Edward S. Curtis’ ‘The North American Indian’ Sells for $1.44 Million at Auction

A detail from Edward S. Curtis' portrait of Chief Joseph

Indian Country Today

A rare complete set of Edward S. Curtis’ The North American Indian was sold at auction for $1.44 million on October 4.

The price was solidly in the expected range, which as previously reported was $1.25 million to $1.75 million. It was also a record high for the auction house, Swann Galleries, which held the first photobook auction in the United States in 1952.

“The price reflects the rarity and beauty of this American masterpiece and the interest in photobooks as an artform,” said Daile Kaplan, Swann Vice President and Director of Photographs & Photobooks, according to a release.

The set was consigned by John King, who said Curtis’ work “parallels the importance of the original Audobon,” according to a report at ArtDaily. King added that the set “deserves to be shared with collectors who can appreciate its scarcity, artistry and the recording of a great peoples.”

The massive set sold at Swann Galleries consists of 20 folios, containing over 700 photographs, and 20 text volumes that contain over 1500 smaller photographs. But it’s not the only Edward S. Curtis book to go to market in recent days—a biography, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, went on sale today, October 9. The book, by National Book Award winner Timothy Egan, tells the story of the life of a man whose work has defined the image of American Indians more than anything else. Curtis, Egan told NPR, started out “knowing that he had a commodity in these Indians … but slowly, one tribe after the other, he changes. Now, he never went full native, or as they called it, ‘gone to the blanket,’ but as he became broken and old, and had things taken away from him, he truly saw the Native world from their perspective.”