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The Philadelphia Print ShopSpacer Currier and Ives

Images of Blacks by Currier & Ives


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Calling themselves "Printmakers to the People," Currier & Ives provided for the American public a pictorial history of their country's growth from an agricultural society to an industrialized one. Included in this chronicle of growth were pictures of the nation's black population. Many lithographs by Currier & Ives cast a romantic shadow over their subjects, from kittens to mischievous children to firemen. That same rosy hue appears in some of their prints illustrating African-Americans, where antebellum plantation life is presented with warm nostalgia, carefully absolved of any unpleasantness. Other, more unusual prints, used the popular medium of lithography to confront issues like abolition. Whether implicit or explicit, lithographs from Currier and Ives' now-famous firm offer strong statements on the role of race in nineteenth century American society.


Currier & Ives' Darktown Series

Currier & Darktown, Crossed by a Milk Train  Currier & Ives Darktown, Mule Train  Currier &Ives Darktown, Hook and Ladder Company in Action

Creating a segregated community of black Americans, Darktown prints showcased a full array of negative stereotypes of former slaves who moved north after the Civil War. Portrayed as mentally slow, physically grotesque, and morally inept, African Americans became comical figures to the primarily white consumers of Currier and Ives prints. True to the period's nativist overtones, the Darktown series was accompanied by similar prints lampooning Irish and Italian immigrants, as well as Roman Catholics. Popular prints were made to satisfy popular demand; as such, this series bears a painfully vivid testament to the racial attitudes of white, middle-class Americans of the late nineteenth century.


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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Last updated March 7, 2014