By Anne Gilbert
Currier and Ives prints, costing thousands of dollars today, once could be bought for a few cents. They were affordable for just about everyone.
When Nathaniel Currier, a lithographer, created what was probably the first illustrated newspaper "extra" in history in 1840 - about the fire aboard the steamboat Lexington - a new type of art was born. The "Extra Sun," depicting a realistic drawing of the tragedy that killed hundreds, was reprinted in newspapers across the country.
At a time when photography was virtually unknown and reproductions of drawings a time-consuming process, Currier began offering prints of important current events. In 1857, he joined with James Merritt Ives, a self-trained artist, and for 50 years they produced an average of three or four new prints every week.
It was perfect timing. The rapidly growing middle class was looking for new ways to display its affluence. And the prints' price made them available to lower classes as well.
By the time Currier and Ives stopped production, they had sold millions of prints in unlimited editions from more than 7,000 titles.
The prints covered a wide range of subjects - from wars to clipper ships, sporting events and Indian subjects. Some of their most popular subjects were of sulky drivers with trotter horses.
Many important American artists had their works reproduced by Currier and Ives, including Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait. Not as well known as Tait was Fanny Palmer. In the days when it was rare for a woman to be a commercial artist, Palmer became known for her depictions of American scenic and marine prints.
Portraits were the most common subjects for Currier and Ives. Royalty, stage actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt, presidents and politicians were immortalized.
Considered some of the finest work are the "sentimental portraits." These dealt with love, marriage, farewells and returns.
Not often seen are prints for children. Two favorites are "Noah's Ark" and "Robinson Crusoe and His Pets."
Among the rarest prints are the "puzzle pictures," where hidden figures were drawn into the picture. Only six of these are known.
In the 1920s and '30s, there was a resurgence of interest in collecting Currier and Ives prints. Despite the vast numbers of prints produced, many hadn't survived.
Restrikes (reproductions) of some of the most popular subjects were made. A jewelers' loupe or strong magnifying glass can identify a restrike. If a print has dots in an overall pattern like on old comic strips, it's a restrike. Originals were hand-painted on stock prints.
Always examine a print out of its frame. Value is less if the print has been cut down to fit a frame. Another tip: In the 1940s, Currier and Ives calendars were made and framed. In the frame, they can be foolers.
Question: Recently I purchased an old typewriter. Above the paper roller is printed "L.C. Smith & Bros." To the left is a colored emblem with three white horses entwined in a horseshoe. In the center, above the keys: "L.C. Smith & Corona Typewriters Inc." It works. What is the value ?
Answer: Your typewriter is worth about $70.
Contact Anne Gilbert by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. Photos cannot be returned.
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