The Champions of the Mississippi – "A Race for the Buckhorns"
Frances Flora Bond Palmer American, born England
Lithographed and published by Currier & Ives American
Not on view
The Mississippi River, one of the world's great rivers, intrigued Americans. Steamboats provided important and practical large-scale transport of passengers and goods both up and down this mighty river; such riverboats were able to navigate the shallow waters, as well as upriver against strong currents. Currier & Ives issued more than thirty prints of activity on the river, with steamboat races ranking among the most popular images. 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.
Nathaniel Currier, who established a successful New York-based lithography business in 1835, produced thousands of hand-colored prints in various sizes that together create a vivid panorama of mid-to-late nineteenth century American life. In 1857, Currier made accountant James Merritt Ives, his brother Charles's brother-in-law, a partner; renamed "Currier & Ives," the firm continued until 1907. People eagerly acquired Currier & Ives lithographs, such as those featuring landscapes, rural and city views, hunting and fishing scenes, domestic life and numerous other subjects, as an inexpensive way to decorate their homes or business establishments. Frances Flora (Fanny) Palmer was one of the most important artists working for Nathaniel Currier, and later Currier & Ives, between 1849 and 1868, when she produced approximately 200 of the firm's best landscapes and most engaging scenes of daily life.