Delaware Public Media

History Matters: Currier and Ives

Aug 24, 2013

History Matters digs into the Delaware Historical Society’s archives each month to explore connections between key people, places, and events in history and present-day news.

August’s History Matters visits the Legacy of Currier and Ives exhibit currently on display at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover.

“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” - Diane Arbus

History Matters: Currier and Ives

WDDE visits The Biggs Museum of American Art to talk about The Legacy of Currier and Ives exhibit with the Museum's curator Ryan Grover.

(Producer/Videographer/Editor: Ben Szmidt) 

Nathaniel Currier was an accomplished lithographer in the Northeast who printed everything from sheet music to blueprints. In 1835, Currier published a lithograph showing a New Orleans hotel after a fire. The print sold well and helped to usher in the new concept of pictorial journalism.

While Currier’s work sold relatively well, it was his partnership with James Ives in 1857 that helped to established the printing firm’s legacy. Ives made the production process much more efficient resulting in the firm releasing two to three new prints per week, a significant feat at the time.

“They got their big break creating prints almost in real time as they were topical,” said Ryan Grover, curator at the Biggs Museum. “In some cases, the public jokingly referred to Currier and Ives selling images of burning buildings while it’s still smoldering because they were able to turn it around so quickly.”

While Currier and Ives are best known for their work involving current events and news, their work covered a wide variety of topics. It is estimated that the firm released over 8,000 images featuring domestic life, historical events, city and country views, religious scenes, scenic wonders, and westward expansion.

“The prints that they created really scanned the gamit of topics here in America,” said Grover. “I think ultimately people get a better idea of what Americans thought of themselves in the 1800s.”

The exhibit runs through October 27th. For more information, visit the Biggs Museum website.

This piece is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency dedicated to nurturing and supporting the arts in Delaware, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.