Edward S. Curtis' North American Indian

Bloomsbury Auctions | London | 15th December 2016

Edward S. Curtis' The North American Indian

Bloomsbury Auctions is delighted to be offering the books and photogravure prints from Edward Sheriff Curtis' anthropological masterpiece, The North American Indian as part of their Books, Photographs and Other Works on Paper sale on 15th of December 2016 (1:30pm). This ethnographical survey by photographer and chronicler, Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) remains one of the most significant and powerful insights into the world of the indigenous peoples of North America. The sale this December, which will take place at Bloomsbury House, 24 Maddox Street, London, will include volumes one to thirteen of the twenty volume series alongside a large number of the original accompanying portfolio plates. Many of the portfolio plates, which carry attractive estimates ranging from £300 to £1,800, will be offered as separate lots, intended to appeal to a broad selection of budgets and collectors.

The North American Indian documents over eighty distinct native peoples from the culture areas of the trans-Mississippi west. The volumes contain a huge repository of ethnographic information including the outlines of social organisation, biographies of key leaders, myths and more.

Volume 1-13 of The North American Indian

Volume 1-13 of The North American Indian, Lot 200, £60,000 - £80,000

Mosa Mohave, plate 61 from the portfolio series

Mosa Mohave, Lot 251, £1,500 - £2,000

The books and portfolios were originally issued to subscribers between 1907 and 1930, each volume and set of plates supposedly one of 500 copies (most likely a smaller run). These volumes therefore only entered the major libraries and homes of the super-rich. The set featuring in the auction was subscribed to by Sir William Northrup McMillan (1872-1925), an American industrialist and friend of Theodore Roosevelt, the latter who provided the foreword to The North American Indian. Russell Mount, cataloguer of the Curtis Lots at Bloomsbury Auctions notes, "a set with an intriguing connection to Roosevelt, the President being first a portrait subject of Curtis, then soon his friend, supporter, and confidant. Roosevelt's encouragement to persevere with the project of The North American Indian was of inestimable importance to Curtis."

The volumes (Lot 200, Est: £60,000-80,000) incorporate 983 plates with photogravures taken by Curtis himself. Curtis' 'documentary pictures' cover portraiture, tribal arts & crafts, shamanisitic rituals, maps and plans. Lots 201-518 are comprised of the larger-format photogravure plates issued in the portfolios and include many of the more famous photographic images such as Mosa - Mohave which sees the subject powerfully returning the viewer's gaze.

Appealing to collectors of both photography and Americana alike, the striking photographic portraits of tribal chiefs, men, women and children are documented alongside landscapes images. Lot 288, On The Little Bighorn - Apsaroke, 1908 (Est £1,000 - £1,500) and Lot 354 Sun Dance Encampment - Piegan (Est £1,000-£1,500) show the people's ease with the natural world.

Sun Dance Encampment - Piegan

Sun Dance Encampment - Piegan, Lot 354, £1,000-£1,500

Elsewhere, scenes of village life are depicted in Story Telling- Apache (Lot 210 Est: £1,200 - £1,800) and The Blanket Weaver - Navaho (Lot 232, Est £1,000 - £1,500). Although these scenes may have been reconstructed for the camera, they not only capture the dignity and pride of the native peoples, but also document the craftsmanship inherent within the native cultures.


Blanket Weaver - NavahoStory Telling - Apache

The Blanket Weaver - Navaho, Lot 232, £1,000-£1,500) and Story Telling - Apache, Lot 210, £800-£1,200

The collection is preceded by a fascinating introduction from Mick Gidley, Emeritus Professor of American Literature & Culture at the University of Leeds and author of several works on Curtis, including Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated (Cambridge University Press, 1998; paperback, 2000). To read the introduction in full, please click here.

The catalogue is available online on our website as a PDF here, and can also be viewed interactively via Issuu here. If you would like to acquire a copy of the printed catalogue please email the cataloguer Russell Mount.

Oasis in the Badlands

Oasis in the Badlands, Lot 267, £600-£800

A selection of the volumes' images, Lot 200

A selection of the volumes' images, Lot 200, £60,00 - £80,000



A Note on the Paper

The set of books and attendant portfolio plates comprising Lots 200 to 518 are from the Japon Vellum issue, rather than the Van Gelder issue as stated in the catalogue. Our apologies for this confusion.


A Note on Condition

Most of the portfolio plates both with skeins of surface craquelure caused by repeated manipulation and with marginal transverse creases: the effects, on a very few plates, just broaching the impress but never the image; several plates with the slightest cockling and/or a very soft transverse central fold (always on the shorter axis); a few plates with a thread-thin transverse central crease (again, always on the shorter axis); others of the plates in fine condition; a very few with a little marginal foxing or dampstaining. Almost all plates with their original tissue guards: guards toned, a few guards a little soiled, several with marginal nicks and/or short closed tears. Condition reports are available upon request.