How to tell if you have
[ Items other than prints | Originals | Restrikes | Reproductions ]
an Original Currier & Ives
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Probably more reproductions have been made of Currier & Ives than of any other type of print. We would estimate that over 75% of the Currier & Ives images one finds are reproductions. Many Currier & Ives reproductions are easy to spot, but for others it can take an expert to tell.
Below we list some of the means by which you might be able to tell if your "Currier & Ives" is original or a reproduction.
Is your "Currier & Ives" something other than a print?
What are original Currier & Ives prints like?
What is a Currier & Ives restrike?
How does one spot a reproduction?
If you have a tray, plate, cup, calendar, ash tray, or anything other than a print issued between 1834 and 1907, you do not have an original Currier & Ives. Currier & Ives were printmakers only. The images they produced were popular at the time they were issued and they have remained popular ever since. Thus manufacturers of china, calendars and many other items have used these images to decorate their ware. While these items can be quite attractive and sometimes have a definite market value, none of them are original Currier & Ives.
Almost all Currier & Ives prints are hand colored lithographs. The images were printed in ink from lithographic stones onto fairly thick sheets of wove paper and then were hand colored. Under moderate magnification, the black ink image of an original Currier & Ives print should show the characteristic pattern of a stone lithograph.
Though Currier & Ives did issue a few chromolithographs, the majority of original prints have coloring which was applied by hand. The smaller and less expensive prints were usually colored by a group of young women, each applying a different color, and images with large runs were often colored using stencils. These prints will often show some sloppiness in the coloring. The larger and more expensive prints generally were colored individually by skilled colorists, so these will be much better done than the smaller prints. Many originals will have gum arabic on them to add depth to the color and this can be seen by holding the print at an angle to a light. Currier & Ives did issue some of their prints uncolored, and since very few reproductions are uncolored, this is a good clue that one has an original.
Though Currier & Ives did not issue all their prints in standard sizes, the prints are usually grouped into three basic size categories. Small folio prints are approximately 8" by 12 1/2"; medium folio are approximately 10"-14" by 14"-20"; and large folio are anything over about 14" by 20."
A Currier & Ives restrike is a print made from the original stone, but issued after Currier & Ives were no longer in business. When the firm closed, its lithographic stones were sold at auction, most effaced. A number of printsellers acquired the remaining useable stones and made new prints from them: these are restrikes. S. Lipshitz, from England, Joseph Koehler, and Max Williams are the best known of these publishers. Most of Koehler's prints were from the "Darktown" series, though he also issued a small folio "Washington as a Mason" and a large folio image of Abraham Lincoln. Williams, around 1912, reprinted six of the large folio Clipper Ship images:
As these are from the original stones and are hand colored, they can be identified only by their weaker impressions and color and the fact they were printed on thinner paper than the originals.
- "Clipper Ship -Dreadnought 'Off Sandy Hook'"
- "Clipper Ship -Dreadnought 'Off Tuskar Light"
- "Clipper Ship -Flying Cloud"
- "Clipper Ship -Ocean Express 'Outward Bound'"
- "Clipper Ship -Sweepstakes"
- "Clipper Ship -Three Brothers"
Currier & Ives restrikes have a unique market niche between originals and reproductions. As they were printed from the original, hand-drawn lithographic stones, and as they are quite old and rare, they do have a market value. This is well below the price of the originals, but also well above that of reproductions.
Telling a reproduction from an original can sometimes be very easy, and other times quite difficult. Below are some tests you can make which might tell you what you have.
Unfortunately, quite a number of Currier & Ives reproductions will pass most tests which the non-expert can put them to. These are the right size, are printed by lithography, and are hand colored. The best of these are collotypes, which though printed lithographically, show a different pattern to the ink under magnification. In these cases, it is usually best to consult an expert.
- Most Currier & Ives reproductions are made from a dot-matrix process. If you look through a fairly powerful magnifier (e.g. 10X) and you see little dots (either black & white or color), then you have a reproduction.
- You can compare your print with the description in the standard references on Currier & Ives. If you compare the exact title and size and it does not match the description, you likely have a reproduction. Note that original prints do vary a bit in size, but the measurements should be within about 1/2” of the recorded size.
- Original Currier & Ives prints were printed on a fairly thick wove paper with a matte finish. Many reproductions are on thin paper and/or glossy paper. The more you handle original Currier & Ives prints, the more familiar you can become with what the paper should be like.
- Look for any printed information which indicates the print is a reproduction, e.g. “reproduced from” or a copyright notice, etc. Some reproductions are obvious if one looks closely at what is printed around the image.
The most famous series of top-quality reproductions are the twenty large folio prints issued by Andres Inc. from New York in 1942. These are approximately correct in size and are hand colored. If one has a print from the following list of their reproductions, one should be especially careful in checking for originality. Remember, as reproductions were more recently issued than the originals, it is more likely that one will come across a reproduction than an original.
- "Across the Continent"
- "American Express Train"
- "The American National Game of Baseball"
- "American Winter Scenes -Evening"
- "American Winter Scenes -Morning"
- "Central Park Winter -Skating Pond"
- "Clipper Ship 'Sweepstakes'"
- "Clipper Ship 'Red Jacket'"
- "High Water in the Mississippi"
- "Home to Thanksgiving"
- "Hudson Highlands"
- "Landscape Fruit and Flowers"
- "The Lightning Express Trains"
- "Low Water in the Mississippi"
- "May Morning"
- "New England Winter Scene"
- "The Old Grist Mill"
- "The Road, -Winter"
- "Seasons of Life -Childhood"
- "Seasons of Life -Middle Age"
Christopher W. Lane with D.H. Cresswell & C. Cades. A Guide To Collecting Currier & Ives. Philadelphia, 2001. Paper. A basic guide which discusses the nature of Currier and Ives prints and the issues involved in collecting them. $8.00
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