Currier & Ives Prints: Ways to Tell Originals form Reproductions

Currier & Ives lithograph “Attacking a Right Whale.”

Currier & Ives lithograph “Attacking a Right Whale.”

From 1834 to 1907 the firm of Currier & Ives provided for the American people a window on their country’s development from a rural society to an industrialized one. Highly detailed and colorful, these are prime examples of the work of “America’s printmakers.” For nearly three quarters of a century, Currier & Ives provided “Colored Engravings for the People,” and in the process, became the visual chroniclers of 19th-century America.

Some of the finest artists of the day were engaged by the firm to produce a variety of prints, including images of newsworthy events and prints depicting every subject relating to American life: sports, games, home life, religion, entertainment, views of cities and so forth. Sporting and Western scenes were created by A.F. Tait, while Frances Flora Palmer provided the majority of landscapes produced by the company, and George Durrie was the artist responsible the famous New England winter scenes.

Because of the popularity of Currier & Ives prints, they have been reproduced extensively since the 1920s as decorator prints and calendars. The calendar prints were often removed and framed, and after 90 years, they look very convincing as originals. Determining the authenticity of a Currier & Ives prints is not a project for a novice collector, but there are many things that point to an original, one being size.

The Currier & Ives prints were made in four main sizes: a very small sized folio with images measuring less than 7 inches by 9 inches; a small folio with image areas of 8 inches by 10 to 12 inches; a medium size folio with image sizes 9 to 10 inches by 13 to 19 inches. A great many of the reproduction are in modern paper sizes such as 8 x 10, 8 1/2 x 11, or 11 x 17 inches.

The Currier & Ives lithograph above titled, “Attacking a Right Whale,” is was what is called a “large folio print,” being one of the larger sizes used by this company. The original print measures 16- 3/16 inches x 23-12/16 inches exactly. A print of this title in any other size is a reproduction. When examined under a magnifying glass, the image in a reproduction appears as a series of small dots, much like you see in magazine or newspaper images. In the current market (September 2009) an original sells for more than $3,500 at auction, while 1930’s to 50’s
copies (when identified) often sell for less than $50.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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