A spectacular Currier & Ives view of the Statue of Liberty, issued to commemorate its unveiling in October 1886.
The view depicts the statue and Bedloe’s (now Liberty) Island as seen from the southwest, with lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge in the far background. The low angle, the strategic placement of tiny human figures around the base and on the viewing platforms, and the tiny size of the vessels and church steeples in the background all serve to emphasize the immensity of the statue. A caption below the title gives the particulars:
“The magnificent colossal Statue (the largest ever known in the World) is of copper bronzed 151 feet in height and is mounted on a Stone Pedestal 154 feet high, making the extreme height from foundation of Pedestal to the torch 305 feet, the height of the Statue from the heel to the top of the head is 111 ft. 6 in. Length of the hand 16 feet. Head from chin to cranium 17 ft. 3 in. Breadth from ear to ear 10 feet, Length of nose 4ft. 6in. Length of right arm 42 feet. Circumference of arm 12 feet, Width of mouth 3 feet. Weight of Statue 450,000 pounds (225 tons.) 40 persons can stand comfortably in the head and the torch will hold 12 people. The torch at night displays a powerful electric light and the great Statue thus presents by night as by day an exceedingly grand and imposing appearance.”
Though bearing a copyright date of 1885, this variant of the view was not issued until some time after the formal unveiling in October 1886.
The statue was first conceived some time between 1865 and 1870 by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and Édouard René de Laboulaye, president of the French Anti-Slavery Society. They were inspired by the recent abolition of slavery in the United States, by the upcoming American Centennial, and, more generally, the two nations’ shared commitment to individual liberty (Though France at the time was governed by the oppressive regime of Napoleon III). After a long delay, due not least to the Franco-Prussian War, they announced the project and the intention that the French would fund the statue, while the Americans would provide the site and fund the pedestal.
Bartholdi designed the statue as a colossal neoclassical figure of a woman, representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, holding an upraised torch in one hand (representing progress) and a tablet representing the Declaration of Independence in the other. Construction was a remarkable engineering feat. The statue’s copper skin was crafted in France, and it was completed in sections, with Gustave Eiffel, the engineer behind the Eiffel Tower, helping to create the iron framework. The statue was disassembled into more than 300 individual pieces for transportation to the United States.
In 1885, the disassembled statue arrived in New York Harbor. It was reassembled on what was then called Bedloe’s Island, now known as Liberty Island, just off the southern tip of Manhattan. In the end, the pedestal was funded by contributions from both American and French citizens, including publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who led a last-minute fundraising campaign in his newspaper, The New York World. On October 28, 1886, in a grand dedication ceremony attended by thousands, the statue was officially unveiled and gifted to the United States by the people of France as a symbol of the two nations’ shared history and values.
Currier & Ives
Nathaniel Currier (1833-1888), originally from Massachusetts, established a lithography business in New York City in 1834, initially focusing on commercial lithographic work. James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) joined the firm as a bookkeeper in 1852 and became a full partner in 1857, leading to the formation of “Currier & Ives.” Their partnership thrived as they specialized in producing affordable yet high-quality lithographic prints, employing skilled artists and lithographers who used hand-colored lithographic stones.
Currier & Ives’ huge output encompassed a wide range of subjects, including historical events, landscapes, everyday life, political satire, and portraits of notable figures. They made their prints widely accessible to the general public, distributing them through subscription services, bookstores and other distributors around the country, and their New York City office.
Currier retired in 1880, leaving Ives to manage the business until his death in 1895, after which the two men’s sons carried on the firm. However, the popularity of lithography waned with the advent of newer printing technologies, and Currier & Ives finally closed in 1907. Nevertheless, the firm’s legacy endures today, as their work provides a vivid and enduring window into the everyday life, historical events, and sentiments of 19th-century America.
Conningham and Simkin, Currier & Ives Prints, #2575.