In Response to a Question

I love it when members of the choir ask me about something in the lyrics of the song they are singing. Today I was asked about a line in “Sleigh Ride”:

“It will nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives…”

Nathaniel Currier was a Massachusetts printer who specialized in lithography ( in the 1800’s. He started out printing many things, including sheet music, but specialized in prints illustrating people and events of the day. He is credited with publishing the first illustrated newspaper, the New York Sun.

New Yorker James Merritt Ives started as a bookkeeper and illustrator for Currier but quickly progressed to partner and general manager for their new firm, “Currier & Ives.” The men set up one of the earliest production lines in the country in their three-story print shop, with artists, lithographers, stone grinders, printing presses, and colorists all in the same building. The self-described “Publishers of Cheap and Popular Pictures” produced over 7500 different titles and over one million prints between 1835 and 1907. Anything from disaster scenes to sentimental images and everything in-between was illustrated and printed by the company.

Every print was first drawn on lithographic limestone (later replaced with metal plates) with oil, fat, or wax. Then the stone was treated with acid to etch the parts of the stone that were not protected by the grease. The etched areas would retain water, allowing oil-based ink to be applied to only the original drawing. Then the printing press could transfer the ink to paper, duplicating the drawing. After that, each print was hand-colored, with an assembly line of colorists each responsible for applying a single color before passing the print to the next colorist. By the way, Nathanel’s brother and employee, Charles, invented and patented a new kind of lithography wax crayon, a little something he called the “Crayola.”

Many of Currier & Ives’ prints depicted scenes from everyday life, and many winter scenes of sleighs and riders may be found in their collection. You can see some of these in the Print Galleries on The Currier & Ives Foundation website.




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