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Currier & Ives Ships at Northeast Auctions’ Annual Summer Auction

A.J. Peluso, Jr. | August 2nd, 2013

Clipper Ship “Racer,” large folio, $840. James Buttersworth, recently arrived from England, was recruited in 1852. He did the clipper yacht Architect in that year for Endicott but then joined Currier with Flying Cloud. He would remain a Currier stalwart into the 1870’s. Shown here is the clipper ship Racer (dated 1854), done in partnership with Charles Parsons (the elder). She first sailed the Atlantic for the Red Cross Line to Liverpool and later to Australia and India. She was lost off the Irish coast in 1856.

Steam-ship “Ville de Paris,” Captain Surmont, small folio, $450. Captain Surmont lost his ship Ville de Paris in the Atlantic in 1870. He lost his ship Ville du Havre off the coast of France in 1873, with the loss of life. Apparently he was adjudged blameless; his career was uninterrupted thereafter.

Manchester, New Hampshire

Photos courtesy Northeast Auctions

Among the many other treasures offered at Northeast Auctions on August 2-4 were several lithographs by Currier & Ives. They were, of course, the most successful of the many similar establishments active in the 19th century. Their difficult-to-achieve business plan seems to have been “something for everyone.” If they detected a customer interest, they supplied an appropriate print. There wasn’t a niche they couldn’t fill. Among the most valued, besides New York scenes, fire, hunting, humor, presidents, morals, and horses, were ships.

As with their other subjects, they found the most talented artists to create apt, marketable images. They used James Buttersworth (1817-1894), Joseph B. Smith & Son (Joseph, 1798-1876; son William S., 1821- after 1862), Frances Flora Bond Palmer (1812-1876), Charles H.  Parsons (1821-1910), Charles R. Parsons (1844-1918/20), Franklyn Bassford (1856-1897), and possibly Jurgan Frederick Huge (1809-1878). The sample illustrations highlight their work.

For more information, see (

Further Reading, from M.A.D. Archives

  • “Don’t Collect Currier & Ives or Endicott. Collect Charles Parsons,” December 1987, p. 10-F.
  • “F. F. Palmer: A Remarkable Woman,” July 1988, p. 18-D.
  • “Joseph B. Smith & Son, Marine Artists, and Their American Flag,” March 2001, p. 22-C.
  • Mayflower Beats Galatea. Everyone Was There—Franklyn Bassford Too,” August 2006,  p. 43-C.
  • “The South Street Connection: Joseph Smith, John Hansen, Conrad Freitag, Elisha Baker, and Antonio Jacobsen Too,” September 2012, p. 25-B.

New York ferry boat, showing the Fulton, small folio, $330. Fulton Street in Manhattan was once terminus for the Fulton Street ferry as was Fulton Street, Brooklyn, Long Island, New York. In the late 1840’s Joseph B. Smith & Son moved to Fulton Street in Brooklyn, always near the Fulton Ferry terminal. Is it possible that another artist, not Joseph B. Smith & Son, would have produced this simple, pleasant ship’s portrait?  Then again Palmer and Parsons lived in Brooklyn too.

The Yacht “Dauntless,” of N.Y., small folio, undated, $450. James Gordon Bennett Jr. (1841-1918) owned Dauntless and was the publisher of the New York Herald. “Bennett was a sailor yachtsman like none previously known; a resolute daredevil and definite marine eccentric, he was characterized as a top-notch sailor and a thorough sportsman. The annual of the club remembers Bennett as a liberal, enterprising and lavish with prizes; he owns the distinction of being the only commodore who carried a brass band on his flagship during the annual cruise.” Quote from America’s Cup: Trials & Triumphs, Richard V. Simpson (2010), p. 26. Caldwell H. Colt (firearms company fortune) bought Dauntless in 1887 and maintained her exciting, newsworthy career. There was another version (not shown) of Dauntless, a large folio lithograph, “Off Queenstown, Ireland June 13, 1869.” The artist was Charles Parsons. And (not shown) there was a Currier & Ives 1880 lithograph of Bennett’s “new and unrivaled steam yacht” Polynia.

A Midnight Race on the Mississippi, large folio, $6240. The 1860 Midnight Race on the Mississippi between Natchez and Eclipse is perhaps Frances Palmer’s most memorable creation. The plate indicates that it was done after a sketch by H.D. Manning, about whom nothing is known. We can infer that she probably produced her Mississippi plates, vicariously, from second-hand sketches and accounts, and from her colorful imagination. The Midnight Race print is unique in that it depicts not only a race but also one conducted at night. It was evidently quite popular and inspired similar prints, for example, the 1864 A Night Race on the Hudson/ Through by Daylight, chronicling a race between Francis Skiddy and Isaac Newton. There are unsigned Currier & Ives, small folios of A Race on the Mississippi between Diana and Eagle (1870), The Great Mississippi Steamboat Race, from New Orleans to St. Louis, July 1870 between R.E. Lee and Natchez, and another called Midnight Race on the Mississippi—but between the Memphis and James Howard, 1875, which were possibly executed by Palmer. Her ability to bring a fresh point of view to the steamboat picture was unique. Years passed before a man had the courage to show a steamboat in three-quarter profile or attempt a night view.

Mark Twain said in Life on the Mississippi (1883): “I think that much the most enjoyable of all races is a steamboat race...Two red-hot steamboats raging along, neck and neck, straining every nerve—that is to say, every rivet in the boilersquaking and straining and groaning from stem to stern, spouting white steam from the pipes, pouring black smoke from the chimneys, raining down sparks, parting the river into long streaks of hissing foam—this is sport that makes a body’s very liver curl with enjoyment.” If Mark Twain had seen a Palmer lithograph of a Mississippi steamboat race, his liver would have curled with enjoyment. Maybe he had.

Steam-boat “Empire, small folio, 1843, $210. As with so many steamboats, Empire of Troy had a career marked by accidents. The worst and the last occurred at New Hamburg on the Hudson River in 1853. The engines blew, the passengers were scalded, the ship sank, and some passengers drowned. When she was raised in an attempt to salvage, her hull was beyond repair. The New York Times gave the event four columns of detail. The New-York Historical Society has a watercolor painting of the Empire of Troy, dated 1843, and in a Highlands setting as is the Currier print. The painting is signed by Jurgan Frederick Huge. Of course, Huge’s work came from ships with Long Island Sound connections. He worked at Bridgeport, Connecticut. As unlikely as it may seem, the real possibility exists that Huge supplied the art for Currier’s portrait of the Empire of Troy.

Clipper Ship “Red Jacket, large folio, $720. The letters below the image’s title read, “In the ice off Cape Horn on her passage from Australia to Liverpool, August 1854.” The clipper was built by George Thomas at Rockland, Maine, in 1853, for Messrs. Seacombe and Taylor of Boston, Massachusetts. This lithograph was created by Joseph B. Smith & Son, Brooklyn, Long Island, New York, with the help on stone of Charles Parsons (the elder). Red Jacket was named for Sa Go Ye Wat Ha (he who keeps them awake), a great Seneca orator and leader. He had aided the British during the Revolution, earning him the Red Jacket sobriquet. His stylized profile formed the ship’s figurehead. Seeing ice was an accidental experience on Red Jacket’sbusiness trip, but later, explorers’ interest would be excited. Could William Bradford (1823-1892), whose career focused on Arctic seascapes, have seen the print?

Clipper Ship “Ocean Express, large folio, $600. The letters say, “Sketched by J. B. Smith & Son, Brooklyn, L.I., on stone by C. Parsons. 1856.” An early clipper ship card said: “No Delay in Loading/ Sutton & Co. Dispatch Line/ For San Francisco/ 58 South Street. Cor. Wall.” The Boston Daily Atlas (1854) gave a full graphic description of Ocean Express beginning with “First in beauty, first in speed, and first in ‘the world of waters.’” Note that no clipper was ever launched without hyperbole.

“Mayflower” Saluted by the Fleet, large folio, $1440. Franklyn Bassford’s lithographic career may have spanned one year and three lithographs.

The “Puritan” and “Genesta” on the Homestretch. In their Second and Final International Race for the America’s Cup, Sept. 16th 1885. Won by ThePuritan. From a painting by Franklyn Bassford.

• “Mayflower” Saluted by the Fleet. Crossing the bow of “Galatea” in their first race for the “America’s Cup” over the inside course New York Bay Sept.7th 1886. [Won by “Mayflower”].

• “Volunteer” Crossing the Finish Line. Proclaimed the Victor by the Guns of the Flagship “Electra” in her second and final race for the America’s Cup against the Scotch Cutter “Thistle”…Sept 30, 1887.

Real success was elusive. In his last years he produced articles on model yachts in Outing magazine. On June 28, 1897, he took his life.

Clipper Ship “Three Brothers,” large folio, $420. Three Brothers started life as a Vanderbilt-financed side-wheel steamboat. She served for a time for the U.S. Navy in the Civil War, and then in 1873 she was bought and brought to San Francisco to be stripped of her engines and transformed into a clipper ship. Three Brothers was named for the owners Frederick, George, and Jabez Howe. She ended life as a coal barge in 1929. William Coulter (1849-1936) painted her portrait shortly after she arrived at San Francisco in 1873. Currier caught up with this lithograph in 1875 using an unknown artist. The image is different from the Coulter.

Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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