Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2018 Issue

The Curtis Census – Locating Every Extant Copy of Edward Curtis' North American Indian


In 1906 Edward Curtis took on a massive project. Curtis was a self-taught photographer, a man with no more than an eighth grade education who managed to set up a studio in Seattle doing photographic portraits. Along the way, he met noted anthropologist George Bird Grinnell, who invited him along as a photographer on the Harriman expedition to Alaska in 1899. The following year, Grinnell asked him to visit a Blackfoot tribe in Montana. Curtis' fate was sealed.


On returning to Seattle, he began running exhibitions of his photography and publishing magazine articles. He next hatched the idea to produce a mammoth work on America's natives, both text and photographs. Such an undertaking was well beyond his means. Curtis approached someone for whom it was not, J. Pierpont Morgan, one of the richest men in the world. Morgan, who undoubtedly got many such requests, initially brushed him off, but with persistence, Curtis was able to secure $75,000 from Morgan. Indeed, Morgan pushed him to create "the most beautiful set of books ever published."


What Curtis produced lived up to Morgan's wishes. The New York Herald called it "the most ambitious enterprise in publishing since the production of the King James Bible." As Curtis explained in his prospectus, the work would consist of 20 volumes of text of approximately 350 pages each, containing 1,500 full-page photographic plates, many hand colored. There would also be 20 portfolios, each with thirty-six 12" x 16" photogravure plates, bringing the number of large photographs to 2,220. The sets would be printed on high quality paper with leather bindings. The regular set would sell for $3,000, the deluxe for $3,850. That amounts to roughly $75,000 and $100,000 today. The foreword was provided by another supporter of the project, the naturalist-conservationist President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.


The schedule, Curtis explained, would be three volumes a year, completing the project in seven years, or 1914. Curtis missed that target by a mile. The final volume was released in 1930, 23 rather than seven years later. The project dominated Curtis' life and dissipated his resources. His wife divorced him as he was away for so long. The stock market crash made it impossible to sell more once the project was completed. By 1930, people didn't care much about Indians anymore anyway. His ex-wife sued him for alimony. He required hospitalization after a mental breakdown. He tried to write his memoirs, but they were never published. Curtis died in 1952, broke, he and his work essentially forgotten. It would take another couple of decades before he gained the recognition he has today.


More recently, Tim Greyhavens has also taken on a massive project. Perhaps it is not quite so massive as the one undertaken by Curtis, but nonetheless, an enormous challenge of its own, especially since Morgan is no longer around to finance his venture. Greyhavens is trying to find the location of every copy of Curtis' The North American Indian still extant. Many can readily be located in libraries, but not all libraries have records easily available online, and those in private collections are much harder to track down. It has been close to a century now since they left Curtis' hands.


Curtis' plan was to produce 500 copies of his set. However, it is believed that no more than 300 were ever produced. Morgan died in 1913, and after that, funding became more difficult. As of this writing, Greyhavens has definitively located 134 copies. He has found historical references to another 170 copies, or 304 if totaled up. However, it is likely some of these are inaccurate, or possibly duplicates. Unfortunately, Curtis was stretched so thin with his work he did not keep records.


The sets were supposed to be numbered, with the highest number Greyhavens has found 474. However, there are some significant gaps in the numbering, along with an occasional duplicate, some unnumbered copies, and some with different numbers in different volumes, including one known to be the same as originally received, not a later combined set.


We asked Greyhavens what ever led him to get involved in a project of this magnitude. He responded by email, "I’m a data geek at heart, so when I first looked at the numbers (“only” 300 or so possible sets) I thought that it was really a small dataset to take on. I now realize that the number alone is misleading since there are so many intricacies to the publication. Nonetheless, I love a good mystery, and the game is afoot!"


It should be noted that in hindsight, Curtis gets some critical reviews. His purpose was noble in that he wanted to preserve what was still left of native culture now a century or more under the influence of non-indigenous society. He naturally saw Indians through the eyes of a white man, at times staging photographs to be consistent with what he believed to be accurate. Still, none of this diminishes the fact that he created an enormous trove of data and photography of America's natives earlier than anyone else on this level, preserving much of their history and culture that would otherwise have been lost.


Greyhavens project is called the Curtis Census. There is a wonderful, detailed website he has created, www.curtiscensus.com. You will learn much about Curtis and his book from it. Most importantly, you will find a current census of the books he has found (and other copies he thinks still exist), with details such as where they are located, condition, original subscriber, original cost, and sequence number. He also has a favor to ask of those who share his enthusiasm for Curtis and his census. He is seeking volunteers for the project, and of particular note, if you are aware of a copy not on his census, such as one in private hands, he would especially like to hear. There is a contact form to reach him on the census website.


Link to the Curtis Census: www.curtiscensus.com

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000

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