by Dr. Lori Verderame
Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives were successful American printmakers in New York City in the late 19th Century. They were best known for their production of hand colored lithograph prints based on paintings by artists of the day and scenes of everyday life.
Currier & Ives prints were hand colored after being printed in ink using lithographic stones. The images were printed onto thick, woven light-colored papers. Currier & Ives produced large (14 x 20 inches or larger), medium 10 x 14 inches to 14 x 20 inches) and small (8 x 12 inches) format prints. If your print is a different size, then you may have a reproduction or your original print has been cut down or otherwise altered. An expert like myself who has reviewed many works can tell the difference.
The larger prints, completed by skilled colorists, demonstrate neater application of hand coloring than the prints of the other sizes. These large format prints are more desirable on the market today than smaller prints which usually have sloppier hand coloring. It is not widely known but Currier & Ives also produced rare, uncolored prints. Identifying valuable prints can be difficult and there are many factors that go into spotting a fake.
There were other printers who reproduced Currier & Ives prints including Joseph Koehler, S. Lipshitz, Max Williams, and Andres Inc. Most reproductions which can still have value show light hand coloring on thin sheets of paper.
What to Look For
Currier & Ives prints have neat, hand coloring on a piece of paper hosting a lithograph print. Prints are impressed on heavy or thick woven paper.
The paper on an original Currier & Ives print should look matte or flat, not shiny.
Look for the correct size–small, medium, or large.
Original Currier & Ives prints are very valuable. Some have sold for $100,000 or more. Well executed reproductions of Currier & Ives images also bring high values with prices in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars each.
Good condition, recognizable images of sporting events, historical figures, and winter scenes are valuable.
Use a magnifying glass to see if your Currier & Ives image has a small dot pattern throughout. If so, you have a print that was produced after the heyday of Currier & Ives print production. These prints have value however they do not command the high values of originals.
As part of an evaluation for your piece, make sure you have a print and not a poster. Understand the difference between a print and poster.
Get an online appraisal of your Currier & Ives print from Dr. Lori.