- P.O. Box 425
Alfred, ME 04002 US
Two historic prints were big sellers for Litchfield Auctions at their recent Nov. 30-Dec. 1 sale. According to Antiques and the Arts, the lot, estimated at $1/1,500, finally went to a lucky bidder for $22,100.
The lot contained “The Road—Winter” and “The Road—Summer,” a pair of hand-color lithographs drawn by Otto Knirsch and published by Nathaniel Currier in 1853 (four years before his partnership with James Merritt Ives created the iconic “Currier & Ives” firm).
So why the high price?
“The Road—Winter” shows a young couple traveling through a snowy landscape in a cozy winter sleigh. While it does fit squarely within the genre of idyllic winter scenes so beloved by Currier & Ives collectors, the image is noteworthy for other reasons.
That young couple depicts none other than Mr. Currier, himself, and his second wife, Lura Ormsbee Currier.
The image was originally presented by Currier’s staff as a Christmas gift to the forty-year-old Currier and his twenty-nine-year-old wife, then in their sixth year of marriage. Currier liked the print so much that he decided to add it to the company’s production line.
The print would later be memorialized as the object of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s interest in a well-known photograph documenting the President-elect’s February 1933 visit to the Old Print Shop in New York City.
Image credits (from top): The Road—Winter, courtesy of the Old Print Shop. Photographs of Nathaniel Currier (D. Appleton and Company) and Mrs. Nathaniel Currier (William Kurtz), Harriet Endicott Waite research material concerning Currier & Ives, 1923-1956. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph of “President Roosevelt. Examining a print by Currier & Ives on his visit to The Old Print Shop in 1932,” digital copy from the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, New York Public Library Digital Collections.
On this day in 1885, Scottish-American engraver James Smillie died at the age of 78. Smillie’s work included seven full-plate engravings for the American Art Union between 1850 and 1852—notably after paintings by Jasper F. Cropsey, John F. Kensett, Asher B. Durand, and of Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life (1850):
Smillie also engraved illustrations for gift books and periodicals and was a prolific banknote engraver for the American Bank Note Company. At the time of his death, he was working on a vignette for the company: “Lions at Home.”
His son, the engraver James D. Smillie (1833-1909), recollected:
It was the last piece of work that Father did & it was a great disappointment to him that he could not live to quite finish it. We consulted together so that I might know his wishes and in answer to his desire I promised him that I would finish it. There was really very little for me to do – almost nothing but some work upon the accessories with the purpose of ‘bringing things together.’ The animals are almost as he left them. As I sat with him on the 5th of Nov. ’85—he, propped up in bed with a proof in his hand, I gave him a pencil & asked him to write his autograph upon the proof. He did so—it was the last he wrote. He died on the 4th of Dec. following. When I finished the die I traced his autograph upon it.
—Letter from James D. Smillie to Charles Henry Hart, February 19, 1888. Reprinted in the AHPCS News Letter Vol. 23, No. 3 (Winter 1999)
The vignette was later printed on a five-hundred pesos banknote created by the American Bank Note Company for the Banco de Londres y Mexico of Mexico City.
Image credits: The Voyage of Life — Youth [Engraving by James Smillie of painting by Thomas Cole, 1850], courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. Photograph of James Smillie and “Lions at Home” engraving from the collection of Walter D. Allan printed in the AHPCS New Letter (Winter 1999).
Most print collectors have a story of the one that got away. Being outbid at an auction. Waiting too long to pull the trigger while roaming a print fair. But in other cases, the feeling of loss may exist where there was never any print to buy.
While visiting the home of a fellow historic map dealer, AHPCS member Michael Buehler came upon a framed print at the top of a staircase.
It was love at first sight for Michael. The chromolithograph had exactly the kind of cartographic levity that delights dealers who spend their days trading among the sort of serious, highbrow maps that carved borders, navigated trade routes, and directed armies.
Printed by the Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company of Boston in 1876, This Porcineograph was created as a Centennial souvenir for guests who had attended the laying of the cornerstone of the Ridge Hill Farms Piggery in Needham, Massachusetts. In 2014, Rebecca Onion described the “delightful” pork-obsessed map of the United States for Slate.com.
Michael immediately wanted to buy his friend’s print but received only unequivocal rejection. His friend did recall, though, that a bookseller in Pennsylvania also had a copy of This Porcineograph. Michael contacted him—it wasn’t for sale.
But the historic print community is a small one, and it has a long memory. Several years later, the bookseller called. He was finally ready to sell.
Private print collections are never fully stagnant, and as Michael says, “Really good collectors take a long view.” As interests shift, wall space fills up, and collecting careers head toward retirement, there is always the potential for prints to reenter the market. It is undoubtedly a game of patience and communication—of making sure that when the day comes, the seller remembers you and your interest.
Images courtesy of Boston Rare Maps.
AHPCS members will be pleased to learn of a new publication cataloging the work of German-American color-woodcut artist Gustave Baumann (1881-1971): In A Modern Rendering: The Color Woodcuts of Gustave Baumann, A Catalogue Raisonné (September 2019).
One of the highlights of the 2016 AHPCS annual meeting in Santa Fe, Mexico, was the opportunity to view prints and plates by Baumann in the New Mexico History Museum collection. Baumann was a key figure in the American Arts and Crafts movement, and his prints often showcased the natural beauty, light, color, and culture of the American Southwest.
The book, by Gala Chamberlain, with essays by Nancy E. Green and Thomas Leech and a foreword by Martin Krause, is published by Rizzoli Electra and is available for sale on their website. Click here for more information.
Image credit: Gustave Baumann. Morning in Mexico. Color woodcut, 1936. Courtesy of Roger Genser, The Prints & the Pauper.
After the printmaking firm of Currier & Ives closed in 1907, its remaining lithograph stones were sold by the pound and most of their images ground away to make way for new designs—except for a set of Darktown Comics stones.
These stones were used to print lithographs in a long-running series of racist cartoons ridiculing African Americans. And the images were still too lucrative to just erase. From a company that produced roughly 8,000 different prints over more than seventy years, it was the Darktown Comics that were saved. The stones were purchased together, along with the reproduction rights, for reprinting.
In the late 19th century, racial and ethnic caricatures were extremely popular subjects for prints. The bestselling Darktown Comics were printed as small (8″ x 10-12″) or medium folios (about 10″-14″ by 14″-20″), but there was a strong American market for xenophobia and racism in all sizes.
The Library Company of Philadelphia recently acquired four 1882 trade cards–each approximately 4 x 3 inches–depicting (and demeaning) Irish immigrants to America. Over at the LCP blog, curator Sarah Weatherwax explores these images in “Mocking the ‘Other’: The Irish American Experience.” Click here to read more…
“Once in a lifetime!” is how one AHPCS member describes “Beyond Midnight,” the new Paul Revere exhibit showing at the New-York Historical Society from September 6, 2019, through January 12, 2020.
The statement isn’t hyperbole—exhibit curators (and AHPCS members) Lauren Hewes and Nan Wolverton of the American Antiquarian Society have been able to bring together artifacts unlikely to be displayed together again. The exhibit explores Paul Revere’s life, artistry, and impact, which extend far beyond his best-known contribution, that famous “Midnight Ride” warning American colonists of advancing British troops in April 1775.
For print lovers, the exhibit is especially notable for the many examples of Revere’s engraving work. Revere’s most famous engraving, The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770, will appear along with four other contemporary versions—the first time all five 1770 printings of the Boston Massacre will be shown together. “Today the engraving is considered one of the most successful propaganda prints in American History,” explains Lauren Hewes.
Interestingly, the design is not Revere’s; he copied it from another Boston-area artist, Henry Pelham. In Paul Revere’s Engravings (1969), Clarence Brigham writes, “[Revere] never could have designed it. He was an engraver, not an artist…” It was common for engravers to copy the works of others in the 18th century—not that the practice pleased the original artists. In a surviving draft of a March 29, 1770, letter by Pelham, Pelham accuses Revere of “most dishonorable Actions,” writing, “When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder, I thought it impossible as I knew you were not capable of doing it unless you copied it from mine …” It is unknown if the letter was ever sent to Revere.
All five versions displayed in the exhibit at first glance look quite similar, but a closer study reveals variations. For instance, the moon in the Revere print opens to the left; Pelham’s moon opens to the right.
Image credits (left to right): Print: The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King – Street Boston by Paul Revere; Print. The fruits of arbitrary power, or The Bloody Massacre by Henry Pelham. Both courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.
The exhibit offers an unrivaled assemblage of Revere’s work, covering the full span of his career. If New York City isn’t in your travel plans, the exhibit will also be traveling to Massachusetts and Arkansas:
February 14, 2020-June 7, 2020
Worcester Art Museum and Concord Museum
July 1, 2020-October 11, 2020
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
For more information: https://www.americanantiquarian.org/revere
For a July 1938 article in New York History titled “History in Prints,” writer Millicent Stow plodded through a chronology of some historically important prints.
One print received rather sneering commentary: “[The artist] might have portrayed something more interesting, but he seems to have been content with a landscape of little beauty and no historic interest.”
So what made this little print even worthy of Stow’s notice?
It is the first known lithograph printed in America.
Lithography had been invented by Alois Senefelder in Germany in the late 1790s, but it would be more than two decades before his discovery saw actual application across the Atlantic. It was only in 1819 that Philadelphia artist Bass Otis produced this print to accompany an article on lithography by Professor Thomas Cooper in the July issue of The Analectic Magazine.
Why Otis picked this particular mill scene we’ll likely never know. Manuscript sources related to printing history are notoriously scarce.
Consequently, it’s particularly noteworthy that former special collections librarian (and AHPCS member) Philip Weimerskirch has generously shared a new archival find! A May 6, 1819, letter by Cooper in the Newport Historical Society describing his work with Otis and others to produce this first American lithograph.
To read Philip’s full article about Cooper’s letter, check out page 6 of the newest issue of the AHPCS News Letter (Summer 2019).
Audubon’s Wild America Celebrated in Currier Museum of Art Exhibition
During the Industrial Revolution, as the United States grew westward, there was great public fascination with America’s unique and varied wildlife. John James Audubon shared that enthusiasm and sought to take advantage of it by portraying these animals in drawings and etchings, which he included in limited edition books. While best known for his precise studies of birds, this exhibition will feature his interest in mammals, most of which were drawn to appear in their natural settings. Easing Audubon’s struggle to accurately recreate these creatures, the animals were often made available to him stuffed and mounted in displays. Audubon’s artworks became immensely popular in England and across the U.S., and remain some of the finest studies of American wildlife in existence. This exhibition is the result of collaboration between the Currier and New Hampshire Audubon, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014. NH Audubon is making their limited edition (1845-1848) Audubon portfolio available for display for the first time in the state.
Manchester, NH – America’s westward expansion in the mid-19th century was a story of adventure, but also of profound environmental impact. That story is embodied in the life and work of a man who documented the birds and animals of frontier America. John James Audubon had already achieved fame from his groundbreaking publication, The Birds of America when he set his sights on the country’s mammals. From Birds to Beasts: Audubon’s Last Great Adventure, on view at the Currier Museum of Art from May 23 through August 30, 2015, will take you on Audubon’s 1843 journey up the Missouri River to observe and study some of America’s most iconic creatures.
“What set Audubon apart from other naturalists of the time was the way he embedded stories in his beautiful, detailed illustrations,” said Andrew Spahr, Currier curator and director of collections and exhibitions. “Audubon’s original art works showed these creatures in their natural settings, seemingly in motion, acting in ways they did when they were alive.”
The book he created of mammal studies, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845-1848) was a massive undertaking. The three-volume set was the most elaborate color plate book printed entirely in the United States in the mid-1800s. Each copy included an additional three-volume scientific text that provided detailed information about each of Audubon’s 150 subjects.
Currier-NH Audubon Partnership
The Currier is partnering with New Hampshire Audubon to present From Birds to Beasts: Audubon’s Last Great Adventure. NH Audubon just celebrated its centennial year and will make their copy of the limited Imperial Edition (1845-1848) Quadrupeds portfolio available for display for the first time in the state.
“We are thrilled to be working with the Currier Museum of Art on this project, which will raise awareness about the impact of John James Audubon as both a ground-breaking artist and naturalist,” said Michael Bartlett, New Hampshire Audubon president. “Our collaboration with the Currier Museum has been tremendously rewarding, allowing us to share this incredible collection with the public.”
About the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America
The first edition of this publication, called the Imperial Folio, included 150 hand-colored lithographs, each measuring approximately 22” x 28” and was printed by J.T. Bowen. At the time, 300 people subscribed to this edition, paying $300 (nearly $5,000 today) to receive five prints every two months. The price included binding and the accompanying scientific texts, which were published in 1854.
Bowen also produced a smaller Royal Octavo edition (7” x 10.5”), which was published between 1849 and 1871. Like the Imperial Folio, it includes hand-colored lithographs, but Bowen’s team reduced image size by using a camera lucida, making this a more affordable option.
About the Exhibition
By all accounts, John James Audubon’s life was filled with adventure, both in his travels and his financial risk-taking. From Birds to Beasts will detail the factors that led him to create stunningly artistic encyclopedic volumes devoted first to the birds, then to the mammals, of North America. The exhibition will explore the artistic methods behind these massive tomes, and Audubon’s need for the printing and hand-coloring teams to produce works of the highest quality for his subscribers.
More than 45 original hand-colored prints will be on view, most of which come from the NH Audubon collection, as will several of Audubon’s popular bird illustrations, made from 1826 to 1838.
Six monumental prints by artist Walton Ford (b. 1960) will provide a contemporary connection to Audubon’s 170-year old works. Naturalists from NH Audubon will share their knowledge in the galleries during the course of the exhibition.
Over time, Audubon’s name became synonymous with environmental causes even though he and his team killed a large number of animals in their pursuit of scientific study and artistic accuracy. Many of their specimens were mounted and posed in Audubon’s studio as subjects for his paintings to create a visual inventory of the animals that roamed across the frontier.
The exhibition includes stuffed mounts of the animals Audubon studied, including popular New Hampshire species such as the bobcat, fisher and fox. Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, N.H. lent these mounts for this exhibition. These will be on view in a special gallery space that will allow visitors to draw these animals from observation, in the same way Audubon did. Also, the Currier has produced an Audubon Adventure Journal, a special 32-page illustrated takeaway for all ages that builds off the exhibition’s primary themes of art, nature and adventure. It will offer families the opportunity to learn more about New Hampshire wildlife and how to draw images based on nature..
About John James Audubon
Born in 1785, John James Audubon moved to Pennsylvania in 1803, the year of America’s massive westward expansion through the Louisiana Purchase. He moved to Kentucky in 1808 and after several failed business ventures, turned to art, science and nature as his life’s work. His first and most popular book, The Birds of America (1826-1838) was printed in England, but by 1836, he was already considering his next masterwork, which would feature America’s mammals. This became The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. While he had completed 36 paintings of mammals based on what he saw around his home in New York City, he intended to expand the effort to include America’s unique frontier wildlife. His journey to explore and catalogue these mammals began in 1843, when he traveled to St. Louis and then up the Missouri River to the North Dakota/Montana border. Audubon returned to New York City that fall.
Audubon died in 1851 having drawn only half of the 150 paintings included in Quadrupeds. His son, John Woodhouse Audubon, completed the remaining images for the book.
February 9 – June 15, 2013
The Legacy of Currier & Ives; Shaping the American Spirit pays tribute to the popular nineteenth-century printmakers and their role in establishing a form of mass media that was inexpensive and eagerly sought by ordinary people. The exhibition features sixty-four hand-colored lithographs, which include a stunning array of visual references to an exciting period in national development.
From 1834 to 1907, Currier and Ives gave testimony to national art trends, history, and progress through popular prints that hung in homes across America. Several images featured the designs of prominent artists such as Eastman Johnson, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, and George Durrie. The exhibition introduces visitors to the firm of Currier & Ives and shows, through interpretive and educational materials, how their imagery became ingrained in the national consciousness. In the seventy-two years that Currier & Ives were in business (1834–1907), they produced more than 8,000 lithographs.
The exhibition is organized around four themes:
An illustrated catalog accompanies the exhibition and is available in the museum shop.
The D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA, organized and curated the exhibition with prints from their collection.