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Rare Books is pleased to announce the launch of the Curtis Census, a website produced by Tim Greyhavens for the global community. The J. Willard Marriott Library is one of the institutions that holds an entire set of Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian.

From Tim’s website: “Published by Edward Curtis from 1907 to 1930, The North American Indian was planned to be a limited edition of 500 sets. Due to the extremely high cost of the publication and the prolonged publication cycle, it’s thought that no more than 300 complete or partial sets were finally printed. This census will determine, as accurately as possible, the actual number of complete or partial sets that were printed and their present locations…Although The North American Indian is one of the great publications of all time, there is no definitive answer about how many sets were originally published. Curtis did not keep a master subscription list, and different documentation about the project provides conflicting information.”

Congratulations, Tim, on a great project.

Click here for the website’s biography of Edward Curtis. Curtis was born in 1868. 2018 is the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Click here for the website’s excellent article on Curtis’s The North American Indian.

Visit Rare Books to look at this remarkable set of photogravures.

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952)
Seattle, WA: E. S. Curtis, 1907-30
E77 C97

A collection of 2,232 photogravures of American Indians taken between 1890 and 1930 and published between 1907 and 1930. A massive project, professional photographer Edward Curtis’ intention was to document every major tribe west of the Mississippi, portraying what he perceived to be a vanishing culture. While he was neither the first nor the last person to photograph the American Indian, he was surely the most prolific. His monumental publication presented to the public an extensive ethnographic study of numerous peoples.

The North American Indian consists of twenty portfolios of photogravures and twenty volumes of field notes bound with smaller gravures. A photogravure is made from a printing process utilizing a copper plate that is made from a glass positive which itself is made from a glass negative. The plate is hand wiped with sepia inks. Excess ink is removed and the plate is forced onto paper with a handpress, capturing all the etched details on the plate. The photogravure produces a soft, atmospheric appearance similar to that achieved by French Impressionist painters. This photographic process, along with drawing and painting on negatives, platinotypes and gum prints, was popular at the end of the nineteenth century. The movement, known as “Pictorialism” was a way for photographers to add personal vision and expression to their works.

The portfolio gravures were printed on three different papers, Van Gelder, a watermarked paper, Vellum, a rice paper, and Tissue, Japanese handmade silk tissues. Forty of the original sets were printed on Tissue, the rest equally split between Van Gelder and Vellum.

Images selected and scanned by Scott Beadles.