Reprint Editions and Other Important Reproductions of The North American Indian
Updated: Apr 17
Some thirty years after the final volume of Edward Curtis's The North American Indian appeared, knowledge of and interest in Edward Curtis’s monumental opus began to blossom. In 1962 Ralph W. Andrews's book Curtis' Western Indians, with reproductions of Curtis photographs, was published in Seattle (1). Then in 1970 Publisher's Weekly announced a major publishing event, the first full reprint edition of The North American Indian. Soon thereafter the Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibited a selection of Curtis's photographs (2), an exhibition that might just possibly have been the first time the public was able to view these works since Curtis himself mounted his own modest exhibits in New York and other cities during the early decades of the twentieth century in an attempt to bolster sales.
There have been several full or partial reprints and reproductions of the NAI, the appearance of which began with the one mentioned above. In these decades well before the digital world we live in today, publishers of reprinted editions were seeking to provide library users, members of the interested public, and all those with little ability to access the original edition, with the opportunity to see and study Curtis’s work. Many college, university and large public libraries sought out these reprints, as did some collectors. Here are the noteworthy editions.
The first full reprint of NAI was published by the Johnson Reprint Company of New York, and was issued over a nine-year period from 1970 to 1978. This advertisement for the Johnson reprint appeared in the March 30, 1970 issue of Publishers’ Weekly.
To meet the needs of students and other library users, the Johnson Reprint set was meant to be shelved in the general, circulating collections in college, university, and larger public libraries. As might be expected, the bindings are sturdy and the photographic reproductions, though complete, are useful for reference purposes only.
The photograph below shows the first eight of 20 books of the Johnson Reprint Company’s reprint held in Boston University Libraries. They are identical in content to the original books, including all photographs, though smaller; the reprinted books measure 10"x 8", as opposed to the original books which are 12.5”x10”.
The Johnson Reprint Company edition contains the full set of 723 large photogravures, but now they are contained in four bound volumes which are larger than the text volumes but greatly reduced in size from the originals. As shown above, the full set is shelved in the open stacks of BU’s Mugar Library, and the library’s users are able to check them out.
In 1975, as the multi-volume Johnson Reprint edition was being published, Research Publications, a micrographic publishing company in New Haven, Connecticut, filmed set number 50 owned by the Beinecke Library at Yale University, and offered the reels of microfilm for sale to libraries. The drawbacks of microfilm notwithstanding, the microfilm edition could serve as a useful resource for students and researchers in libraries that purchased it, and many did.
During these years of growing interest in Curtis’s work, another reprint edition was being planned by the Classic Gravure Company in Santa Fe, one significantly more grand and close to the original than was Johnson Reprint’s. This quotation is from the 1980 prospectus issued by Classic Gravure:
"An Opportunity! For the second time in this century, the public, …. institutions, regional
libraries, American Indian organizations, scholars, and private collectors of Western Americana and Photographica – have an opportunity to participate in a momentous publishing event.”
Making this edition possible was Classic Gravure's acquisition at auction in 1972 of the original copper plates from Charles E. Lauriat & Company in Boston (3). Excitingly, the company was being encouraged in this endeavor by Curtis’s daughters Florence and Beth. Beaumont Newhall of Eastman House and Fred Eggan, an anthropologist, were recruited to write new introductions.
The first step Classic Gravure took was to divide the contents of NAI into four geographic areas: I. The Southwest, II. The Plains, III. The Plateau, Basin & California, and IV. The Northwest Coast & Eskimo. Their new arrangement would take a "more concise and regional" approach than Curtis's had been. They would produce high-quality photogravures of a selection of 444 of Curtis’s “best and most representative” images, chosen for their photographic composition and historical importance. The selected 444 photogravures, 111 from each of the four geographic area, would be reproduced in portfolios of two different sizes (the larger one with images reproduced in their original size and the smaller one containing images reduced in size). The original texts would be of secondary importance in this new edition; the plan was to drastically edit the twenty books down to four volumes, again one for each geographic area. Each of the resulting four three-volume sets (a text and two portfolios with the 111 photogravures) was to be published in an edition of 228, which when added to the 272 sets believed at that time to have been produced by Curtis's North American Indian Corporation, would equal the 500 sets Curtis originally planned.
The quality of the planned Classic Gravure edition might be fairly compared to Curtis's. The larger images would be reproduced on handmade acid-free paper containing Edward Curtis's signature as watermark, the leather portfolios holding them were to be gold-stamped, letterpress printing on archival paper would comprise the text volumes.
Unfortunately, Classic Gravure's goal turned out to be unreachable; the company was out of business again before the next decade was over. But before that happened they published 99 copies of one text volume, The North American Indian: Southwest, accompanied by its two portfolios of photogravures, and 20 copies of the two portfolios of photogravures representing the Plains tribes. The Southwest set is owned by numerous libraries and museums, but we have found no similar records for photogravures from The Plains portfolios, suggesting most might have broken up rather than ending up in public collections. Individual Classic Gravure folio-sized photogravures do appear today on online shopping sites.
The next important reprinted edition of The North American Indian appeared in in 1997 when the German publisher Taschen, in Cologne, issued for sale in the U.S. a single volume, 768-page book with the title The North American Indian: The Complete Portfolios. Taschen photographed the images in set number 8 in the State and University Library of Lower Saxony in Göttingen, Germany. In addition to the 723 photogravures issued in the portfolios, also in the Taschen book is a selection of hundreds more which appeared in the books. Arranged by volume, the images otherwise do not include Curtis's numbers. Hans Christian Adam, a specialist in historical pictorial material, wrote a lengthy introduction and annotated many of the images. My well-thumbed copy of the Taschen edition (only 7.5 inches high and 5 inches wide), given to me by a friend almost 25 years ago, is pictured here.
The Taschen edition was also issued with a different Curtis portrait on its cover by Karl Blossfeldt, Eugène Atget: Paris and Berlin. Now out-of-print, used copies of both editions can be found on second-hand booksellers’ websites.
Access to The North American Indian to anyone with an Internet connection was finally realized in 2004 when set number 458 in the library at Northwestern University in Illinois was fully digitized. It is freely available on the World Wide Web at http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/ Above is the web page serving as a portal to this digital NAI.
Beginning in 2014 and over the following three years, Christopher Cardozo Fine Art in Minneapolis issued the first of two compete reprints of The North American Indian. The first one, which Cardozo has labeled a republication, was issued in an edition of 75 and is identical in content to the original. The twenty text volumes match the original in size, while the photogravures originally contained in twenty large portfolios were reproduced in five oversize bound volumes. All are handbound in 3\4 leather with archival linen-finished cloth and top edge gilding. The gilt spine stamping on the portfolio volumes is a unique design created specifically for the republication. This custom edition meets the highest artisan bookmaking standards.
More recently in the summer of 2018, Christopher Cardozo Fine Art issued what they refer to as a reference edition of The North American Indian at a reduced price compared to the republication. The text volumes once again appear in twenty volumes produced with archival quality materials, though bound this time in a slightly smaller format. All photogravures have been assembled into four oversized books.
Cardozo used a set previously belonging to Curtis’s editor Frederick Webb Hodge to produce these reprinted editions. The entire source set was conserved and de-acidified before being digitally reproduced. Both of these new editions are available for purchase from Christopher Cardozo Fine Art as I write this (see https://edwardcurtis.com).
Interest in Edward Curtis’s work continues to grow unabated, and books containing some of his photographs appear regularly. Our goal here was to describe the earliest and most significant reprints and reproductions of The North American Indian.
(1) Curtis' western Indians, by Ralph W. Andrews. Seattle: Superior Pub. Co., 1962.
(2) The North American Indians: a selection of photographs by Edward S. Curtis. New York: Aperture, 1972. Published in conjunction with an exhibition held Sept. 7-Oct. 15, 1972, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
(3) I am grateful to Angelo Brutico, one of the original founders of the Classic Gravure Company, for providing many of the details about this publication.