in shape and less defined. And these figures seem to represent the norm when compared to other horses that appear throughout Palmer’s prints.
Palmer’s horses typically have curving soft bodies, less realistic frames, and more cartoonish appearances. They often look slow-moving, like sleepy side notes amid the country scenery, as in Palmer’s The Cattskill [sic] Mountains (1860).This may explain why Palmer never joined Maurer in the pantheon of Currier & Ives horse artists.
At the same time, a number of Currier & Ives horse prints don’t look entirely realistic to the modern eye. Maurer’s horses in Sontag and Flora Temple (1855) reflect an artistic style common to many Currier & Ives’s horse prints.Volume II of Frank Forester’s Horse and Horsemanship of the United States (1857) by Henry William Herbert reproduces an image of the renowned racing mare Lady Suffolk taken from a lithograph by artist Robert Clarke. Herbert characterized the image as “indisputably the best likeness” of the horse. Herbert further applauded Clarke for his “power of catching and committing to paper the peculiar action, style of going and salient characteristics of any horse, while in motion, on the trot especially.” Though he did note that Clarke “was somewhat deficient, however, in anatomical knowledge; and had a habit, which amounted, in his works, to an absolute mannerism of representing his animals with undersized limbs.”
Horses are animated animals, from their expressive eyes down to their twitching tails. There are so many rapidly changing components in the movement of a horse, especially in the placement of the four legs when moving, that it all can seem a bit awkward when isolated in a two-dimensional image. Until Eadweard Muybridge’s groundbreaking 1878 Horses in Motion, there wasn’t even agreement on how a horse’s legs actually moved while galloping.
So when an artist like Robert Clarke could convincingly capture a horse’s “style of going,” concessions could be made for limitations in anatomical realism.
What’s the verdict when we isolate the horses in some of Fanny Palmer’s prints? To varying degrees, her horses often lack both motion and realism:
Currier & Ives wanted horses of movement. As Harry S. Peters surmised about the popularity of their horse prints: “The great sales impetus of these prints was perhaps aided by the American desire, then as now, for displays of speed.”
Below, for your enjoyment, is just a very small sampling of Currier & Ives horse prints produced by artists like Maurer, John Cameron, and Thomas Worth.
Note: The collage of Fanny Palmer’s horses in Currier & Ives prints was collected from open-source images published in Fanny Palmer: The Life and Works of a Currier & Ives Artist.
The American Antiquarian Society has lots of examples of fully lithographed books—made with both lithographic images and text—including titles by Bret Harte, children’s picture books, and inexpensive comic text.
One great example in AAS’s collection is titled Wreck-Elections of a Busy Life and was published in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1867. The entire volume is a humorous spoof of Horace Greeley’s autobiography Recollections of a Busy Life, which was published in installments in Greeley’s newspaper, the New York Tribune. The Tribune office was located near Nassau Street in New York — an area that, along with Spruce Street and Broad Street, formed an enclave for all kinds of print shops, newspaper offices, and print sellers.
Although distributed by American News Company, a New York firm, Wreck-Elections was not printed in New York. The printer was Kellogg & Bulkeley in Hartford, Connecticut, over a hundred miles away. Kellogg was best known for single-sheet lithographs of views, portraits, and genre scenes. The partnership with Bulkeley was brand new in 1867, having been formed when some of the family sold part interest in the firm.
Originally founded in 1836, the Kelloggs had a long history of producing lithographed prints for national distribution and today are considered one of the biggest competitors of Currier & Ives, the famed New York lithographic company also founded in 1836. In 1867, when Wreck-Elections appeared, Currier & Ives had two shops in New York: one on Nassau Street and a second, newly opened space at 33 Spruce Street. Currier & Ives and Kellogg & Bulkeley were aware of each other’s print production, often copying one another or issuing modified compositions popular with their customers. This is well known among scholars of American lithography and has been discussed in recent histories of both firms.
Midway through the pages of Wreck-Elections, with its various puns and bad poetry of the story, there is a scene showing an angry Greeley trying to rouse troops on the front stoop of the Tribune building (Greeley was famous for his continued cry, “On to Richmond!,” which was perceived as war-mongering by many critics).
There in the background, across the street, hastily sketched by the artist up in Hartford, was the front window of Currier & Ives’s New York shop! A lady and a soldier are standing in front, but the sign over the door clearly reads “Currier &” – . Was this an insider’s tip of the hat to their New York rival by the Hartford firm? A closer look at the three prints displayed in the window revealed a religious print of Christ’s descent from the cross, a horse pulling a racing sulky, and a ship portrait, all classic Currier & Ives fare (as well as scenes produced by Kellogg & Bulkeley).
It is a bit like Coca-Cola including a Pepsi machine in the background of one of their advertisements. Maybe most readers did not notice, or if they did, perhaps they would associate Currier & Ives with Greeley, who was losing popularity as the politics of the era changed after the war years. The intent is completely unknown, of course, since the artist did not leave any letter of intent or explanation, but, really, he could have sketched anything there — empty doors and windows, an anonymous shop or office. Instead he made a quiet little insider’s joke, one that we can still appreciate more than 150 years after it was published.
Lauren B. Hewes is the Interim Vice President for Collections and the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. A version of this article previously appeared in the AHPCS News Letter (Winter 2015) and on Pastispresent.org, the blog of the American Antiquarian Society. Images courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
We recently shared some dog-focused prints, so now it’s only fair to shine the spotlight on our feline friends. These American historical prints are arranged chronologically and cover a range of cat cuteness and mischievousness.
Peter Maverick (lithographer), [Two kittens] [Lithograph, ca. 1830]. Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Pendelton’s Lithography. [Three cats] [Lithograph, ca. 1830]. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
D. W. Kellogg & Co. My Kitten [Lithograph, between 1830 and 1842]. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
Child & Inman (Charles Fenderich, artist), [Cat and two kittens, with a mouse] [Lithograph, 1832]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
William Warner, engraver (Sir Edwin Landseer, artist), [Cat caught by the claw of a lobster while trying to steal a fish lying on a table] [Mezzotint, between 1835 and 1848]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Nathaniel Currier, The Favorite Cat [Lithograph, 1838-1846]. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, My Little White Kitties. Learning their A.B.C. [Lithograph, between 1842 and 1867]. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
Currier & Ives, The Star of the North [Lithograph, between 1857 and 1872]. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
Currier & Ives, My Little White Kitties–Into Mischief [Lithograph, 1871]. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Haskell & Allen, Pussy’s Family [Lithograph, ca. 1872]. Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
All in Favor of Clark’s O.N.T. Will Please Say Aye! [Chromolithograph, between 1857 and 1873]. Courtesy of American Antiquarian Society.
L. Prang & Co., The Cat – Felis Domesticus [Lithograph, 1872]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Thomas Kelly, Two Little Fraid Cats [Lithograph, 1874]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Currier & Ives, Pussy’s Return [Lithograph, 1874-78]. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.
J.A. Ladd & Son, Booksellers and Stationers. Holiday Cards a Specialty. 37 West Gay Street, West Chester, Pa. [Chromolithograph, ca. 1880]. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
F. Graetz (artist), A Picture Without Words [Chromolithograph illustration from Puck, 1884 January 16]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
G.H. Dunston, International Baking Powder. Manufactured by Queen City Chemical Co., Buffalo, N.Y. [Lithograph, 1885]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
H.S. Crocker & Co., Evolution of a Cat-cher [Lithograph, 1889]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Edward Penfield (artist), Harper’s May [Lithograph, 1896]. Courtesy of the Jay T. Last Collection, Huntington Library.
Muller, Luchsinger & Co., Full of Fun [Chromolithograph, 1898]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Strobridge & Co., William Collier in Augustus Thomas’ New Comedy, On the Quiet [Lithograph, 1900]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.