Friday, October 9, 2015

Recent Acquisitions: Little Brother

Little Brother, ca. 1872-74
Little Sister, ca. 1872-74
Also new to the Alice this season is “Little Brother,” who joins “Little Sister,” already in the collection. Little Brother is the gift of Walma Masters of Plattsburgh, and we are delighted to be able to reunite the siblings. Both prints are hand-colored lithographs produced by the firm of Currier and Ives in the 1870s.

Awful Conflagration of the Steam Boat Lexington, 1840
Although there were many companies producing lithographs during this period, Currier and Ives of New York was the most prolific and popular, turning out probably as many prints as all other American companies combined. Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) started the business in 1834; James Ives (1824-1895) joined the firm as its bookkeeper in 1852 and entered into partnership with Currier in 1857. Neither of them were artists, so they relied upon the work of professional artists to create the original drawings.

Currier and Ives’ goal was to make art accessible to the broad public. They 
Black Eyed Susan, 1848
called themselves “Printmakers to the People,” and thanks to the development of new printing technologies, it was now possible to produce large numbers of inexpensive and colorful prints. A small print could be purchased for as little as 20 cents, while larger prints cost between $1 and $3—well within reach of most Americans. Their images depicted all aspects of American life: newsworthy events (disasters were particularly popular), politics, sports, home life, religion, views of cities and landscapes, trains and ships, and portraits of children and beautiful women.

Beautiful Dreamer, 1860s
Collecting Currier and Ives prints is still a popular pastime, but interestingly, it seems that the prints that are most sought after today are the ones that were least popular in their own time. Modern collectors are most interested in the railroad, hunting, and historical scenes, but in the 19th century, the sentimental scenes of children, women, domestic life, and devotion were most popular. Visitors to the Alice today have mixed reactions to the prints of children hanging in the Child’s Chamber; some find them cloyingly sweet while others find them creepy. But in their own time, many people considered them genuinely beautiful and moving.

Currier and Ives went out of business in 1907, after the deaths of both partners, but their prints have become iconic images of America and are still being reproduced on greeting cards, calendars, candy boxes, and even ceramics. For more information on Currier and Ives and other American lithographers of the 19th century, check out

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