WORTH, Thomas (1834-1917). ~ Brer Thuldy’s Statue; Liberty Frightenin de World. New York: Currier & Ive 1884.
(395 x 265 mm; sheet 450 x 340 mm). Colour lithograph. Signed in the stone lower right. Excellent condition. Lettered ‘Copyright 1884, by Currier & Ives, N.Y. / Pub. by Currier & Ives, 115 Nassau St. New York’, with title followed by ‘To be stuck up on Bedbug’s Island – Jarsey Flats, opposite de United States. / (Only Authorized Edition)’
This notorious caricature was issued as part of the segregation era ‘Darktown Comic’ series. A black woman wearing a tattered brown dress and worn shoes, with an apron decorated in the stars and stripes, and a tall bonnet with a wide brim and white frill, standing on a plinth in the manner of the Statue of Liberty though looking far from serene, but rather clamouring; she holds a flaming torch and a book labelled ‘New York Port Charges’; at her feet is a cockerel crowing; she has her back to the city, shown behind her across the water, with a distant bridge.
The partnership of Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) and James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) grew into one of the largest and most prolific printing companies of all time, at one point responsible for 95% of all lithographs in circulation in America. Beginning as a lithographer, Currier recognized the market for topical prints and news and became successful as an independent lithographer and later print publisher, before taking on his bookkeeper and accountant Ives as a partner. With hand-operated presses on one floor, artists, stone grinders and lithographers on the floor above and a team of others colouring the finished lithographs by hand on the floor above that, the firm extended well beyond its New York offices, selling retail and wholesale, from street-carts and through booksellers, nationally and internationally, including by mail-order. They flourished on their populist approach, promoting themselves as ‘The Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints’, and ‘the best, cheapest, and most popular firm in a democratic country’, providing ‘colored engravings for the people’ and issuing over 7000 prints in countless copies. According to Byran Le Beau, after initially depicting the horrors of slavery in the 1840s, the company began instead to focus on African Americans as the cause of divisive politics and civil war, until by the end of the century, they were portraying them as incapable of living in anything but a condition of servitude. If in this they were, as described by a prominent collector of Currier & Ives material, Harry T. Peters, ‘businessmen and craftsmen … but primarily mirrors of the national taste, weather vanes of popular opinion, reflectors of American attitudes’, they were in equal measure responsible for endorsing and establishing the distorted views they both targeted and marketed so well (cf. Bryan F. Le Beau, African Americans in Currier and Ives’s America: The Darktown Series, in Journal of American & Comparative Cultures).