An American Masterpiece: Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian

On October 4, Swann will offer a complete set of Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian in our auction of Fine Photographs & Photobooks.

Consigned by well-known bookman John King, this complete set of 20 folios on Japan tissue (featuring 722 large-format photogravures), and 20 text volumes (with more than 1500 small-format photogravures on vellum) is ink numbered 113/500, and appears to be the only version containing a treasure trove of 111 large-format photogravures signed by Curtis. To view all of the plates, click here.

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) was a 20-century American artist and photographer known for his images of Native-American tribes west of the Mississippi. Complete with 20 folios and 20 text volumes, The North American Indian is one of the most stunning and ambitious photographically illustrated books ever produced.

Documenting the “vanishing race” of Native Americans, Curtis anticipated the project would take 15 years to complete. This legendary project was initially endorsed by President Theodore Roosevelt, who introduced Curtis to his first patron J.P. Morgan, the legendary bibliophile and financier. Morgan directed Curtis to make “the handsomest ever produced.” He advanced Curtis $75,000 for five years, after which his son invested an additional $300,000 to facilitate its production.

Detroit native John King has been a book seller for more than four decades. “This set, which contains splendid rare photographic folio plates, many with Curtis’ signature and accompanying handsome text volumes, parallels the importance of the original Audubon,” King said, “and deserves to be shared with collectors who can appreciate its scarcity, artistry and the recording of a great peoples.”