Edward Curtis and John Andrew & Son; A Curious Connection
Updated: Feb 20, 2022
Through the years I wondered how Edward Curtis came to hire John Andrew & Son to produce these incredible pieces of photo/art. There had to be a link somewhere... After considerable research, here is my theory.
When I was growing up, there was always this stack of pictures of Native Americans piled high on a side table in the corner of our sun porch in my Massachusetts home. As an 8-year-old boy, those old photographs meant little to me. It was not until many years later that I came to understand their significance. You see, my great grandfather was George T. Andrew, the man who printed photogravures for Edward Curtis. So that explains the pile of pictures of Native Americans I recall seeing as a young boy! Those photos were the 12" X 16" portfolio size pictures my great grandfather George printed from the glass plate negatives created by Curtis, which were then included in the seminal 20-volume collection of photogravures and narratives that Curtis titled The North American Indian.
On this 178th anniversary of George's birth, July 21, 1842, I would like to reflect a bit on his life. After training as an engraver in Germany, George apprenticed under his father, John Andrew, who was quite the talent. In fact, John engraved all the pictures in the 1859 Webster's Illustrated Dictionary, the first one of that type in America. When George was just 17-years-old, he helped his father engrave the 1864 edition of the dictionary.
John and George started John Andrew & Son as their engraving company in the 1860's. Up to that time, they each did business under their own names. With the new business venture, they worked together on high quality engravings.
After his father’s death in 1870, George carried on the family business. At the time, George was engraving primarily in wood, and he illustrated books for many famous authors including: Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louisa May Alcott, Edgar Allan Poe, and many others. George then switched to metal engraving around 1900. At that point, he began doing more with photogravures, concentrating on politicians, judges, famous buildings and well-known people, in addition to copying works of art for inclusion in books. These photogravures were made by transferring the photographic images to copper plates thru a complex process which included chemically etching the photo into the plate. The plate was then inked, wiped to remove all the ink except that in the etched details, and printed in a press. The inking and wiping process was repeated for each additional copy.
Those pictures on our sun porch were passed down to my grandfather, my father, and now to my brothers and myself. After attending a lecture on Curtis at Dartmouth College, I reached out and connected with John Graybill, great grandson of Curtis, and presently I am on the Board of Directors at the Curtis Legacy Foundation.
In 1903, art historian August F. Jaccaci developed an interest in publishing a book on private art collections. He felt that most collectors would not lend their works of art to museums for display, so a book on this topic was important to publish and share with the public. To lend credibility to the book, as Jaccaci was not an artist himself, he invited John LaFarge, an American painter and stained glass artist, to be his partner on the project. Their original idea was to publish 8 volumes, each with about 500 pages of text and 50 bound photogravures. After starting the project and interviewing several art collectors, it appeared there was a lot more art out there! My research has found that he located, photographed, and documented over 100 of these personal and private collections.
The project grew...They settled on a 15 volume set, each volume accompanied by a portfolio with loose photogravures matching those bound in. The loose photogravures were printed on India paper, a very thin handmade paper (many bibles are printed on India), mounted on heavy vellum, and matted for framing. Both the book and portfolio would measure 15 1/2" X 20 1/2", and be printed on hand made imported paper. One copy on Roman Vellum, 10 copies upon Shidzuoka Japan hand-made paper, and 115 copies on French hand-made Papier de Rives, for a total of 126 sets. The work was to be sold by subscription, at a price of $15,000 payable at $1,000 per volume upon its completion. Jaccaci was to write about each collection, and invited experts would write essays on each painting featured. This series was titled: "Noteworthy Paintings in American Private Collections."
Quoting from the 1909 prospectus, which was a book in itself, titled Concerning Noteworthy Paintings in American Private Collections. "For a thorough study of the originals, these need to be explicit and trustworthy. In the case of such a work as ours, it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance attaching to the choice of the engraver who reproduces the pictures, that is, who translates the originals in color into black & white reproductions. After careful and thorough consideration of the best examples of the European engravers, the work was entrusted to an American firm."... " Mr. George Andrew of Boston, head of the firm of John Andrew and Son, comes of a family of engravers to whom the accurate translation into black and white of color and tonal value is an hereditary accomplishment." 1 George T. Andrew, my Great Grandfather, created the copper plates and printed all of the photogravures for this endeavor.
Most of the groundwork for this series was in place long before Volume 1 was published. By July of 1904, in a letter that I located to a gallery owner in Berlin, Germany, Jaccaci writes that they had lined up all the leading writers and all the major American collectors for all the volumes. Volume 1 was published in 1909, even though the title page is dated 1907. It featured collections of Isabella Stewart Gardner, John Hay, Alfred Atmore Pope, Albert A. Sprague, and Herbert L. Terrell. The list of collectors for future volumes included J. Pierpont Morgan. As of 1904, Morgan's collection had been photographed and pages of notes taken. (All of this is in a file at the Smithsonian.) So, when Edward Curtis met with Mr. Morgan in 1906 to discuss funding for his "North American Indian" project, it comes as no surprise that many of the requirements that Morgan asked of Curtis were much the same as in the proposed series by Jaccaci. Among these were; the best imported handmade papers, top quality bindings, sales by subscription, volumes of an appropriate dimension, separate photogravures in a portfolio, and perhaps the selection of the engraver to create the copper plates and print the photogravures!
But Circumstances Change...Not long after Jaccaci's volume 1 was published, John LaFarge suffered an "untimely death." Even though most of Volume 2 was complete, Jaccaci moved to France and abandoned the project. All of his papers regarding this series are in the Smithsonian. Fortunately, Edward Curtis was more successful in his venture, although his work consumed almost 30 years! John Andrew & Son (under George's supervision) created all of the engraved copper plates, and supplied all the photogravures, created to Curtis' specifications, both in the text and portfolios, for "The North American Indian" Volumes 1-11. After that, John Andrew & Son became a department of Suffolk Engraving and Electrotyping who completed the photogravures for Volumes 12-20.
So, What Do YOU Think? Is this how Edward Curtis, on the west coast, found John Andrew & Son on the east coast? My research has led me to believe that great grandfather George's work with Jaccaci really did connect him to Edward Curtis, most likely thru the relationships with J. P. Morgan. All of the parties involved were concerned with putting out the absolutely finest work that could be produced, sparing no cost. Check out the images that Curtis produced, whether processed as photogravures, platinum prints, gold-tones, or Curt-tones and you will see the respect and honor that Mr. Curtis had for the North American Natives really shows in these powerful images.
I am proud to be George's great grandson, and remembering him on this anniversary of his birth. I also feel honored to be a member of the Board of Directors of the Curtis Legacy Foundation. I am always striving to learn more. If you have any additional information on ANY of these topics, please share them with us!
1. Quoted from Concerning Noteworthy Paintings in American Private Collections. LaFarge, John;
Jaccaci, August F. , 1909, Not under copyright.
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