Thursday, October 29, 2009


Last weekend I had the great pleasure of visiting Monticello again. Charlottesville was lovely with fall foliage and Thomas Jefferson's house is a wonderful building, with many facets of interest and beautiful grounds. Not surprisingly, of course, I was particularly interested in the many prints and maps that hang in Monticello and which can be seen on the tour.

Before I get into my thoughts about items I saw last weekend, I want to talk a bit about the curitorial collection at Monticello, curated by Susan R. Stein. Susan has been Monticello's curator since 1986, and in 2005 was named Gilder Curator and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s vice president for museum programs. Susan is well known for the excellent "Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello" exhibition and book from 1993 and she has been very active in building the collections of Jefferson material, developing museum programs, and placing items from the collection in Monticello so that Jefferson's home is as close to how it was when he lived there. Susan is also a print enthusiast and scholar and a wonderful asset to Monticello and the print world.

The Monticello curitorial collection includes approximately 5,147 artifacts, books, and works of art connected to Jefferson and the Monticello community. About 75 percent of these collections are exhibited and the remainder are available for study. Jefferson originally owned 60 percent of the artifacts on display.

There are many drawings, silhouettes, and paintings hanging on the walls, but I was struck with how many prints and maps are on display in Monticello. To me this reflects something about the character of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a man who appreciated art, but my feeling is that he never looked at art simply for its aesthetics, but rather always looked for "content" or "meaning." While many paintings and drawings have meaning beyond their aesthetics, it is specifically the content or meaning of most prints which is their raison d'etre. Prints and maps, especially during Jefferson's life-time, were created specifically to depict the physical appearance of a place or person of interest, to tell a story, make a point, educate the viewer, or provide other useful information. These are things that would appeal to Jefferson's inquiring mind and so it is of no surprise to me that Jefferson had so many maps and prints hanging in Monticello.

The tour of Monticello begins in the Entrance Hall, which is where visitors would wait before being greeted there by Jefferson. To help them pass the time, educate them, and provide topics for conversation, Jefferson hung many natural history and cultural artifacts there, as well historical prints and a number of wall maps. Over the fireplace is a nice example of Asher B. Durand's engraving of John Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence." (The other two famous prints after Trumbuill's paintings, of the Death of Montgomery and the Battle of Bunker's Hill, are hanging in the library). Jefferson was, naturally, proud of his seminal role in the event depicted, so this was a perfect print to have on display when visitors entered him home.

For safety, the maps in the entrance hall are facsimiles, not originals (all the prints on display are originals), because as wall maps they are attached to wooden rollers and hanging on the wall without any sort of protection from a frame and glazing. The maps shown are mostly eighteenth century maps of the different continents, but there are also two important American maps. One is the Aaron Arrowsmith "“A Map of the United States of North America" from 1802. This is an interesting map in that is shows the country the year before Jefferson added the huge western territories through the Louisiana Purchase. The other map is the famous “A Map of the most Inhabited Part of Virginia" by Joshua Fry and Thomas' father, Peter Jefferson.

In the South Square room are hanging two prints from the Boydell Shakespeare portfolio. These are the actual prints that were owned by Thomas Jefferson, but which had been sold in the 1827 sale of Jefferson's estate. Two nicely engraved portraits are also hanging here, one of Lafayette and the other a colored aquatint of Jefferson. That portrait (image near top of this blog) was engraved by Michel Sokolnicki after Thaddeus Kosciuszko, a hero of the Revolution who later in life became one of Jefferson's friends. The tour guide told us that this print is referred around Monticello as the "Bob Hope" portrait of Jefferson, for obvious reasons! A note from Jefferson's grand-son indicated that this print hung in this room. Also in this room is a lovely example of John Binn's 1819 engraving of the text of the Declaration of Independence (this print usually hangs in the entrance hall, which is where Jefferson hung it). The text of the Declaration is surrounded by portraits of John Hancock, George Washington, and Jefferson, as well as the seals of the thirteen colonies. One of the interesting things in this room is the manner in which a series of small silhouettes and engravings are hung, one above the other, with ribbons. This was a popular way of displaying small frames in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century and it is nice to see this 'in the flesh.'

The next rooms (the library, study and bedchamber) show a number of engravings on the walls, but it is floor to ceiling paintings and prints once one walks into the parlor. This art is hung, one above the other, from wires attached to the top moulding or brass rods. This was one not-uncommon way of displaying art in a gallery at the time, which allowed for hanging lots of frames without having to hammer nails all over the walls. Jefferson's inventory of Monticello lists 24 portraits and 17 paintings in the parlor and it makes an impressive display. Included are a number of engraved portraits, including those of David Rittenhouse, Thaddeus Kosciuzsko, and Louis XVI.

I am not going to remark on every print nor every room at Monticello, but I will finish with the dining room, as it is graced by two of my favorite prints, the pair of 1804 aquatints of Niagara Falls by John Vanderlyn. Jefferson was interested in the natural beauty of America and so it was natural to include prints of this great natural wonder. Also shown in this room is another fine view, this an 1808 aquatint by J.C. Stadler after William Roberts showing Natural Bridge in Virginia. Jefferson thought Natural Bridge was a natural wonder to rival Niagara and indeed he owned the site from 1774 until his death. William Roberts, the artist, had given Jefferson original paintings of Natural Bridge and Harper's Ferry, which hung in the dining room, but these have since been lost. Jefferson also owned an aquatint after Roberts, an example of which currently graces this room.

There are more prints that can be seen at Monticello than I've mentioned, and even more in the curitorial collections. One can get more information on the prints by visiting the Monticello web site. Not only do they have descriptions of a number of the engravings in the Th: Jefferson Encyclopedia, but one can also get a virtual tour of the house. Still, the best way to see these prints and maps is by visiting in person, a trip well worth making.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Play Ball! The World Series & Baseball Prints

I am in baseball heaven! I have been a Yankee fan since I was six years old and a Phillies fan ever since I moved to the City of Brotherly Love in 1978 and now my two favorite teams are meeting in the World Series. I believe it will be a great series between terrific teams and I will be happy whichever team wins!

So this is a great excuse to talk a bit about prints of baseball. The first recorded, organized baseball contest took place in 1846, and in the following decade and a half, baseball began its life as an organized sport with formal rules, a league and a number of professional teams. With the turmoil of the Civil War, participation in organized baseball fell off, but interest in the sport was carried by Union soldiers throughout the country, even being played by Union prisoners in Confederate camps, playing amongst themselves or against their guards. At the end of the war baseball was played by more people than ever, and Charles A. Peverelly was able to write. “The game of Base Ball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the out-door sports of the United States.” (Book of American Pastimes, 1866).

Though a popular sport for many Americans, baseball was not an activity of the elite and so not many separately issued prints were made showing the sport. The most famous, and the most sought-after baseball print, is the Currier & Ives print "The American National Game of Baseball. The Grand Match for the Championship at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, N.J." Issued in 1866 shortly after the Civil War, this is a terrific, large folio print showing a championship game in 1865, between the Mutual Club of Manhattan and the Atlantic Club of Brooklyn. This game was played at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J., the site of the first recorded, organized baseball game on June 19th, 1846, between the New York Knickerbockers and the New York Nine. Note that the print shows a very early form of baseball, with none of the players having gloves, the catcher without mask, and the pitcher throwing underhanded.

Originals of this print are very rare, but there have been a number of reproductions, including one by Andres Inc. in 1942 that is the about the same size as the original and hand colored. We get at least one query every other month about this print and so far, every one we have been contacted about has been a reproduction. We have never handled the original, but maybe one day...

Currier & Ives did a few other, smaller baseball prints. Their first, and one of the first to identify baseball as a "national" game, was their political cartoon "The National Game. Three 'outs' and one 'run'" This print, issued in 1860, shows Lincoln after winning the Presidential election. Lincoln, stands on "Home Base," holding a ball and railroad tie as a bat, having beaten his three opponents--John Bell, Stephen A. Douglas, and John C. Breckinridge--each also holding a bat.

The firm also did a number of baseball prints in their "Darktown" series. These caricatures (the subject of a future blog), many drawn by Thomas Worth, present blacks as inept actors in the various activities, including sports. The Darktown prints showcased a full array of negative stereotypes, African Americans portrayed as comical figures to the primarily white consumers of Currier and Ives prints. The prints are a vivid testament to the racial attitudes of white, middle-class Americans of the late nineteenth century. Currier & Ives issued a number of these prints with a baseball theme, demonstrating that the sport was becoming a well recognized sport by the 1880s.

The only other "frameable," separately-issued print of baseball from the nineteenth century that I know of is Otto Boetticher's “Union Prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina, Playing Baseball," from 1863. The print shows the Confederate prison camp in Salisbury, with an accurate and quite detailed image of the town in the background. The camp is shown as clean and spacious and the prisoners look relaxed and well fed. A large group of spectators surrounds the field, many standing and sitting in the short outfield. The print was based on a drawing by Act. Major Otto Boetticher “from nature,” indicating that he was a prisoner or at least visitor to the camp. The equipment and outfits of the period is well shown and interesting one of the teams has what appears to be a uniform consisting of long-sleeved white shirts with a red ribbon pinned on the breast.

These are all interesting, and quite rare prints. The most common, and affordable, early prints of baseball are the ones published in the illustrated newspapers of the day. The first such print I have come across is the bottom half of a double-page spread from Harper's Weekly on October 15, 1859, showing “A Base-ball Match At The Elysian Fields, Hoboken.” (Top image above) In the following decades, as baseball became more and more popular, numerous images appeared, including portraits of famous teams and players and "action" scenes. These are wonderful examples of how the illustrated newspaper can give us first-hand pictures of aspects of our past for which we have almost no other visual images.

One final group of nineteenth century baseball print are the pictures which appear on the covers of illustrated music sheets (example above at left). These, along with the illustrated newspaper engravings, provide plenty of affordable prints for anyone interested in this history of our national pastime. They wonderfully show us the beginnings of the sport which this week will provide us with another grand spectacle! Go Phillies! Go Yankess!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Currier & Ives prints & collectors

Last week I discussed general information about "America's printmakers," Currier & Ives. Today I'll look at some different aspects of their prints and collectors of them. (Find more at

from The Philadelphia Print Shop West Denver CoMaps seem to attract a lot of collectors, more so than do prints. There are collectors for important historical figures, such as Washington and Lincoln, and historical events, such as the American Revolution or Presidential elections, but most prints are purchased more on a one time basis rather than as part of a collection. Besides historical prints, the one type of print that is collected more than any other are those by Currier & Ives. Currier & Ives have been collected ever since the early twentieth century and today there are still many people who collect these wonderful images of nineteenth century America.
I have talked about "value ranking" for different types of prints and there is definitely a ranking of values for different sorts of Currier & Ives prints. In general, the most valuable are winter scenes, followed closely by railroad prints. Other popular subjects are hunting & fishing, sporting, steamships, and western. City views bring a lot of money, but this is more because of collectors of the cities shown rather than because of Currier & Ives collectors. There is a big difference in price between one of the prints in these popular subjects (a large folio print can go in the tens of thousands of dollars) and a less desirable subject (some large folio subjects sell in the hundreds).

There is also a big difference in price for Currier & Ives prints based on condition. As discussed in previous blogs, one of the thing that makes a collector is the use of criteria and Currier & Ives collectors are generally real sticklers for condition. A print with any sort of condition issue, especially if a subject sought by collectors, will sell for much less than one in excellent condition. A small folio railroad print in fine condition will sell for over $2,000, whereas one with tears or faded color will not sell at all to serious collectors and so will sell for much less to when it does sell.

One of the "peculiar" things about Currier & Ives collectors is that many of them are very focused on margins. One can find Currier & Ives prints with big margins, but the majority have been trimmed down from their "full sheets" over the years, usually in order to fit into a frame. Some collectors will not even consider a Currier & Ives print, no matter how good condition it is otherwise, unless it has "large" margins. There is a story that a collector drove for hours to go see a top Currier & Ives because the owner told him it had large margins and was in great shape, but when the collector got to the owner's house he found that it was a reproduction, only about half the size of the original. The collector hadn't bothered to ask what size the print was, only how big the margins were!

I think you can probably tell from my tone that I am not a believer in this focus. Yes, there is no question that all other things being equal, a Currier & Ives print with big margins is better than one with smaller margins. Also, one certainly doesn't want the print trimmed so that some of the imprint is cut off and I do think one wants to have at least some margin all around so that the print can be put into a frame without the mat or frame bevel coming right up to the image. However, as long as there are reasonable margins around the image (say about 1/2 inch) I don't think a collector should be too bothered about the size of the margins.

The reason for this is that the margins are not something that has any essential meaning to the prints. That is, there is no historical significance to the margins and in fact trimmed margins are more a part of the actual history of Currier & Ives prints than big margins. Currier & Ives themselves sold prints in their shop with the option of buying them framed. If you went into their shop and picked out a print and a frame, they would immediately cut down the print to fit into the frame. I have never seen a clearly "period" framing job on a Currier & Ives print which had large margins. This just wasn't how people framed Currier & Ives prints. All the historic evidence we have, from existing period-framed prints or from images in prints like that above, indicates that when Currier & Ives prints were framed at the time, they were put in frames with little or no margins.

The margins these prints had before trimming was just based on what paper the firm was using; it was not something they put on the prints intentionally. I guess the bottom line for me is that if prints with trimmed margins (within reason) are what people at the time generally had and this was good enough for Currier & Ives themselves, then it is good enough for me. (Sorry about this rant, but this is a basic disagreement I have with a number of Currier & Ives collectors).

Another thing that is peculiar to these prints is that lists have been made of the "Best 50" Currier & Ives prints (out of about 8,000 different images!) In 1932 a jury of twelve Currier & Ives experts and collectors selected a group of what they considered to be the "Best 50" large folio Currier & Ives prints. For fifty days running, these prints were illustrated and described in the New York Sun. This publicity created much interest, and subsequent newspaper sales, so that the following year the "Best 50" small folio prints were also selected (four medium folio prints were included in this list). These two lists created an instant market for the 100 prints chosen and the lists have been reprinted in many Currier & Ives books since.

In 1988 a new, more democratic process of selecting the "Best 50" was sponsored by the American Historical Print Collectors Society (AHPCS). "The Best 50 - Revisited" was begun by a panel of experts who selected the "Top 100" of both large and small folio prints. These prints were then presented in a ballot to the entire membership of the AHPCS, which then selected the "New Best 50" large and small folio prints. A handsome book, Currier & Ives. The New Best 50 was published in 1990 with all the new "best" prints illustrated in color and with an analysis of the differences between the original and new lists.

The prints from all four lists are all wonderful prints, generally considered to be the best of the Currier & Ives oeuvre. They are very collectible and usually command a premium price. If someone wants to collect Currier & Ives and doesn't want to pay such a premium, there are, of course, many other types of Currier & Ives prints to collect. There are many fun subjects (children, barnyard animals, kittens and dogs, etc.) which one could collect without having to pay absolutely top dollar. Any Currier & Ives in good condition will sell for a fair amount, but if you spend a bit of time looking around, you can find ways to collect these wonderful prints without spending a fortune.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Destined For Men: Print Conference

I just returned from a terrific conference put on by the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, it was titled "Destined for Men" and focused on "Visual Materials for Male Audiesnces." There were 18 excellent presentations on a variety of topics, ranging from considerations of the male body, male spaces, sporting images, and prints "for men's eyes." All the talks were well presented and I learned new things from each, broadening my understanding of and enjoyment of prints. A conference like this makes one realize the richness of insights into our past that prints can provide and certainly has stimulated me to pursue a number of topics in the future.

There were too many talks for me to discuss them all, but I will mention a few things that particularly struck me. Megan Kate Nelson's talk "Returning to My Family Complete" considered how prints treated the very large number of amputees in the Civil War (about 60,000!). As a printseller, I can tell you that these sad prints do not sell well (even one by Winslow Homer illustrated above), but they can tell us a lot about how the public at the time saw these casualties. The prints express many different attitudes, from praise for the amputee's bravery to a concern for society's responsibility to expressions of the sad emasculation of these soldiers. A wonderful example of how an examination of historic prints can help us see the past through the eyes of those who lived it.

In a previous blog, I have talked about how important I think the images from the nineteenth century illustrated papers are and there a couple of presentations about these prints. Julie Vogt talked about how the National Police Gazette treated boxing differently than theatrical "beauties," the latter images clearly used by the paper to attract readers all the while they condemned the subjects. The James Russell Wiggins Lecture was given by Joshua Brown, who looked at the "sporting press", a whole series of papers such as the Police Gazette, Sporting Times, New York Clipper, and Day's Doing, which covered the less proper subjects of sports, theater, gambling, crime and sex scandals. This was particularly interesting to me, for I have long been a student of the main stream papers, such as Harper's and Leslie's. but was not so familiar with these other papers, despite the fact that there were a good number of them with large circulations. Prints from the main stream newspapers come on the market all the time, but the sporting press issues hardly appear at all. This seems to be a result of a number of factors, including the fact that the sporting press papers probably were not considered to be worth saving and that they were mostly marketed not to private subscribers, but to clubs, taverns or other public institutions, where their survival was less likely than in the private home.

One of the subjects that I am very interested in is how prints were sold and used. A number of talks touched on this issue, including Ellery Foutch's presentation on how Eugen Sandow used images of his rather impressive physique to sell himself and his products and Kevin Muller's illustrated examples of a number of fascinating optical toys created from prints. Of particular interest was Allison Stagg's talk on caricatures in New York in the first decade of the nineteenth century, which described how these caricatures were sold and passed around in various places, including barber shops. There is even a print which shows a barber shop from the period with some of these prints tacked on the wall for viewing and possible purchase. Cool stuff!

With the focus on prints aimed at a male audience, it is not surprising that there were a number of presentations which had a slightly (or more than slightly) ribald theme. Nancy Siegel illustrated the regular use of the chamber pot in eighteenth-century prints, where it was used in a number of interesting symbolic ways. Katherien Hijar, in her study of some paintings by Henry Bebie, showed how apparently innocent images can in fact have a deeper meaning, for these paintings which look like simple groupings of attractive young ladies turn out to be images of the interiors of bordellos. Finally, Thomas Bruhn gave a talk on the subject that is of great interest to me, viz. "erotic" prints issued by mainstream nineteenth-century publishers. These prints for the most part are such that they appear fairly tame today, but if one thinks of the general social mores of polite Victorian society, it is pretty surprising that firms such as Currier & Ives, Pendleton, and James Baillie would issue these prints that somewhat 'bare it all.' This is a topic I plan to pursue in more depth in the future, and Tom's excellent presentation gave me lots to think about.

As I think you can tell, I really enjoyed the conference. My take-away from it is i) the AAS is a great institution to put on such a conference and has great inventory (both things I already knew--note that all but the 2nd & 3rd images here are from their collections), ii) there are a lot of terrific scholars looking into antique prints and their role in and reflection on our history, and iii) I have lots of fodder for future study and blogs. Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Currier & Ives

As time goes on, I plan to feature different American printmakers in this blog and the most famous and successful of them all is the subject of today's post. Everyone has heard of "Currier & Ives," but there is some confusion about what this refers to. "Currier & Ives" was the name used by a New York printmaking firm from 1857 until 1907. This business had been in operation since 1834, first as Stodart & Currier (1834) and then as N. Currier (1835 to 1856). Though the name changed, all the prints produced by this firm are usually referred to as "Currier & Ives prints."

Nathaniel Currier (pictured on right) was a printmaker and businessman; James Ives (pictured on left) started as the firm's bookkeeper in 1852 and five years later became Currier's partner. Neither was an artist, so though all Currier & Ives prints were published by the partners, they were drawn and lithographed by other persons. Nathaniel Currier retired in 1880 and died in 1888 and James Ives died in 1895. The firm, under the direction of their sons, Edward West Currier and Chauncey Ives, carried on until 1907.

The Currier & Ives firm was in the business of producing lithographed prints intended to be sold to the general public for framing and display in the home or at work. Calling themselves "Printmakers to the People," they provided for the American public a pictorial history of their country's growth from an agricultural society to an industrialized one. For nearly three quarters of a century the firm provided "Colored Engravings for the People" and in the process became the visual raconteurs of nineteenth-century America.

The firm produced a variety of images, including pictures of newsworthy events and prints depicting every subject relating to American life: sports, games, home life, religion, children, hunting, fishing, entertainment, trains, ships, views of cities, and so forth. Currier & Ives used all sorts of sources for their prints, including staff artists who are unknown today, as well as a group of more famous artists such as Louis Maurer, Thomas Worth, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Frances ('Fanny') Flora Bond Palmer, George H. Durrie, Napoleon Sarony, Charles Parsons, and J. E. Butterworth. Currier & Ives were also not above borrowing images from other print publishers, both American and European. In all, it is likely Currier & Ives published more than 8,000 prints total!

Currier & Ives' prints were sold either directly from Currier & Ives' shop or through other printsellers. The firm's shop in New York was a popular place to browse through their ever changing inventory. Images of current events and personages were always shown in their window for passers by. Currier & Ives also used others to market their prints, maintaining a brisk wholesale business. Their prints were sold by itinerant sellers who would push carts filled with prints through the streets of New York and other cities, as well as from more established print shops around the United States and even overseas. The quality and variety of Currier & Ives's prints meant that other printsellers were always eager to carry the latest images, thus insuring a wide distribution.

The prints by the firm are famous for three main reasons. First, they had a tremendous ability to produce images that appealed to a wide segment of the general public in the nineteenth century (and continue to do so today!). Secondly, the quality of their prints was very high while their prices were low. Thirdly, because of their financial success (the result of the first two factors), they issued more different prints in more copies than any other publisher. It is interesting that here is a case where the more common prints (Currier & Ives) tend to sell for higher prices than those that are more scarce (those by other American popular print publishers).

In the following blog I will discuss some interesting aspects of Currier & Ives prints and those who collect them, but first I must emphasize that Currier & Ives were print publishers and only prints are "original Currier & Ives." Their images have become so famous and iconic that they have been used on many objects other than their original prints. Many calendars over the years have used Currier & Ives images, as have plates, lamp shades, trash baskets, and so forth. None of these are original Currier & Ives. In another blog, we'll look at more about original Currier & Ives prints.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chine Appliqué

A chine appliqué print (also called a chine collé print) is a print where the image has been impressed onto a thin sheet of China paper (or other thin paper) and then that thin sheet is backed by a strong, thicker sheet of paper. These are fairly easy to spot: often the backing paper will age to a different color than the China paper, but even if not when you look closely at a chine appliqué print you can see the edge of the China sheet (usually just beyond the edge of the printed image).

Chine appliqué prints were made a fair bit in the nineteenth century for a number of different types of images. The reason this was done is because the thin China paper takes an intaglio impression more easily than a thicker sheet of paper, so that that chine appliqué often has a richer appearance than a standard print. This was sometimes done for proof prints (cf. blog on proof prints).

To this extent a chine appliqué print is often more desirable than a standard print, however there are several possible problems associated with these prints. First, the quality of the backing sheet is often not as good as that of a standard print, so this will sometimes discolor significantly more than the China paper, giving the print a somewhat distracting appearance. More importantly, however, is that a chine appliqué print is much more difficult to restore than a standard print. Any sort of immersion into water (which is often used in restoration) can lift the China paper off the backing and it is so thin that it can be difficult to reattach to the backing neatly. Chine appliqué prints can be restored, but only by a skilled conservator and there is definitely always the risk that the restoration will come out well. This doesn't mean one shouldn't buy a chine appliqué print with condition issues, but one must be aware of the risks.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Deerfield Antiques Show

I just got back from setting up our booth at the Deerfield Antiques Show, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday at Deerfield Academy. I don't usually write about the many antique shows we do, but walking around that show has spurred me to post this brief blog to encourage anyone interested in antiques to stop by the show this weekend. It is a spectacular show. It isn't that big, but there is a good variety and the material that is there is just fabulous. The show is in a very pretty, but not terribly densely populated part of Massachusetts, but it is successful because people drive from a long way to come to the show. If you like quality antiques and live within a two hour drive, I highly recommend you come (you can, of course, stop by and say hello at our booth). It is supposed to be a pleasant weekend, and this part of Massachusetts is beautiful this time of year, but it is the antiques that will take your breath away. Click here for more information on the show...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Prints as Premiums by James S. Brust

In the previous blog I talked about premium prints. I am not the only one interested in this topic, and in the Summer 2009 issue of the Newsletter of the American Historical Print Collectors Society, print scholar James S. Brust wrote an article on the same topic. Jim has for years done considerable research into different aspects of the history of Currier & Ives, and related prints. He has also done much research into the use of prints in CDVs, an unusual and interesting topic. The following article from the newsletter is an nice example of his fine work (with a few minor edits so it makes sense in this context...):

In a trend that seems to have peaked in the mid 1870s, publishers of various periodicals gave prints as premiums to subscribers. Those familiar with Currier & Ives have likely seen examples of this practice, but it was not just that firm’s work, or hand colored lithographs in general, that were used in this fashion. The full range of popularly priced prints was offered, including steel engravings and chromolithographs. This article will present some examples of C&I and other prints given as gifts to periodical subscribers.

The image above shows two small folio Currier & Ives lithographs offered with subscriptions to The Young Folks Gem, a newspaper-format monthly published in Wadsworth, Ohio, by John Clarke. On the left is Little Manly (C-3664, G-3961), published by Currier & Ives in 1874. Printed below the title: “Presented free to every Subscriber to the YOUNG FOLKS GEM. Published at Wadsworth, Ohio, at 30 cts. per year.” On the right is Little Daisy (C-3604, G-3885). Though arranged differently, the Young Folks Gem wording below the title is the same, except the subscription price was only 25 cents per year. As the Young Folks Gem was first published in late 1872, and Little Daisy is undated, this second example likely predates the first.

The image at right is another small folio Currier & Ives print, The Little Fruit Bearer (C-3631, G-3918), published in 1873. A more elaborate inscription, printed below the title reads: “GREAT OFFER!! This beautiful Engraving, and also the Engraving ‘TICK-TICK-TICKLE’ will be sent by return of Mail and also ‘THE HOME COMPANION’ (a large and interesting family paper, published Quarterly) for the year 1874, all for only 40 cts. All subscriptions must commence with the Jany. No. Agents wanted everywhere. Address, ‘Home Companion,’ Troy, New Hampshire.” Hiram C. Newton had commenced publication of the Home Companion in April 1872, and it would go on to be successful, issued at varying frequency through at least the mid 1880s. This premium offer came relatively early in the magazine’s run, when he would have been most anxious to attract subscribers. The forty cents asked would have been the retail price of the two Currier & Ives lithographs alone (they were, of course, not engravings as the inscription said). We can assume that as a bulk purchaser, Newton would have paid much less, likely six cents per print or possibly a little more to cover the cost of the additional printing below the title. But from the point of view of the retail customers, they were getting the Home Companion for “free,” a powerful incentive to subscribe to this new periodical.

The figure on the left is a carte de visite (CDV) photograph of a print. On the card below the image are the words: “Miniature photograph of ‘ONE OF LIFE’S HAPPY HOURS.’ Our Premium Chromo, Size 14 ½ x 11inches.” Extensive wording on the reverse states: “A copy of the Chromo will be sent to every yearly subscriber to The Saturday Evening Post, THE GREAT LITERARY WEEKLY FOR HALF A CENTURY.” Tracing its roots to Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, first issued in 1728, the venerable Saturday Evening Post began publication under that name in 1821, and was well established by the time of this promotion in the 1870s. Unfortunately, we do not know who published this chromo, or what its stand-alone price would have been. And there was an additional ten cents charged for shipping the print to the subscriber. Still, the publisher’s of the Saturday Evening Post clearly felt that offering this print would widen their readership and enhance their business.

The group of images above shows three related CDVs of prints offered as premiums for Arthur’s Home Magazine, and a sample reverse typical of the group. Timothy Shay (T.S.) Arthur (1809-1885) was a well known American author and temperance advocate, most famous for his 1854 anti-drinking novel Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There. But he was also active in periodical publication, launching the monthly Arthur’s Home Magazine in 1852, a journal that would continue past his own death until very near the end of the 19th century.

On the top left of the grouping is a CDV of The Interrupted Reader, described as “a large steel engraving, size 21 x 27 inches.” Writing on the reverse offers this print, or another, similar-sized steel engraving for free with each $2.50 subscription to Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine for 1875. On the top right, a similar CDV shows an even larger steel engraving (22 x 32 inches) titled Peace Be Unto this House. The reverse of this CDV gives a little more information about the print itself: “This splendid picture, the English copy of which sells for $14, is sent free to every subscriber for 1874 to Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine.” It appears that Arthur’s was offering a less expensive, possibly American-made version of a British print. We gain a bit more information about these engravings from the third CDV, on the lower left of the grouping, titled The Christian Graces. Described as a “line and stipple steel engraving,” 21 x 27 inches, it was the premium print for 1873, given free with a $2.50 subscription. The reverse, illustrated lower right, states: “Nothing has appeared in Christian art for a long time so pure, and tender, and beautiful as ‘The Christian Graces.’ The English print, of which ours is a fine copy, by that able artist, J.R. Rice, sells for $15.00. If in the picture stores, ours would not sell for less than $5.00.” It is unclear whether Arthur’s commissioned these copies, or how much they paid for them, though likely it was more than the cost of a Currier & Ives print. Still, this successful publication found it worthwhile to give these large engravings to their subscribers.

This article is not meant to be comprehensive. I’ve presented just a few examples, and undoubtedly there were many other instances where prints were given as premiums. Taken together, they serve as evidence that these “popular” prints were indeed popular, and economical enough for the periodical publishers to give away in exchange for subscriptions.