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Nathaniel Currier

 (1813 - 1888)
Nathaniel Currier was active/lived in New York, Massachusetts.  Nathaniel Currier is known for lithography, structures-views.

Nathaniel Currier

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following was written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California:

Nathaniel Currier was born on March 27, 1813 in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  The firm of Currier and Ives (1862-1901) issued lithographic portraits, views and pictorial records of sporting events and other happenings.  In the 1850s-1860s, work on lithographic stone crowded out the wood block.  Currier productions were often crudely executed but some beautiful prints did come from his presses.  His shooting, fishing and racing prints furnish us with pictoral idea of American sports of the period.

Nathaniel Currier was tall, blond and courtly and often posed for his own artists.  He was better at business than art.  James Ives was the brother-in-law of Nat Currier's brother.  He was born in New York City on the grounds of Bellevue Hospital.

Every morning at 7 a crowd of peddlers used to enter the little shop of Currier and Ives.  From huge bins they selected whatever pictures they hoped would capture their customers.  They left a cash deposit.  Then they piled their prints into pushcards and rolled across the town, hawking the latest deathbed scenes, shipwrecks or lush country landscapes.   At evening they returned their unsold stock to the shop, reclaimed their deposits and squared up accounts.

By such elementary methods as this, the firm of Currier & Ives led the popular picture business from 1840 to 1890.  They helped America get acquainted with itself.  Their lithographs of doe-eyed New England damsels were tacked to Mississippi flatboats.  Their dashing pioneers, framed in walnut, enlivened the parlors of New England stay-at-homes.  And through a London office they introduced Americans to curious Europeans.

Wholesale, Currer & Ives prints were 6 cents apiece.  Retail, they went for 15 cents to 25 cents, or up to $3 for an elegant folio.  But even in the firm's heyday, when it cataloged more than 4,317 prints, business was widely adapted to its pushcart customers.  And for everybody, including the Prince of Wales who browsed delightedly through the New York store in 1860, terms were strictly cash.

Nathaniel Currier from Roxbury, Massachusetts began his apprenticeship in a Boston lithographer's shop.  At 22 he opened his own New York store at No. 1 Wall Street.  During his second year of business in 1835 the nearby Merchants' Exchange burned down.  It was a beautiful blaze.  Four days later Currier released the first colored lithograph of the disaster with lurid flames and heroic firemen.  When it was sold as an extra with the New York Sun, the whole town marveled at Currier's speedy presses.

Five years later a steamboat caught fire on Long Island Sound.  This time Nat Currier worked still faster, issued his famous lithograph, The Awful Conflagration of the Steam Boat Lexington in three days.  People heard about it all over the country and Currier's fame was assured.  Thereafter Currier covered every major disaster, and, to please a nation of fire worshipers, released a new print every time a hencoop burned down.

In 1852 plump, jovial James Ives was hired, made himself so valuable as a bookkeeper and an artist that he soon became a partner.  The Four Seasons of Life show Ives' handiwork.

Most Currier & Ives prints were first submitted in the form of sketches or oil paintings.  Artists received about $10 a picture and there were no royalties.  Connected with the firm was a staff of specialists.  George Durrie excelled at painting snow, rocks, lichens.  Charles Parsons was a marine expert. Thomas Worth did Negro comics.  Arthur Tait did hunting scenes.  Louis Maurer was wonderful at horses.  Fanny Palmer was so good at sketching farmyards that she was often rushed to Long Island in Nat Currier's buggy for a quick order of rural charm.  Several artists often worked on one picture, each contributing his particular speciality.

Pictures were then copied onto stone plates by expert lithographers.  When the black-and-white prints came off the presses, they were sent to the fifth floor of the Spruce Street factory.  Here, seated at long tables, artists with paint pots each applied one color. At the end of the line, prints emerged completely painted, but with noticeable variations.

With the death of Nathaniel Currier on November 20, 1888, the great firm of Currier and Ives slumped.  Improved color printing and photography hurried its final collapse in 1907.  But the Currier & Ives tradition of popular reporting endured.  It was the beginning in America of pictorial journalism.

Phaidon Encyclopedia of Art and Artists
Life Magazine (date unknown)


Biography from the Archives of askART
A key figure in the production of illustration art in America, Nathaniel Currier, known as Nat, formed an association with James M. Ives in the lithography firm whose name remains famous, Currier & Ives. Their specialty was making prints of newsworthy events, especially that which was sensational and dramatic such as scenes of war, shipwrecks and fires. The Currier & Ives printing presses required many illustrators to create the lithographs, and in this way shaped the future of many young artists.

Nathaniel Currier was born in Boston, and from the age of eight had to work to support his widowed mother. He learned lithography, which had just been invented thirty years before his apprenticeship, and then he left Boston for Philadelphia to work for an engraver. In 1834, having completed his apprenticeship, he went to New York City and became a purchasing partner in a printing shop. But wanting to make more money, he set up another lithography business on his own at 1 Wall Street. He learned that the public loved depictions of sensational and tragic events, and these "news" stories became a specialty. His brother, Charles, studied lithography with Nathaniel, and remained on and off with the firm but invented a new type of crayon, which he patented as "Crayola."

He married in 1841, and his wife died from grief-related illness over the death of their child. Following that time, he created many sentimental domestic scenes and memorial prints with grief-stricken families at burial rites, etc.

In 1847, Currier married again. Five years later, his brother introduced him to a friend, James Merritt Ives, with the recommendation that Currier hire him as a bookkeeper. Ives, a skilled bookkeeper and artist, reorganized the inventory and streamlined the production methods, and by 1857, the two formed a full partnership. Close friends, they had a building at 33 Spruce Street and occupied three floors, one for printing presses, one for the artists and lithographers and stone grinders and one for coloring. This area was one of the first assembly lines in America with the prints being passed down and receiving a single color from each worker---usually a German immigrant girl.

In addition to being successful businessmen, Currier and Ives had many friends including Phineas T. Barnum, John Greenleaf Whittier and Horace Greeley. Nat Currier retired in 1880 and died eight years later at his home in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Jim Ives remained active in the business until his death in 1895.

The Currier & Ives Foundation

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I
Nathaniel Currier, March 27, 1813 - November 20, 1888.

Currier was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts to Nathaniel and Hannah Currier. He attended public school until age fifteen, when he was apprenticed to the Boston printing firm of William and John Pendleton. The Pendletons were the first successful lithographers in the United States, lithography having only recently been invented in Europe, and Currier learned the process in their shop. He subsequently went to work for M. E. D. Brown in Philadelphia, in 1833. The following year, Currier moved to New York City, where he was to start a new business with John Pendleton. Pendleton backed out, and the new firm became Currier & Stodart, which lasted only one year. In addition to being a lithographer, he was also a volunteer fireman in the 1850s.

In 1835, Currier started his own lithographic business as an eponymous sole proprietorship. He initially engaged in standard lithographic business of printing sheet music, letterheads, handbills, etc. However, he soon took his work in a new direction, creating pictures of current events. In late 1835, he issued a print illustrating a recent fire in New York. Ruins of the Merchant's Exchange N.Y. after the Destructive Conflagration of Decbr 16 & 17, 1835 was published by the New York Sun, just four days after the fire, and was an early example of illustrated news. In 1840, Currier began to move away from job printing and into independent print publishing. In that year, the Sun published his print Awful Conflagration of the Steam Boat 'Lexington' in Long Island Sound on Monday Eveg Jany 13th 1840, by Which Melancholy Occurrence Over 100 Persons Perished, another documentation of a news event, three days after the disaster; the print sold thousands of copies.

In 1850, James Ives came to work for Currier's firm as bookkeeper. Ives' skills as a businessman and marketer contributed significantly to the growth of the company; in 1857 he was made a full partner, and the company became known as Currier & Ives. Although best known as creators of popular art prints, such as Christmas scenes, landscapes, or depictions of Victorian urban sophistication, Currier & Ives also produced political cartoons and banners, significant historical scenes, and further illustrations of current events. Over the decades, the firm created roughly 7,500 different images.

Currier & Ives' Central-Park, Winter: The Skating Pond, 1862Nathaniel Currier was a Unitarian who first married Eliza West Farnsworth. The couple had one child, Edward West Currier. In 1847, after Eliza's death, he married Lura Ormsbee.

Currier was a friend of P.T. Barnum of Barnum and Bailey fame.

Currier was fond of fast horses, and several were kept at his Massachusetts residence in a barn he purchased, ordered dismantled, and had delivered by horse to his estate.

Currier retired from his firm in 1880, and turned the business over to his son Edward. He died eight years later on November 20, 1888, at his beloved home on Lion's Mouth Road in Amesbury, Massachusetts.


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About  Nathaniel Currier

Born:  1813 - Roxbury, Massachusetts
Died:   1888 - Amesbury, Massachusetts
Known for:  lithography, structures-views

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Nathaniel Currier