The exhibit ‘Currier & Ives:Printmakers to the American People’ opened Friday evening at the Suffolk County Historical Society to a large and enthusiastic crowd in Riverhead.
The show is a collaboration between historical society director Kathy Curran and a private collector of Bayport who lent 250 Currier & Ives lithographs to grace the halls of three gallery spaces.
The collector, who asked he not be identified, said the images provide for a “great story.”
He said as a child his family would receive a calendar each year from the Travelers Insurance Company and it would hang in the family’s kitchen. He was inspired by the images and started collecting the original lithographs in the 1970’s.
He said that the company was ahead of its time employing artists to go out in the field and create images of everyday life, then making the prints in an assembly line-type workshop where they were hand-colored with watercolors.
From 1834 till 1907, the print shop “Currier & Ives” produced in excess of 1 million lithographs which included more than 7500 different titles. The company billed itself as “The Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints”, working at a time that newspapers didn’t have photographs.
The prinmakers produced more prints than all their competitors of the time. The most popular lithograph was titled “Awful Conflagration of the Steamboat Lexington in the Long Island Sound on Monday Evening January 13th 1840. By Which Melancholy Occurrence One Hundred Persons Perished.”
The print was a success and Currier & Ives became a sensation.