Collectors Guide: Currier & Ives

Founded by Nathaniel Currier in 1835, Currier & Ives was the major poster firm of the nineteenth century. James Merritt Ives joined Currier in 1857, and the two produced some of the most popular images of the period through 1907—with the bulk of their work being done in the 1860s. Together they published thousands of prints, in three folio sizes (small, medium and large) of scenes that are still sought by collectors today.

The scenes they published fell into a wide range of categories including the American west, winter images, domestic themes and life in the South. Keep reading for some guidelines on what influences the value of a Currier & Ives print.

 

The Most Expensive Currier & Ives Prints

 
Currier & Ives, The American National Game of Base Ball, lithograph, of people playing baseball in an open field, 1866.
Currier & Ives, The American National Game of Base Ball, lithograph, 1866.
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
 

A select few prints occupy the top tier of collectable Currier & Ives, sometimes selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Among these are scenes that capture important moments in American history. Examples include “the baseball print,” an 1866 image of Elysian Fields, in Hoboken, New Jersey (the much-debated possible birthplace of America’s pastime). In 2004 a hand-colored version of this print sold at auction for $76,375.

 

Across the Continent represents the rapid change the country was experiencing 150 years ago—and looking at these lithographs today, collectors and admirers of the prints are instilled with a resonating sense of history and nostalgia for that time. That’s the backbone on which any serious collection of these wonderful scenes is built.   

Caleb Kiffer, Maps & Atlases Specialist
Currier & Ives, Across the Continent, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, large-folio hand-colored lithograph, of a western expansion scene with houses on one side of a train and the great plains on the other, formerly in the collection of Thomas Winthrop Streeter, 1868.
Currier & Ives, Across the Continent, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, large-folio hand-colored lithograph heightened with gum arabic, formerly in the collection of Thomas Winthrop Streeter, 1868. Sold December 13, 2018 for $62,500.
 

Provenance certainly plays a significant role in the collection of any item or work of art. In December 2018 Swann sold one of the firm’s most idyllic western pictures: Across the Continent, 1868, which earned $62,500, a record for the image and is the second-highest auction price for a Currier & Ives print. The lithograph had descended from the collection of Thomas Winthrop Streeter—the leading collector of Americana in the twentieth century—and had been a gift to him from his children.

 

Mississippi in Time of Peace has everything going for it. Unbelievably beautiful to look at, extremely rare, fantastic condition—and it’s historically significant.

Caleb Kiffer, Maps & Atlases Specialist
Currier & Ives, The Mississippi in Time of Peace, large folio hand-colored lithograph, of flatboats and paddle steamers relaxed under a glowing post-Civil War sunset, 1865.
Currier & Ives, The Mississippi in Time of Peace, large-folio hand-colored lithograph, 1865. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.
 

Our December 17 sale of Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books has a significant selection of Mississippi-themed Currier & Ives images from a private collection. The centerpiece of the offering is Mississippi in the Time of Peace, 1865, a rare print that is almost never seen on the market. The present copy has wide margins, signaling to a collector that the work is as it was when it was printed—an important factor for a connoisseur of Currier & Ives.

 

More Highlights from the Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books Catalogue


 
Currier & Ives, The Champions of the Mississippi, A Race for the Buckhorns, large-folio hand-colored lithograph, of a dramatic steamboat race, 1866.
Currier & Ives, The Champions of the Mississippi, A Race for the Buckhorns, large-folio hand-colored lithograph, 1866. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000.
 

Highly Collectable, With Broad Appeal

 
Currier & Ives, Winter in the Country. The Old Grist Mill, large-folio hand-colored lithograph of farmers braving the elements to collect feed bags from a frozen country mill, 1864
Currier & Ives, Winter in the Country. The Old Grist Mill, large-folio hand-colored lithograph, 1864. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000.

Currier & Ives lithographs that fall in the middle range of estimates will often have a scene that is less tied to American history, and may be scarce, but more frequently found on the market. A mid-tier Currier & Ives might also have minor condition issues such as toning.

 
 
Currier & Ives, Central Park, the Lake, small format hand-colored lithograph, 1862.
Currier & Ives, Central Park, the Lake, small format hand-colored lithograph, 1862. Estimate $200 to $250.
 

 
 

Complete Catalogue

 
 

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