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( Originally Published 1951 )
From Currier's start until the latter part of the 1840s the bulk of his work consisted of the small folio or "stock" prints, and all of his order lists quoted only these small prints. Shortly before 1850 he commenced publishing many more large folio prints, and in addition to his direct mail advertising he ran a series of advertisements in at least one publication, The Spirit o f the Times, a weekly newspaper devoted to the turf, agriculture, field sports, literature and the stage. He also published a print showing a man reading this paper in which his ad is prominently displayed. This is the only notice known to have appeared in a publication, and it differs greatly from the order lists. It reads:
The Trotting Horses of America Just Published by N. Currier
It lists four early racing prints-Lady Suffolk and Lady Moscow, Black Hawk and Jenny Lind, "Daniel D. Tompkins" and "Blanc Negre," and Peytona and Fashion. All of these prints are quoted at $3.00 each, but a number of other large folio prints of individual horses are priced at $1.50 each.
This advertisement also lists several unknown large folio prints: Ripton to a Sulky, Battle o f Buena Vista, The Soldier's Dream, The Angel's Whisper, and The Little Sailor Boy. Other prints are classified as miscellaneous and national prints, and the highest-priced print I have heard of is here quoted: View o f San Francisco, tinted for $3.00 and colored for $5.00. Currier called this "by far the best view of this new and growing city that has been taken."
It wasn't known for a certainty that Currier sold English sporting prints or whether he was allowed to add his imprint, but he was undoubtedly influenced by the English school. He imitated their technique in a number of prints published by him, and in the advertisement above referred to he listed several expensive English sporting prints, among them The Start for the Derby 1844 and Steeple Chase Cracks at $18.00 each. The set of Hunting Casualties was copied from Alken's prints, the set of dog prints comprising Pointers, Fox Hounds, Setters and Stag Hounds were copied from plates published by Ackerman & Company of London. The Straw Yard was taken from a painting by J. F. Herring, Sr., and the two sets of fox-hunting prints are copies of English prints. Trout versus Gout and The Ambuscade were also copied from an English picture and print respectively. There are two English engravings, The Slave Trade and The Trial o f Effie Deans, with Currier's name replacing the original publisher's name.
The subjects of Currier & Ives prints are so diverse that at least one group is of interest to every collector. There are Mississippi River scenes, railroad prints, clipper ships, steam ships, foreign views, rural scenes, farm and winter scenes, pugilism, fishing, hunting, baseball and other sports, western scenes, gold mining, Hudson river scenes, kitten prints, religious, game, comics, horse racing, historical, puzzles, Civil War, Mexican War, Revolution, portraits including many of Washington and Lincoln, fires and firemen, wrecks and disasters, family registers, temperance, sentimental, cartoons, name prints, juvenile, fruit and flower prints, and other classifications.
ONLY two important college prints were ever published by Currier. The first, Dartmouth College, was published in 1834, the year he started in business. Whether the print was a disappointment to Currier or whether he lacked at the time the facilities for distribution, it is certain that few prints were sold. The print is very rare.
The only female college picture was Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, South Hadley, Mass.
THE fifty odd railroad prints published by Currier & Ives provide a fascinating and important record of the growth and development of the railroad in this country.
The first steam locomotive built in the United States was constructed by Peter Cooper and was called the "Tom Thumb." The name was appropriate for it was more a model than a regular engine. In fact, it was so small that gun barrels were used for tubes in the upright boiler. In 1830 the Baltimore & Ohio staged a race between the Tom Thumb and a horse, each pulling a coach full of passengers. A blower was used to keep up steam on the Tom Thumb, and when the belt driving it slipped, the steam died down and the horse won the race.
The first locomotive to be delivered to this country was built by George Stephenson and reached New York in January, 1829, but another, The Stourbridbe Lion, was actually the first practical steam locomotive to run in America. It ran in August, 1829, and was used on tramways connecting coal mines in Pennsylvania with the canal, but it was too cumbersome for the light trestle tracks of the incline and made but one trip.
A great number of inventions which materially improved railroading were American. The sandbox still in use today was first used while train crews were clearing tracks during a grasshopper plague. The cow catcher was a typical American invention used for the first time on the Camden & Amboy Railroad. In the first weeks of operation it became apparent that horses, cows, and pigs constituted a serious menace to safe movement. Isaac Dripps, a mechanic, made an appliance to sweep animals from the track. The first design consisted of several long, sharp, pointed iron bars mounted on a low truck in front of the engine. A few days after the installation of this device a bull was hit and so firmly impaled that much time and trouble was necessary to remove him; the prongs were then replaced by an iron bar placed at right angles to the rails. The sleeping car and air brake are two more important American inventions. These inventions, and others, were portrayed in Currier's prints.
The earliest train pictured by Currier was a small folio called The Express Train. It is a scene on the New York and Erie Railroad which took twenty years to build and opened in 1851. The print is undated, but it is believed to have been issued before 1850. This is the only print of a locomotive which doesn't have a headlight. In those days trains ran only in the daytime and headlights were unnecessary. The logs in the tender were standard fuel for the time.
American Express Train published in 1864 is a Hudson River scene. American Railroad Scene/Lightning Express Trains leaving the Junction can be positively identified as a view of Hornellsville since it was used later as an advertisement for the Erie Railroad. However, it is impossible to identify the location or the particular train pictured in many of the prints. For instance, the print Across the Continent/ Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way was published a year before the completion of the joining of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads at Promontory Point, Utah.
The changing shape of the smoke stacks is an interesting feature of the early locomotives. Some people thought the blunderbuss shape was designed as an ornamental feature, but the principal reason for the design was to catch the sparks from the burning wood and lessen the possibility of causing fires along the way. The form was retained for some years after the substitution of coal.
Clipper Ship Prints
THE clipper ship prints appeal to many collectors. They reveal the changes which increased the speed of sailing vessels, the increased length of the clippers in proportion to the beam, the lighter rigging in proportion to tonnage, and economy regarding the number of men required to man the ship.
The clipper ships were the answer to the gold rush, for they were the only alternative to the tedious and dangerous overland route. Currier's prints provide an attractive and accurate record of sailing ships before they gave way to steam power and the paddle and screw.
CURRIER published only six prints pertaining to baseball. Four were darktown comics, one was a political cartoon of the Civil war period showing Abraham Lincoln at bat, and the sixth was a serious print called The American National Game o f Baseball/Grand Match for the Championship at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, N. J. The Elysian Fields was the scene of many of the championship games beginning with the match between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nine in 1846. The game shown in the Currier print was between the Eckfords and the Atlantics, both of Brooklyn: Baseball rules of the time are well illustrated by this print: not one of the players is wearing a glove, the pitcher is throwing underhand, and the catcher doesn't wear a chest protector or mask. Masks came into use in 1875 and chest protectors in 1885.
Yacht Racing Prints
BEGINNING with the celebrated America, which was built by a group of New York yachtsmen and sent abroad to compete at Cowes, Currier portrayed yacht racing up to 1893. He also published many pictures of celebrated yachts.
Trotting and Racing Prints
ABOUT 10 per cent of all the prints published by N. Currier and Currier & Ives were trotting and racing prints. The horse was as necessary in those days as the automobile is in this era, and there were few families who didn't own at least one horse. Trotting tracks were located all over the country, and trotting races were the principal entertainment at the county fairs.
Currier published prints of such famous racing and trotting horses as Hambletonian, Dexter, Flora Temple, etc. Flora Temple was sold for $175 and beat every horse for years. Hambletonian's descendants have almost monopolized the prizes and records in the harness-racing game, and Dexter likewise broke a world record. This group affords a great opportunity for the horse-racing enthusiast.
THIS is a large group which represents an attitude and movement of great force in Currier's time. The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance was formed in 1826 with branches in over two hundred cities and more than a million members as early as 1833.
In 1848 Currier issued a print entitled Washington Taking Leave o f the Officers o f his Army which showed Washington holding a wineglass in his hand and a decanter standing on the table at his side. The print was republished later as Washington's Farelvell to the Officers o f his Army and is identical with the earlier print except for the wineglass and decanter which have been removed. Evidently the Temperance advocates objected to this aspect of the print and Currier changed the composition to appease them. Many of the temperance prints show the evils of drink, contrasting them with the prosperous and happy home of the nondrinker. The Fruits of Intemperance shows a ragged family on the road with their few belongings, while the companion print The Fruits of Temperance shows a happy, prosperous family seated in their comfortable home. The set of seven scenes called The Progress of Intemperance, the set of four known as Bible and Temperance, the Drunkard's Progress, and others tell the same story and show the cumulative effect of drinking from the first glass to the grave. Many of these prints are still being found.
Mississippi River Scenes
PROBABLY the most dramatic and colorful prints published were the Mississippi River scenes, including the famous steamboat races. These races, regardless of their great interest both here and abroad, were not primarily sporting events but were races to secure business.
In 1838 the Post Office Department offered a prize of $500 for any steamer which could make the trip from New Orleans to Louisville in less than six days. The Diana won the race, covering the distance in 5 days, 23 hours, and 15 minutes.
In 1870 came the famous race between the Natchez and the Robt. E. Lee. The entire population of the Mississippi Valley was in a state of excitement over it. The Natchez was considered the fastest boat, but Captain Cannon of the Lee had stripped his boat of every unnecessary pound of weight -furniture, anchors, chains, beds, etc. Shortly after the start of the race an unexpected maneuver by Captain Cannon assured him of victory. He had secretly chartered a fast boat which, loaded with additional fuel, awaited him above Baton Rouge. When the Lee reached this point the fuel was transferred while both boats were under way. The Natchez, on the other hand, had to land and take a barge in tow, thereby losing valuable time which couldn't be made up. The progress of the boats was telegraphed all over the country and even cabled to Europe. The Lee established a record of 3 days, 18 hours, and 14 minutes for the 1,210-mile trip.
Steamboat racing did not last long after this race. The competition of railroads soon relegated the steamboat to the background of the transportation picture. Currier & Ives, however, preserved the thrill and excitement of many famous steamboat races in their prints.
CURRIER & IVES published more views of New York than of any other city. These prints show most of the important landmarks, costumes, and events of the last century and provide a rich field for the collector and the historian. The fire pictures alone comprise a considerable number of subjects beginning with View o f the Great Conflagration of Dec. 16th and 17th, 1835 and The Ruins of the Merchant's Exchange, two of Currier's earliest efforts. These were followed by the three views of the Great Conflagration of July 19th, 1845. This was one of New York's most destructive fires; nearly 300 buildings were destroyed at an estimated loss of $7,000,000.
In 1858 there were two important fires pictured by Currier. One was the burning of the Crystal Palace, a supposedly fireproof structure which "collapsed like a tinder box within 15 minutes after the flames were first discovered." The other was the Burning o f the City Hall, New York, presumably caused by the fireworks exhibited in commemoration of the laying of the Atlantic cable.
On the roof of the City Hall there was a cupola with a watchman and a bell to give the alarm in case of fire. The cupola and dome were destroyed in this fire.
Currier also published views of The Great Fire at Boston, 1872; The Great Fire at St. John, N. B.,1877; The Great Fire at St. Louis, 1849; Great Conflagration at Pittsburgh, 1845, and of course the various views of the Great Fire at Chicago. Insurance companies and agents collect these fire pictures which make a colorful and dramatic group.
MANY country firehouses have complete sets of the views portraying the life of a fireman and the set of four American Fireman. Currier also published Darktown Fire Brigade prints.
THE whaling prints, though few in number, furnish a history of an important and hazardous industry. Hundreds of whaling ships usually equipped for a three-year voyage started out from nearly every port in New England, and in 1846 over 700 vessels were engaged in whaling. Each ship carried six whale boats about 30 feet long and sharp at both ends. Each boat had several 200-fathom lines and was manned by a crew of six.
Some of the important prints are American Whaler, American Whalers crushed in the ice, Capturing The Whale, North Sea Whale Fishery, South Sea Whale Fishery, and the set of six Whale Fishery prints. Two prints which are extremely rare and desirable are The Whale Fishery/The Sperm Whale in a Flurry and The Whale Fishery/Attacking a Right Whale. The artist responsible for these is unknown but the draughtsmanship is excellent.
Hudson River Prints
THESE views are more numerous than the Mississippi scenes but are entirely different in character. Most of them show historic and picturesque spots along the river: West Point, Newburgh, Cold Springs, Hyde Park, etc. Several views show Sunnyside, the residence of Washington Irving, and many collectors specialize in these views. The historical value of Currier & Ives' prints are not confined to custom and scene, however. They are also a valuable source of information about women's styles in dress and hairdress.
The groups enumerated here do not represent the entire range of the work of Currier & Ives, but they will give the beginning collector and student an introduction to this famous firm and to those prints which are best known and most representative.