Auction: Edward S. Curtis' 'The North American Indian'
Swann Auction Galleries auctions off a rare set of the photographer's famous series.
Photography: Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries
Detroit bookseller John King knows a treasure when he sees one. Which is why he’s very pleased to be offering at auction a complete set of Edward S. Curtis’ famous The North American Indian during the Swann Auction Galleries Fine Photographs & Photobooks Sale on October 4.
Curtis began work on this project in 1906 after securing J.P. Morgan as a financial backer. Morgan had initially dismissed Curtis before the meeting had ended, but the ambitious photographer opened his portfolio anyway. Impressed with his audacity and talent, Morgan agreed to pay Curtis $5,000 a year for the next five years. The final work was published in a limited edition of 500 and sold through subscriptions.
This rare set, number 113 of that original 500, includes 722 large-format photogravures with 111 signed plates. The accompanying 20 text volumes, which were produced by Lauriat from Curtis’ original copper plates, contain an additional 1,505 photogravures. The set, King says, “deserves to be shared with collectors who can appreciate its scarcity, artistry, and the recording of a great peoples.” But it will be limited to those who can come up with enough coin to snag the winning bid of an estimated $1.25 to $1.75 million. Whatever the final gavel comes down on, the figure would have staggered Curtis, who was once so broke he was arrested for failing to pay alimony.
UPDATE (Oct. 8, 2012): According to representatives of Swann Galleries, the Curtis set sold for a record-setting $1.44 million — the most paid for a single lot in Swann's 70-year history.