Edward S. Curtis complete volume at Swann Auction Galleries


Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Being a Series of Volumes Picturing and Describing the Indians of the United States and Alaska.  Volumes 1-20

The photographic book(s) that will be the center piece at the May 14, 2009 Swann Auction Galleries is going to be lot 11 going up for bid at 10:30 AM, a complete volume of the Edward S. Curtis North American Indians. Currently the estimate for this set is $250,000-350,000.

I agree with the assessment; that in the field of photographic literature, Edward S. Curtis’s 20-volume set, “The North American Indian,” is legendary.  Curtis’ celebrated use of the photogravure, the most sophisticated of the photomechanicaltechniques (and the same process employed by Alfred Stieglitz on the pages of “Camera Work”) depicts Native American figures with startling verisimilitude.  His remarkable aesthetic reformulated the photobook as one in which images and text were considered equal partners.

Written, Illustrated and Published by Edward S. Curtis.  Edited by Frederick Webb Hodge.  Foreword by Theodore Roosevelt.  Each lavishly illustrated with sepia-toned photogravures on Van Gelder paper.  Large 4tos, ¾ gilt-lettered morocco.  References:  Roth 36; Parr/Badger I 73; Hasselblad 48; Auer 94.  set number 130 of a planned edition of 500 copies, volume one signed by Edward S. Curtis.  Published by The University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1907-1930.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Auction Galleries Director of Photographic Literature and Prints,  recently stated;  

Swann is delighted to be offering Edward Curtis’s 20-volume set, “The North American Indian,” in our May 14th sales of Photographic Literature and Photographs.  Curtis’s lavish production, with its sumptuous morocco bindings and 1500 photogravure plates, is the gold standard of photobooks.

The set offered in this lot belonged to the railroad magnate James J. Hill (1838-1916).  In 1878, Hill and his investors purchased the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, later renaming it the Great Northern Railway Company.  A successful businessman who had an abiding respect for the western landscape and native culture, he was an early supporter of the 1908 doctrine of conservation of natural resources.

The single owner set, number 130 from an edition of 272 (of the proposed edition of 500), is on Van Gelder paper.  Each of the volumes has a perforated library stamp on the margin of the title page, and Volume I is signed by Edward S. Curtis.

From the Collection of James J. Hill; to the Hill Library; St. Paul, Minnesota; to A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans, Louisiana; to Bernard’s Gallery, Calabasas, California.

Regarding the condition of the volumes, the following information was provided by Swann Auction Galleries:

The beautiful leather bindings were handled carefully and show light external wear.  Overall the morocco bindings are rich and the gilt-lettering is bright, with particular condition issues noted below.  The front joints of each of the books evidence some wear and the lower portion of the backstrips a slight tonal shift where small labels were removed.

Internally the volumes are tight.  The text block and photogravures are in exceptional condition, and the top gilt edge is a radiant gold.  The pages are generally very clean and the photogravure plates, which have been protected by the original guards, are in excellent condition overall.

Each of the volumes has a perforation hand stamp that reads Hill Library, St. Paul and a small numeric hand stamp on the following page.

Please note that the condition of the bindings is very good to excellent with specific issues noted below:

Vol. I     Chip at top of backstrip, top corners worn on front and rear covers.
Vol. II    Rear top corner worn.
Vol. III   Top corner of front cover bumped and one-quarter inch crimp at bottom left edge.
Vol. IV   Light soiling on cloth of front and rear covers; joints rubbed.
Vol. V   Soiling on cloth, front and rear covers
Vol. VI    Soiling on cloth, front and rear covers
Vol. VII  Bands lightly rubbed.  A few minor chips along joint on front and rear covers
Vol. VIII  Light crimp at bottom of front cover
Vol. XII   Front joint rubbed and one-quarter inch crimp on front cover, at top left
Vol. XIII   Edgewear on front and rear covers; front joint weak.
Vol. XV   Tiny chip on front joint
Vol. XVIII  Board on lower inside front cover is crimped.
Vol. XX   Beautifully hand-colored photogravure plate on frontispiece.  Top edge of backstrip is chipped.

All items are offered for sale subject to Swann Galleries’ standard terms and conditions of sale

By Douglas Stockdale

One thought on “Edward S. Curtis complete volume at Swann Auction Galleries

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