Q: This picture was given to me in 1963 by my sixth-grade teacher. I have enclosed photographs of the picture along with a photo of the letter she wrote me about this picture. I would appreciate any information you can give me as far as the potential value of this Currier and Ives picture, which is titled "My Little Playfellow."
A: This lithographic printing company was founded by Nathaniel Currier in New York City in 1835, but he entered into a partnership with James Merritt Ives in 1857, making the firm Currier and Ives. Previously, Ives had been Currier's accountant and bookkeeper.
Currier and Ives is said to have produced more than 7,500 differently titled subjects and over 1 million lithographs during their 70-plus-year history, which ended in 1907. (A lithograph, incidentally, is a process of printing from a flat surface, such as a stone or metal plate, using the principle that oil and water do not mix.)
The image to be printed is ink-receptive, while the blank spaces are ink-repellent. Each color in a lithograph requires the use of a separate plate or stone. The process has been around since the waning years of the 18th century and the name comes from the Greek words for "stone" and "to write."
Currier and Ives produced two different prints titled "My Little Playfellow." Your print shows a charming Victorian lass and her King Charles spaniel. The other "My Little Playfellow" is often marked just "N. Currier" and shows a blue-suited boy framed in a pointed Gothic arch holding his spaniel on a leash.
The example in today's question is clearly marked "Lith and Pub by Currier and Ives" on the left side underneath the dog and " — Nassau — NY" on the other. If we could read the street numbers we could narrow the dating because Currier and Ives worked at 152 Nassau St. from 1857 to 1872, at 125 Nassau St. from 1872 to 1874, and at 123-125 Nassau St. from 1875 to 1894. They also worked at 115 Nassau St. from 1876 to 1886.
This particular print is probably from the 1870s, probably working on being 150 years old — but old age sometimes brings big problems. Your print was held in its frame using wooden slats and these slats have produced acid, which has discolored the image and eaten away at the paper. The slats should be removed immediately and replaced with acid-free material (a barrier of acid-free tissue paper may be used between the boards and the print if you wish to retain the original slats).
The print has also been folded, its margins significantly trimmed, and there appears to be dirt and perhaps some water damage. All this hurts the print's monetary value, which in really good condition would be around $175. In this highly degraded condition, however, the value is perhaps $35 to $50. But the real value is in the line from the letter that says the print was given, "to remind you of a teacher who thought you were a pretty wonderful girl."
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or e-mail them at treasuresknology.net. If you'd like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.