What the Amon Carter Museum has purchased is a single copy of The North American Indian, considered a landmark in photography, American history and native Indian anthropology (a complete, online digital version is available here).
Photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis was hired by millionaire magnate J. P. Morgan in 1906 to document all that remained of traditional native Indian life and culture. Morgan offered Curtis $75,000 to produce a 20-volume set with 1,500 photogravures. Curtis shot more than 40,000 images from 80 tribes and made more than 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indians speaking. In many instances, Curtis’ work is the only recorded history of these tribes and their leaders.
The resulting epic production, The North American Indian, was published from 1907 to 1930. Five hundred sets of the book were originally planned, but although all 20 volumes were completed, the Depression cut the print run short at 222. Many fewer than that number exist today. Curtis lost control of his studio and many of his negatives in a divorce settlement and later went bankrupt, further obscuring his achievement. It wasn’t unitl 1977 when the original copper photogravure plates were discovered at the Lauriat Bookshop in Los Angeles that Curtis’ true accomplishment became plain.
The Carter did not release a purchase price. The museum plans an exhibition of the book for December. Curtis was the subject of an American Masters program on PBS.