The RARE 31 PLATE ISSUE of George Catlin’s ‘North American Indian Portfolio’ which contains the extra 6 original plates not found in any other edition. WITH the title and contents leaves often omitted. ‘Catlin’s ‘North American Indian Portfolio’ is one of the most impressive books of Western Americana, ranking behind only the Bodmer atlas to Maximilian’s travels and the Edward Curtis portfolios in major illustrated works on the West’ (Reese, 2017).
Catlin (1796-1872) was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and became a noted portrait artist who was one of a very few who wished to record native American Indian life before it disappeared for ever. Following a meeting with a delegation of tribal Indians from western Pennsylvania, he came to believe that their way of life was endangered and that a record of it was essential. He first travelled west with Governor William Clark in 1830 on a mission up the Mississippi River. He spent the next seven years travelling the entire Mississippi Valley studying the Indians if the Great Plains, producing over 500 paintings in the process.
Returning to the east coast in 1838, he set up a travelling Indian Gallery and attempted to sell the collection to the United States Government. Neither proved successful, so in 1839 he crossed the Atlantic to England. He took his tour to London, Paris, and Brussels where he had greater success. In 1841 he published the two-volume octavo ‘Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians’. Encouraged by its success, he planned a grand folio work. ‘Catlin had originally hoped to create an even larger work, with four portfolios and a total of one hundred plates, but his financial mismanagement doomed the project and only one portfolio was issued’ (Reese, 2017).
‘The ‘North American Indian Portfolio’ was published in 1844 with 25 plates. He emotionally recorded in the Preface that ‘The history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country and becoming their historian’. Financial difficulties forced him to cede the rights to Henry Bohn, the successful London publisher.
Bohn reissued the work through the 1860s ‘when he sold the copyright, along with the rest of his publishing empire, to the firm of Chatto & Windus. The new publishers discovered that Catlin had prepared six more lithographic stones which had never been used. These were made in 1844, when Catlin had projected more portfolios, but had sat with the printer ever since’ (Reese, 2017). These six rare unnumbered lithographs comprise two portraits, a group portrait of Ojibways, two tribal dance scenes, and a hunting scene.
This edition was published in the usual three issues: with tinted or hand‑coloured lithographs, as found here and a handful printed on card. It is recorded that only 350 copies of this edition were printed, of which there are likely no more than about thirty extant examples of the coloured issue. A very good example bound by the highly regarded firm of Zaehnsdorf.
‘These beautiful scenes of Indian life are probably the most truthful ever presented to the public’ (Field). The body of work he left is exceptional, both in its scope and in the compassionate understanding that his images constantly demonstrate. Provenance: private English collection since c.1981. Abbey ‘Travel’ (1956) 653; Field (1973) 258; Howes (1962) C243; Reese (2017) ‘Best of the West’ 81; Sabin (1868-1936) 11532; Truettner (1979); Tyler (1994) pp. 46-55; Wagner-Camp (1982) 105a.