Selling the North American Indian:
The Work of Edward Curtis

Created by Valerie Daniels, June 2002

Back to Becoming Edward Curtis

Outline of the North American Indian Project, by Edward S. Curtis, 1906.

The plan in mind is to make a complete publication, showing pictures and including text of every phase of Indian life of all tribes yet in a primitive condition, taking up the type, male and female, child and adult, their home structure, their environment, their handicraft, games, ceremonies, etc.; dividing the whole into twenty volumes containing fifteen hundred full page plates, the text to treat the subject much as the pictures do, going fully into their history, life and manners, ceremony, legends and mythology, treating it in rather a broad way so that it will be scientifically accurate, yet if possible, interesting reading. It is presumed that I and my field assistant will collect and compile the text [which] will later be turned over to men in the scientific field, recognized as authorities, to edit, thus affording unquestionable authenticity.

In addition to the book, the plan includes the publication of seven hundred of the more important pictures in the size now on display 14 x 17 to be placed in portfolios containing 35 pictures each. Illustrations, both large and small, to be of the best photogravure work, and both pictures and text on the best paper. Binding and paper to be such that it will be as lasting as paper can be made. It has been estimated by publishers that a work of this nature would have to sell at five thousand dollars a set, and that one hundred sets could be disposed of in this country and abroad. To finish the field work will require five more years at an approximate annual expense of $15,000 for the five years'--$75,000.

One suggested plan for securing the necessary money for the field work is to interest some one of means in the work, getting him to make an advance subscription to the amount of field expenses, he having that equivalent in sets of the work for distribution to such institutions as he may see fit to so honor, with the understanding that he receive credit for his patronage of the work by its being published as his edition, whatever the title might be. These sets furnished him will represent the greater part of my royalty from the publishers on the publication. To show my good faith in the matter, all negative plates could be kept in a safe deposit vault with such patron having a mortgage over the same.

As the collection now stands, it represents the expenditure of a number of years of time and some $25,000 in money on the work.

To further safeguard the patron of the work, I could insure my life, if necessary, for the amount of his subscription to reimburse him in case I should not live to finish the work.

A Second Suggested Plan of Reimbursing the Patron of the Work.

The complete results of the field research will exceed ten thousand of the large pictures. An agreement could be made between the patron and myself that he should receive one copy of the final publication and a sufficient number of the pictures to cover the amount of his subscription. I have suggested this thinking that the patron might prefer to have this complete collection at one museum rather than the several copies of the publication or distribution to different institutions.

Reprinted in: Gidley, Mick. Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, Incorporated. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Back to Becoming Edward Curtis