About this Collection
The Curtis collection consists of more than 2,400 silver-gelatin, first generation photographic prints--some of which are sepia-toned--made from Curtis's original glass negatives. Most of the photographic prints are 5" x 7" although nearly one hundred are 11" x 14" and larger; many include the Curtis file or negative number within the image at the lower left-hand corner.
Images from each of the geo-cultural regions documented in The North American Indian are represented in the collection: the Pacific Northwest, New Southwest, Great Basin, Great Plains, Plateau Region, California, and Alaska. Included are both studio and field photographs. A large number are individual or group portraits, and many subjects are identified by name. Other subjects include traditional and ceremonial dress, dwellings and other structures, agriculture, arts and crafts, rites and ceremonies, dances, games, food preparation, transportation, and scenery.
Acquired by the Library of Congress through copyright deposit from about 1900 through 1930, the dates on the images reflect date of registration, not when the photograph was actually taken. About two-thirds (1,608) of these images were not published in the North American Indian volumes and therefore offer a different and unique glimpse into Curtis's work with indigenous cultures. The original glass plate negatives--most of which had been stored and nearly forgotten in a basement of New York's Morgan Library--were unwittingly dispersed during World War II. Many others were destroyed and some were sold as junk. Although the Prints and Photographs Division does not hold any of the few existing original glass negatives, copy negatives for many of the photographic prints have been made by the Library's Duplication Services unit.
Arrangement and Access
Arrangement of the Photographic Prints
The Library of Congress staff organized the photographs into twenty-two groups (LOTs 12310 through 12331) primarily by geographical area and thereunder by tribal group and, when a Curtis number exists, numerically by the number Curtis assigned to the image. LOT 12331 consists of 11" x 14" and larger photographs, representing several different peoples, grouped together because of the photographs' size. A complete alphabetical list of tribal groups represented in the collection, followed by corresponding LOT number and corresponding North American Indian volume number is available in the Tribe Index. It is also available in the Curtis finding aid in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room.
Automated Records for Individual Images and LOT Descriptions
More than 1,000 photographs have been digitized in response to requests for reproductions and for special projects. Descriptions for each of thge twenty-two LOTs summarize the contents of the groups of photographs. Online searches across all categories in the online catalog for a specific tribal group (such as "Hopi" and "Cayuse") or subject (such as "ceremonies" and "baskets") will yield appropriate individual images as well as appropriate LOT descriptions.
Access to the Photographic Prints
The original photographic prints in LOTS 12310 through 12331 can be viewed in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. Note that these LOTs contain some images which have been neither described nor digitized currently.
The North American Indian
A reprint of the original Curtis work is housed in the Prints and Photographs Division reference book collection [LC call number: E77 C98 and E77 C98 suppl]. The first twenty volumes contain illustrations and text. Twenty supplemental sections consisting of large reproductions of the original photogravures are bound in an additional four volumes. The North American Indian volumes in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room have been marked with a LOT number and any existing Curtis file number and reproduction number when a corresponding photographic print can be found in a Curtis Collection LOT. A complete alphabetical list of tribal groups with corresponding LOT number and The North American Indian volume number is located at the beginning of each large supplemental volume.
Card Indexes in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room
The Edward S. Curtis shelflist by Curtis number is arranged by Curtis file number (by title for images without a number). Most cards note Curtis number, LOT number, title, copyright date, tribal group, geographical location, reproduction number, and description. If the image was published in The North American Indian, the volume and plate or page number are also noted. A second card index is arranged by LOT number and tribal group.