Currier & Ives: Prairie Fires of The Great West


“Prairie Fires of The Great West.”  Currier & Ives, 1871.  Small folio.  8 1/2 x 12 3/8.  Lithograph.  Original hand color.  Very good condition, color and margins.  Framed.    Conningham: 4859.  New Best 50: #6.


From 1834 to 1907 the firm of Currier & Ives provided for the American people a pictorial history of their country’s growth from an agricultural society to an industrialized one.  For nearly three quarters of a century the firm provided “Colored Engravings for the People” and in the process, because of the democratic philosophy of the business, became the visual raconteurs of nineteenth-century America.  Nathaniel Currier established the firm in 1834, producing hand colored pictures using a then relatively new process called lithography.  Some of the finest artists of the day, Louis Maurer, Thomas Worth, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Frances Flora Bond Palmer, George H. Durrie, Napoleon Sarony, Charles Parsons, and J. E. Butterworth were engaged by the firm to produce a variety of images.

The firm of Currier & Ives gained its reputation for producing two types of prints–”rush” prints that provided immediate visual reporting of major newsworthy events, and “stock” prints depicting every subject relating to American life: sports, games, home life, religion, entertainment, views of cities, and so forth.  The latter prints, which included generic scenes of America were amongst the most endearing and enduring of the firm’s work.  This print is in some ways the archetypal Currier & Ives image, expressing the qualities for which their work is best known, including drama and a train which combine to make this the #6 Currier & Ives small folio print in the New Best 50 voting.  A classic and wonderful example of the work of “America’s printmakers.”