Thursday, February 4, 2010

Most popular Currier & Ives prints

The latest issue of Imprint came out recently and among its excellent articles is one entitled "What Currier & Ives Prints Were Most Popular in the Nineteenth Century?" Written by my friends John Zak and James Brust, this article and related topics are the subject of today's blog. Before I get to that, however, I will use the publication of this article as an excuse to again put in a pitch for the American Historical Print Collectors Society, which is the publisher of Imprint.

One of my first blogs was about the AHPCS. I mentioned Imprint but didn't really emphasize what a great publication this is. It is the only journal specifically focused on American historical prints and the last issue completed its 34th year of publication! While there are many reasons to join the AHPCS, the subscription to this biannual journal is by itself well worth the $50 membership fee.

As it happens, however, this year the AHPCS is making a special offer of a reduced membership for new members for only $25. If you are at all interested in American prints, don't miss the opportunity to join at this low price and see what a great journal Imprint is. Just visit the AHPCS web site for more information. You can mention you read about this reduced membership on the Antique Prints Blog. As a further incentive (note I get nothing from promoting the AHPCS other than to support an organization I think is great), I will guarantee your satisfaction. If you join and receive your first issue of Imprint and do not think your membership was worth the $25, you can cancel your membership and send me the issue of Imprint you received, and I will personally reimburse your $25 plus the cost of mailing the journal to me. I don't think anyone will take me up on this, but I don't want any reader to hesitate if they are at all tempted to join...

So, now back to the article in question, Zak and Brust's article on what Currier & Ives prints were the most popular in the nineteenth century. What the authors do is use primary documentary evidence to try to analyze the market for Currier & Ives prints at the time they were issued. They used a series of original Currier & Ives sales lists and catalogues to see which types of prints were most often issued by the firm. The argument is that Currier & Ives (always the smart businessmen) would have issued more prints of the types which sold the best than of those which were less popular, a reasonable assumption. There are no sales records for the firm we can study, so we cannot determine how many examples of each print sold, but if a type of print was selling well, the firm would naturally issue more of that type than they issued of prints with a more limited appeal.


I will consider only the author's conclusions for small folio prints (there are some interesting differences for these results compared to those for medium and large folio prints) for these are particularly interesting. Their analysis shows that it was primarily juvenile, "beautiful girls," religious, sentimental, animal and domestic scenes which were the most popular. What is surprising about this is that these are among the least popular subjects today. The prints that are most popular (and thus generally most expensive) today are railroad, yachting, historical, hunting and landscapes. Those subjects, according to Zak & Brust's article, were considerably less popular than the other subjects in the nineteenth century. As they say, “It may be a surprise to the twenty-first-century collector, living in an era when Currier & Ives catholic subjects go begging in the marketplace while small folio railroad scenes sell for thousands, that in the heyday of the C&I firm, the former may have outsold the latter twenty to one.”

I found this article quite exciting to read and ponder. It is a terrific example of using prints and related documents as primary resources in order to try to understand our past. Today we look at Currier & Ives prints in light of our own world-view and obviously those purchasing prints in the nineteenth century saw them in a different light. The work that Zak & Brust have done can help us to look (at least to some extent) through the eyes of our ancestors. Zak & Brust conclude their article with these interesting thoughts:
For the modern collector, Currier & Ives evoke romanticized images of American life in the nineteenth centry. But those who bought C&I prints at the time they were issued were living in that era, not looking back at it, and its realities were often very unromantic. Many were immigrants. Their lives included religion, family, and perhaps nostalgia for the places they had come from. These small folio buyers could have chosen the fancier or more romantic topics in that size for the same price as the religious or sentimental, but seem much less likely to have done so. Instead, they appear to have purchased the topics they were familiar with, and perhaps those that would help them feel better; the cute children, pretty women, and devotional images might well have gratified them emotionally and spiritually.

Back in 1991, I did some similar analysis on the popularity of Currier & Ives prints. Beginning in 1988, the AHPCS decided to "redo" the Best 50 Currier & Ives prints lists which had originally been compiled in 1932-33 (the first year, the best large folio prints were selected, followed the next year by the best small folio prints). The original lists were selected by a small group of dealers and collectors and the new lists were voted on by the entire AHPCS membership. A book, Currier & Ives. The New Best 50 was published, for which I wrote an article "A Comparison of the Original and New Best 50 Currier & Ives. Some statistics and thoughts."

Most of my analysis was focused on the differences in the tastes of collectors in the early twentieth century compared to those of collectors later in the century, but I came to similar conclusions about the reason for the popularity of certain prints today:
Perhaps in a world that is frantically paced, with news of worrying events constantly bombarding us from all sides, we look to Currier & Ives prints to transport us back to an earlier time of simple values. As much as any, Currier & Ives prints graphically embody this image of our past, and this indeed may be the core of their continued popularity.

Zak and Brust use different methodology and it is thought provoking to see them expand on these ideas and bring up new ways of understanding Currier & Ives prints, especially in the context of the period when they were issued. To some extent we are at the beginning of the serious study of "popular" prints of the nineteenth century and it is quite exciting to read articles like this and to think about all the further research that can and will be done by scholars like Zak and Brust (and much of which will appear in future issues of Imprint).

25 comments:

  1. I have two prints which were in my family and have been handed down to me. I am 61 and they were passed to my mom from her German mom. They are 'Little Brothers'# 612 and 'The Little Sisters'#610. How can I find out what these are worth? If that is even possible. They are still in their original frames and wood backing.My email is ......bettybyrd@centurytel.net

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    1. I have the same two prints and was wondering how much they are worth as well. Chris Lane's reply, seems to be not much. Damn was hoping for better.

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    2. The vast majority of the generic small folio prints by Currier & Ives firm do not have a lot of value. If in good shape they do have "some" value, but it is only certain subjects which really bring the strong prices (like winter scenes, hunting, western, trains).

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  2. How to find out values of old prints is an interesting question. There is no easy way to do it, as there is no simple source of price records. There are two on-line print price guides, Lawrences which tracks dealer catalogues and Gordons which does auctions, but these are expensive and not that many prints are listed. The alternative is to get an appraisal, but that costs money and often is not worth the expense (a good appraiser should tell you if your prints are not of sufficient value to have appraised).
    The Print Shop offers a "ballpark valuation" to help, but this is just a general idea of value. For your prints we would say that they have only "decorative" value, in the low range for small folio prints. This is explained at www.philaprintshop.com/ballpark.html

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  3. I have some Currier and Ives prints that are about fifty years old. I am sure they are reproductions. On the front they all have titles and Currier and Ives name. Also Entered according to etc etc. However I am just curious on the back of all of them has a article about the print and states made in U.S.A. Are they originally from a calendar? I would just like to know if you can tell me anything about them. Thank you in advance Kathy

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  4. You are right that these are reproductions. As to whether they were from a calendar or not, I really cannot tell as we do not deal at all with reproductions. You have to remember that there are hundreds of different C&I series of reproductions made over the last 100 years. Sometimes you can find publisher information, but more often than not you cannot. Sorry I can't offer more info...

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  5. My husband (age 53) and I just got 6 Currier and Ives prints passed down to us. they are all railroad scenes from my husband's grandfather. They have all the proper nomenclature on them, are on heavy woven paper, and look hand colored (when i look on line at the same title prints - some of the coloring is slightly different). There is no writing on the back of these prints. Any additional way to tell if it is original or reproduction?

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  6. We have a web page on our site at www.philaprintshop.com/currorg.html which will explain much of this. There are some things for which you might need an expert, but the two easiest things to check are i) is the print a dot matrix print (in which case it is a reproduction) and ii) is it the wrong size (also showing it to be a reproduction).

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  7. Thanks - the prints match size exact and i don't believe it dot matrix. I bought a used book by Currier publication. the five we have show up in the book, with the coeect publisher, date and address as identified in the book. They titles show up in the book as well. Pretty neat!

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  8. We have a NICE OLD CURRIER & IVES PICTURE GIVEN OUT BY THE BALL COMPANY CELEBRATING THEIR 76TH YEAR IN BUSINESS. THE TITLE OF THE PICTURE IS AMERICAN RAILROAD SCENE - SNOW BOUND.

    UNDERNEATH THE PICTURE READS PUBLISHED BY CURRIER & IVES ENTERED ACCORDING TO ACT OF CONGRESS IN THE YEAR 1871 BY THE CURRIER & IVES IN THE OFFICE OF THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS AT WASHINGTON 152 NASSAU ST NEW YORK. 1865 THE BALL COMPANY 1941 OUR 76TH YEAR "ON TIME".
    Are these real currier and ives

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  9. No. They are reproductions. Currier & Ives went out of business in 1907 and anything issued after that is either a restrike or a reproduction.

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  10. Hello fellow Print People,

    This is my first blog. I have a couple of black americana 1800s currier and ives. My curiosity is this ... when is a print too bad to be considered valuable? One of the prints has lost a considerable amount of color. And the both have age marks (?). THanks for your help. valerie

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  11. There is no general rule, but for Currier & Ives prints condition is very important, especially for prints that are sought by collectors. Some condition issues can be fixed and if the print is generally valuable, then it can make sense to do so.

    Loss of color, however, is a problem which cannot be fixed so the print will be really valuable. You can recolor a C&I print, but it will never have full value as collectors definitely do not want new color on their prints. Other condition issues (such as water stains, foxing) can be fixed so the print has full value.

    For the 'run of the mill' C&I prints (ones that are not really desirable), condition is somewhat less important. As long as the print looks ok, it can still sell for a reasonable amount, though as with all prints, the worse the condition the less the value.

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  12. I have an 1873 Currier & Ives "This Man Was Talked to Death" print that appears to be original. Worth appraising?
    Thanks,
    Steve

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  13. It all depends on why you want an appraisal. On The Philadelphia Print Shop appraisal page, I discuss the various reasons to and not to get an appraisal. This is a nice print, but again why do you want it appraised?

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  14. We have inherited 5 C&I Lithographs, Washington on his horse for his inaugural is very interesting. There is another of Washington and then a couple of Jesus. They are in very old burled type frames. How can we find the value and a buyer??

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    1. As I have said man times on this blog, this is not the place to be giving values. As for how you can find values, this is not an easy thing. There are a number of price guides for C&I prints, but they are mostly out of date and list only a small percentage of the over 8,000 prints produced by the firm. And really, knowing the value of the print only gives you a general idea of what you might sell them for. That is determined by the market, not some official "value."

      I would say that generally the best way to try to sell these prints is either to offer them to a dealer or try an auction. Ebay does "ok" with C&I prints, but you can also try a local auction. Good luck with them.

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  15. We have what I believe to be an original C&I "Stella" 1872. What is the proper size and who was the artist and who is Stella?
    Susan

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  16. The artist of this print was one of the staff artists of the firm, about whom we essentially know nothing. Most of the prints by C&I are by these unknown staff artists. Stalla, like the other name prints, was no one in particular, but instead a print that could be purchased by anyone who was Stella or know someone named Stalla.

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  17. I have a print that is called a home on the mississippi. UNDERNEATH THE PICTURE READS PUBLISHED BY CURRIER & IVES ENTERED ACCORDING TO ACT OF CONGRESS IN THE YEAR 1871 BY THE CURRIER & IVES IN THE OFFICE OF THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS and then an address on the right side. My question is that in the very lower right corner it reads made in USA. And to the lower left says " a full color reproduction. I realise it says reproduction, but didn't know if they are all considered reproductions if real ones don't say that....

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  18. I have come across a picture printed by G. H. Durrie. But under the picture it says " Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1863, by Currier & Ives, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for the Southern District of New York." The print is called The Farmer's Home. How old does this make this print? And does it have any value?

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  19. I have a Currie & Ives print called Little Brother and I printed at 115 Nassau St. New York. Can't seem to find any body knowing about this print.

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  20. I have a print names "Alice" with Currie& Ives, 115 Nassau St, New York printed on the bottom. Is this a reproduction

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  21. I have a reprint of currier and ives called the farmers home - winter which was painted by g.h. durrie and entered by currier and ives in the clerk's office of district court on the u.s. for the southern district of n.y. Does this have any value?

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    1. As with all reproductions (it is a reproduction and not a reprint), it has only "decorative" value. That is, it is worth what someone would pay for an attractive picture.

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