Nathaniel Currier & Ives
Currier & Ives (American 19th century)
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