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Lithograph, "The Darktown Fire Brigade: All on Their Mettle" (2)

Lithograph, "The Darktown Fire Brigade: All on Their Mettle" (2)

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Description
In 1857, Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives became business partners and set out to produce popular, affordable decorative prints for American consumers. In the 1880s, Currier & Ives produced the "Darktown Comics" series of color lithographs, which would become one of their best-selling lines. Each of these depicted African Americans as racist caricatures and ugly stereotypes, and presented scenes where the humor, such as it was, derived from their buffoonish antics and "putting on airs.” These color lithographs were primarily created by John Cameron (1828-1906) and Thomas Worth (1834-1917), two artists employed by Currier & Ives. They drew on a broad visual vocabulary of anti-black racist tropes that had developed over the 19th century, derogatory signifiers that would have been understood and shared by their popular audience, who created a demand for similar imagery in numerous other commercial and decorative objects of the time. Cameron and Worth often set hapless black figures in traditionally white roles, such as firefighting, and the ridiculous failures they depicted helped to reinforce entrenched racial and social hierarchies, as well as to perpetuate the notions of heroism and leadership as white male prerogatives in the period after Reconstruction. When Currier & Ives shut down operations in 1907, New York City printer Joseph Koehler purchased the lithographic stones of the "Darktown Comics" series from the firm and produced restrikes under his own name for several more years.
This color lithograph – “All on Their Mettle” – depicts a fire engine company (blue uniforms), a hose company (yellow uniforms), and a ladder company (red uniforms) rushing to a fire, all about to collide on a narrow bridge. Their respective officers urge them on through speaking trumpets, each intent on being first on the scene. It is paired with a second scene entitled “Slightly Demoralized.” This version is a restrike produced by Joseph Koehler after 1907.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
lithograph
date made
ca 1889
publisher
Koehler, Joseph
copyrighter
Currier & Ives
Physical Description
lithograph (overall material)
Measurements
overall: 15 in x 17 in; 38.1 cm x 43.18 cm
ID Number
2005.0233.1101
accession number
2005.0233
catalog number
2005.0233.1101
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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