Question: I gave up collecting antique guns because they became too expensive, and started collecting original Currier & Ives prints. Unfortunately, the only places I can purchase them seem to be in the Eastern United States. Antique shops around here only try to sell you old calendars with Currier & Ives reproductions. Can you suggest any sources for these prints?--W.K.
Answer: A Currier & Ives expert in this area is James S. Brust of San Pedro. He said it’s difficult finding Currier & Ives sources on the West Coast and that “most of us collect through the mail.”
Brust said he’d be happy to answer your questions. Write him at 2403 Moray Ave., Suite 4, San Pedro, Calif. 90732; or telephone (213) 832-7943.
Another dealer-collector is Roger Genser of Santa Monica. He can be reached at Prints and the Pauper, P.O. Box 5133, Santa Monica, Calif. 90405.
The largest Currier & Ives inventory is carried by The Old Print Shop, 150 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
For further contacts, there is the American Historical Print Collectors Society, P.O. Box 1352, Fairfield, Conn. 06430. Brust is the West Coast representative. Annual dues: $30.
The Old Print Shop’s proprietor, Robert Newman, said Currier & Ives produced about 7,000 different lithographs, which currently range in price from about $75 to $15,000.
Nathaniel Currier, a printing apprentice from Massachusetts, founded his own firm at 1 Wall Street in New York City in 1834. The print that brought him immediate attention was the “Ruins of the Merchant’s Exchange,” issued in 1835, shortly after fire destroyed the exchange.
In 1852, Currier hired a bookkeeper, James Merritt Ives. As it turned out, Ives had a sharp business sense and an eye for what the public wanted. In 1857, Currier made him a partner and the familiar name was born.
The obvious problem facing collectors is discerning the difference between Currier & Ives originals and reproductions. In the latter category, Brust noted in a paper that most reproductions were “done for decorative and educational purposes, with no intent to ‘fool’ anyone into thinking they are originals.”
The collector, however, should know how to spot originals. Among Brust’s pointers:
--Beware of prints just marked “Currier & Ives.” “They carefully labeled their products, and usually identified them as ‘published by Currier & Ives,’ or at least ‘Currier & Ives, N.Y.,’ ” Brust writes.
--Study the print under a strong magnifying glass. “All Currier & Ives were produced from an image drawn on an original lithograph stone and, under magnification, show a coarse irregular grain pattern,” Brust says. “Modern color reproduction is done by a photographic process that breaks the picture down into a pattern of thousands of tiny, regularly spaced dots.”
--"Measure the exact dimensions of the picture area of the print, not including the margins.” Each print, he says, had a precise size. A book that lists every known print and its size is “Currier & Ives Prints, An Illustrated Checklist” by Frederick A. Conningham (Crown Publishers, 419 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016).
The Southern California chapter of the Paperweight Collectors Assn. has scheduled its fall meeting for Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Red Lion Inn, 3050 Bristol St., South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. Paperweight artisan Chris Buzzini will be the speaker. For further information, call (213) 649-3978.