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The Edward S. Curtis Collection

About the Collection

The North American Indian, being a series of Volumes Picturing and Describing the Indians of the United States and Alaska. New York (printed in Cambridge, Massachussetts: Edward S. Curtis), 1907-30. 40 Volumes (20 quarto text volumes and 20 portfolios of plates).

  • The text volumes include 1,505 photographs. The portfolios include a total of 723 mounted prints.
  • Although 500 sets of this work were projected, the actual number of sets that were printed and sold is assumed to have been 280 sets.
  • A majority of the sets were numbered and signed and dated by Curtis (at the end of his General Introduction in Text Volume I). The Carnegie Library set is unnumbered and unsigned.
  • Edward S. Curtis originally predicted that the North American Indian project would take five to six years to complete at a cost of approximately $25,000.
  • Funded by J. Pierpont Morgan and enthusiastically supported by Theodore Roosevelt, Curtis began publication in 1907. The set was offered to subscribers in a selection of three paper stocks and a variety of bindings, at a cost from $3,000 to $4,000 per set. Only 214 subscriptions were originally sold.
  • Curtis was obsessed with his project and saw it through to completion, even though the last volume did not appear until 1930, and the cost had escalated to a million and a half dollars. By this time Curtis was in poor health and serious financial trouble. He was finally forced into bankruptcy, and the contents of his publishing company were purchased by a Boston bookstore.
  • Eventually, the bookshop bound a few more copies of the set from the loose plates left in inventory and sold them, bringing the total number of sets to around 280.
  • The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh purchased this set in 1947 with funds from the Annie M. Mellor Fund.
  • A monumental work, Curtis' North American Indian Portfolio is considered to be the finest and most valuable ever done on the American and Alaskan Indian and Eskimo. It is the most comprehensive work on the Native American Indian as well as a landmark in the history of photography.
  • The complete set of The North American Indain Portfolio is housed in the William R. Oliver Special Collections Room of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Related Pittsburgh Resources


Further Reading

Adam, Hans-Christian
Edward Sheriff Curtis, 1868-1952
Curtis's massive photographic projects document all aspects of life, landscapes, and society of Native Americans, from 1895 to 1930. 180 illustrations.
q E77.5.A33 1999x
Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952
The Many Faces of Edward Sherriff Curtis: Portraits and Stories from Native North America
While many books have explored the artistic value of Curtis' photographs, The Many Faces of Edward Sherriff Curtis documents his contributions to the field of anthropology.
q E89.C875 2006
Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952
Sacred Legacy: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian
In this landmark volume, almost 200 of the finest examples of Curtis's photographs are reproduced with startling fidelity to his original prints.
q E77.5.C85 2000
Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952
The Women
The first collection of Edward S. Curtis' stunning, evocative and hugely popular portraits of Native American Women--with never-before-published images.
q E77.5.C87 2005x

Edward S. Curtis Web Resources


Native American Web Resources