Lithographs by Currier and Ives are ubiquitous in antique stores, estate auctions and Victorian homes. Billing itself as “the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular prints,” the firm published more than 7,500 lithographs from 1835 to 1907, touching on every phase of American life. Employing or copying the work of fine artists, they chose subjects with mass-market appeal, reflecting the sentiments, values, and aspirations of ordinary Americans.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art observes that “In this print’s dramatically moonlit Mississippi River scene, four steamboats, with flames and smoke trailing from their smokestacks, travel under full power. At the right of the image, the ‘Queen of the West’ and ‘Morningstar’ lead the race, while two steamboats sail behind. On the shore at the left, there is a bonfire and a small crowd of men cheering and waving to the boat passengers. The print’s title identifies this race as one ‘for the buckhorns;’ the victorious boat would be entitled to mount and carry the prize (a stag’s antlers) between her stacks for a year.”