If English speakers have heard the word currier at all, it’s likely to be because of Nathaniel Currier, who, with James Merritt Ives, established Currier and Ives, a printmaking firm whose “colored engravings for the people” decorated the homes of many Americans in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Like the family names Fisher, Singer, and many others, the capitalized Currier originated as a lower-case noun that designated an occupation; but while fishers still fish and singers still sing, the currier’s trade has largely vanished.
Yesterday’s post defined Spanish escalplo as ‘la cuchilla con que los curtidores raspan el cuero’ and went on to translate the Spanish definition as ‘the type of knife curriers use to scrape leather,’ so it’s clear that a currier was a leatherworker of some sort. Noah Webster gave the particulars in his dictionary of 1828, when the currier was still a familiar figure: ‘A man who dresses and colors leather, after it is tanned.’ Middle English acquired the word from the Old French curreiour that had developed from Latin coriarius; as an adjective coriarius meant ‘pertaining to leather’ or ‘useful for tanning leather,’ and as a noun it meant the same as its English descendant currier. Latin coriarius had been based on corium, which Spanish speakers should have no trouble recognizing as the source of cuero ‘leather.’
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman