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1870 Currier & Ives “Fast Trotters on Harlem Lane,” Featuring Cornelius Vanderbilt Racing Two of His Prized Horses
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Harlem Lane, also known as the Harlem River Speedway, was a track designed for sportsmen where they could drive their trotting horses with light carriages. In this scene, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), railroad magnate and philanthropist, trots with his team “Myron Perry” and “Daisy Burns,” while Robert E. Bonner (1824-1899), the publisher of the weekly New York Ledger, races “Dexter.” In the background is “Toppy” McGuire’s clubhouse.

[CURRIER & IVES]. [HARLEM RIVER SPEEDWAY]. JOHN CAMERON. Hand colored Lithograph. “Fast Trotters on Harlem Lane N.Y.” New York: Currier & Ives, 1870. 1 p., 28⅝ x 18⅜ in., in a 32¼ x 40¾ in. frame of figured hardwood.

Inventory #24234.01       Price: $2,500

Bonner paid $35,000 for Dexter (1858-1888) in 1867, after the gelding Dexter had set several world records and was widely considered “the King of the Turf.” Although Bonner was opposed to gambling and refused to enter races with other owners, he and Vanderbilt had an intense rivalry over who had the best horses. Although Vanderbilt’s fortune made him one of the wealthiest people in American history, he lived rather modestly, except for the money he spent on race horses. “Myron Perry” (b. 1860) was a gelding, and “Daisy Burns” (perhaps named after the title character of an 1853 work by Irish novelist Julia Kavanagh) was one of Vanderbilt’s prize dams.

Trotting achieved a universal mania in New York City. Robert Bonner was the most celebrated owner of trotters, which were bred for speed and endurance rather than beauty. Among his prize horses, in addition to Dexter, were Young Pocahontas, Peerless, Lady Palmer, Lantern, and Flatbush Maid, names more familiar to New Yorkers at the time than those of most politicians or authors. Commodore Vanderbilt owned a dozen fine horses, of which the fastest were Mountain Boy, Post Boy, and Mountain Maid. In the afternoons, Bonner, Vanderbilt, and other wealthy horse-owners drove their curricles or sulkies through Central Park on their way to “the road,” Harlem Lane. Unlike Bonner, Vanderbilt enjoyed gambling on his horses and was a daring driver. Other social leaders like financier and Democratic Party chairman August Belmont (namesake of the Belmont Stakes), livestock breeder Lewis G. Morris, lawyer William R. Travers, and even clergyman Henry Ward Beecher owned stables of trotters. When General Ulysses S. Grant visited New York at the end of the Civil War, one of his first requests was to visit Harlem Lane.

Historical Background

Currier & Ives produced at least 7,500 lithographic prints for sale to the general public for display in homes and workplaces between 1835 and 1907. Their images provided a historical depiction of America’s development from an agricultural to an industrialized society. Subjects included religious themes, the Civil War, railways, conflict in the West, exploration, politics, history, landscapes, sports, and many more.

The publishers celebrated the sport of horse-racing with a number of prints and portraits of champion horses, especially those involved in harness racing.

John Cameron (1830-1876) was born in Scotland and became an artist and engraver in the United States. He became the chief lithographer for Currier & Ives and was widely known for his prints of horses and horse-racing.

Currier & Ives was a printmaking business based in New York City from 1835 to 1907. Founded initially by lithographer Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888), the firm became Currier & Ives in 1857, when Currier invited his bookkeeper and accountant James Merritt Ives (1824-1895) to join him in partnership. Ives had insight into public tastes and helped expand the firm’s focus from current news and catastrophes to include political satire and even sentimental scenes. Each image was produced on lithographic limestone printing plates on which the artist drew by hand. Over the course of its 72 years, the firm published at least 7,500 lithographs, with artists producing two to three new images every week for more than sixty years. Many of the prints were also hand-colored. The company closed in 1907, after the deaths of its founders, when business had declined due to new printing technologies and changing artistic tastes.

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