Edward Sheriff Curtis
Vintage Edition Photogravures
Holland Van Gelder Paper, Portfolio-sized: 22″ x 18″
We are incredibly fortunate to have come into a collection of exceptional Edward Curtis photogravures from Portfolios 4, 6 and 7 of his incredible undertaking, The North American Indian. These images have been in a private Montana collection for over 50 years; none have ever been framed, and in fact they’ve seldom been out of the storage folder except for occasional viewing. The tribes represented are largely regional – images from Portfolios 4 and 6 depict the Aparoke, Cheyenne and Piegan peoples, and Portfolio 7 depicts tribes from far northwest Montana to the west coast, including the Flathead, Kalispel, Kittitas, Klickitat, Nespilim and Yakima.
These photogravures are from two distinct timeframes with regards to the printing. Images from Portfolio 7 are true vintage photogravures, printed by John Andrew and Son of Boston, MA for Edward Curtis. These photogravures date from 1907 to 1930, and are printed on a handmade paper from Holland known as Van Gelder, one of three specified by Curtis for his portfolio images. Curtis originally intended to sell 500 sets of his magnum opus The North American Indian – twenty volumes of ethnographic information and photographs, each accompanied by a portfolio of larger images – but ultimately fewer than 290 sets were printed before his failing health and financial ruin ended the project. Of those, over 220 are known complete collections held by institutions or private parties, so individual prints such as these are exceedingly rare.
Tweedweave Edition Photogravures
Tweedweave Paper, Portfolio-sized: 22″ x 18″
The Great Depression ultimately brought an end to Curtis’ dream, and all of the remaining photogravures and the copper printing plates were sold in 1935 to Charles Lauriat, a rare book dealer in Boston. This inventory included 17 sets of photogravures from Portfolios 12-20, so in 1967 Lauriat printed 17 copies of each image from Portfolios 1-11 to create complete sets for sale. The photogravures we have from Portfolios 4 and 6 come from this printing, and are known as either the Tweedweave edition, named after the paper they are printed on, or as the Sorini edition, after Emiliano Sorini, the engraver who completed the work. Although these Tweedweaves are even more rare than the vintage photogravures since there are just 17 of each one, they are considered “restrikes” because they were not printed at Curtis’ behest, and as such they do not command the higher prices of the original vintage prints. Still, the quality is undeniable – they were pulled from the original copper plates by a master engraver, and are now over 50 years old! The Tweedweave photogravures allow one to collect Edward Curtis’ work at a very reasonable price.
At some point in the 1970s Lauriat sold the copper engraving plates, and since then a number of restrikes, particularly of the more famous images, have been printed. Various business and individuals have controlled the plates, and prints are still being made from the plates today; in fact, many of the copper engraving plates are currently listed for sale by a notable California art consultant. The key to identifying the age and originality of a Curtis photogravure lies in the paper itself, and in the provenance of each print or collection.
About Edward Sheriff Curtis
Born in 1868 near Whitewater, Wisconsin, Edward Sheriff Curtis became one of America’s finest photographers and ethnologists. Beginning in 1896 and ending in 1930, Curtis photographed and documented every major Native American tribe west of the Mississippi, taking over 40,000 negatives of eighty tribes. For thirty years, he devoted his life to an odyssey of photographing and documenting the lives and traditions of the Native people of North America. His photographs had an immense impact on the national imagination and continue to shape the way we see Native life and culture.
Curtis’ work is not without its critics, and some dismiss him as a romantic. He went to great lengths to reconstruct the past, with the intent of capturing the essence of Native Americans and their traditional culture, though not necessarily their circumstances in 1900. Perhaps his most important legacy is his expression of an extraordinary sympathy with the personal sand spiritual lives of the American Indian. In this respect Edward S. Curtis stands alone among the photographers of Native American. His methods may have been controversial, but what a legacy he recorded for us.