The Philadelphia Print Shop

Chromolithography: The Art of Color

[ Louis Prang & Co. | Currier & Ives | J. Hoover & Sons ]
[ Exhibit index ]



Louis Prang, from Boston, was the most prolific and influential publisher of American chromolithographs. Prang's chromos, which were "sold in all Picture stores," were highly praised and became hugely successful. Prang did more to create the market for chromolithographs in America than any other publisher, and his work also great shaped the output of other publishers around the country.

"PRANG'S AMERICAN CHROMOS. 'THE DEMOCRACY OF ART' . . . Our Chromo Prints are absolute FACSIMILES of the originals, in color, drawing, and spirit, and their price is so low that every home may enjoy the luxury of possessing a copy of works of art, which hitherto adorned only the parlors of the rich."

Louis Prang was born Breslau, Germany, March 12, 1824, and immigrated to the US in 1850 for political reasons. He had learned to print in color from his father, who was a calico printer. Partnering first with Julius Mayer, Prang bought out the partnership in 1860 and formed L. Prang & Co.

Prang's initial success came from his many small prints ("art bits"), which were collected by the public and usually kept in albums. He also developed a market for color printed specialty items like Christmas cards, which he is credited with inventing. Beginning in the late 1860s, Prang launched a magazine, Prang's Chromo: A Journal of Popular Art, and he began to issue chromolithographic copies of American paintings, which he called "Prang's American Chromos." Prang's prints were based on oils and watercolors and they were highly praised by the press and many influential persons. His first great success was with Eastman Johnson's "Barefoot Boy," but many of his art prints were also hugely successful. Eventually Prang issued about 800 chromolithographs of this sort, establishing an oeuvre unmatched by any other American chromolithographic publisher. Prang retired in 1898 and died in 1909.

GoGo to page with listing of prints by Louis Prang


While Currier & Ives are best known for their hand-colored lithographs, the firm did issue an impressive range of chromolithographs. In the 1860s, Currier & Ives produced a few chromos of similar style to those by Prang, using images by A.F. Tait and other American artists. Though their prints were of nice quality, Currier & Ives do not seem to have been successful in competing with the Boston publisher, for the hand-colored lithographs remained their main staple.

Beginning in the late 1870s, and especially after 1880 when Nathaniel Currier retired, the firm began to produce large folio images "printed in oil colors." Currier & Ives did not go after the "art" market (which reproduced oils and watercolors) that Prang so dominated, but instead used this medium to make prints of a "popular" style like the rest of their output. Chromolithography allowed the firm to produce larger, colored prints at a still affordable price, and they seemed to have been quite successful in this market niche: the list of the later chromolithographs produced by the firm is quite extensive. The two most common subjects for these large Currier & Ives chromolithographs were horse-racing and ships, though the medium also proved well-suited to their now-controversial Darktown series.

GoGo to page with listing of Currier & Ives chromolithographs.

Kurz & Allison

The Chicago firm of Kurz & Allison is well known for its production of commemorative prints of American historical scenes, most issued by chromolithography. Founded in 1885, the firm’s avowed purpose was to design “for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship.” Elaborate they certainly were: colors are bright and dramatic, and action is incorporated throughout the image. Drawn in a broad, graphic style that developed from Kurz’s background as a muralist, these prints have a striking appearance that makes them not only interesting historical images but also excellent decorative prints.

Kurz & Allison are probably most famous for their prints of Civil War battles, but their output included scenes of all American conflicts up to the early 20th century, as well as some views and portraits.

GoGo to page with Kurz & Allison prints

J. Hoover & Sons

J. Hoover & Sons issued popular prints for the masses in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century. This was a business much like Currier & Ives, though Hoover & Sons issued chromolithographs. Joseph Hoover was one of the few native-born Americans who achieved success with chromolithography. Hoover started by making elaborate wood frames in Philadelphia in 1856, but within a decade or so he began to produce popular prints. Initially he mostly worked for other publishers, including Duval & Hunter, and he worked with noted Philadelphia artist James F. Queen. He also issued a few hand-colored, popular prints of considerable charm. During the Centennial, Hoover won a medal for excellence for his chromolithographs after Queen's renderings.

In the 1880s, Hoover began to print chromolithographs, installing a complete printing plant by 1885. By the end of the century, his firm was one of the largest print publishers in the country, with an average annual production of between 600,000 to 700,000 pictures. Using chromolithography, Hoover was able to produce attractive, colorful prints that were still affordable for anyone to use as decoration for home and office. The audience for Hoover's prints was quite wide, extending throughout the United States, and abroad to Canada, Mexico, England and Germany. The subjects issued by the firm are extensive, including genre scenes, still life images, views of American locations, and generic landscapes, including a series of charming winter scenes.


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