History of the Indian Tribes of North America
Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co., 1872. Item #05472
One of the Finest Artistic and Anthropological Records of the Native Americans ever Published
MCKENNEY, Thomas L. History of the Indian Tribes of North America, with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs. Embellished with One Hundred Portraits from the Indian Gallery in the War Department at Washington. In two Volumes. Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co., 1872.
Two large octavo volumes (10 11/16 x 7 5/8 inches; 272 x 194 mm.). [iv], -450; -541, [1, blank] pp.
Complete with *ninety-nine hand-colored lithographic plates heightened with gum arabic, as enumerated in the list of illustrations at the beginning of each volume (61 in volume one, and 38 in volume two, all with original tissue-guards). Some occasional and very minor foxing otherwise a near fine and clean example, the lithograph plates with superb hand coloring.
Original half dark brown morocco over diced brick-red cloth, spines with five raised bands decoratively ruled and decorated in blind in compartments, second and third compartments lettered in gilt, marbled endpapers. Cloth sides with some minor discoloration, otherwise fine. Small neat blue ink stamp "A. Noel" on top blank margin of both title-pages.
*Most catalogers take their cue from the title page which states 'one hundred illustrations' but this is incorrect as the list of plates makes clear. The plates are after illustrations, chiefly by Charles Bird King, selected from the Indian Gallery, of important chiefs and characteristic individuals in native dress from the various Indian tribes and nations of pre-1830 America.
This work was first published in three volumes in folio between 1836 and 1844, with 120 hand colored plates. It was reissued in octavo with the plates reduced in 1850. Several octavo editions were published between 1850 and the 1870s, with varying number of plates, some maintaining the original 120 and some abridged to contain as few as forty or fifty plates. All are highly prized today.
“As early as 1824, the practice was begun of taking portraits of the principal Indians who came to Washington, and depositing them in the War Department. They were chiefly painted by Mr. King, an artist of high repute, who has been remarkably successful in transferring to his canvas the strong lineaments of the Indian countenance. Col. M’Kinney [sic], who was for many years superintendent of Indian affairs at Washington, and was thus brought in constant association with the principal men of the nations and tribes which sent representatives to the seat of government, conceived the plan of making this rare and curious collection more valuable to the world by publishing a series of engraved portraits exactly copies and colored from these paintings. With each portrait is connected a biographical sketch of the individual whom it is intended to represent, interspersed with anecdotes and narrations. The work contains also a historical account of the various Indian tribes within the borders of the United States” (Sabin 43410a, describing the 1836-1844 edition). “The original oil paintings of which the plates were copies were all destroyed in the 1865 Smithsonian fire” (Howes).
Thomas McKenney (1785-1859), served as the United States superintendent of Indian trade in Georgetown and later as the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, initiated the government's commissioning of the portraits. Like many others, at the time he believed that the indigenous people were nearing extinction, and he was seeking ways to preserve their history and culture. McKenney sought to preserve Native American culture while carrying out governmental policies that were responsible for its erasure. He first tried to collect artifacts from various tribes, then thought of having portraits painted for the government. About this time, he met Charles Bird King (1785-1862), whose talent he appreciated. “The arrival of Charles Bird King on the Washington scene inspired the imaginative McKenney to add portraits to his archives.” King painted the subjects in his own studio, as McKenney easily obtained the consent for the portraits from Native American leaders coming to Washington to do business with the US through his new department. King’s 20-year role in painting works for the collection was profitable for the artist. He charged at least $20 for a bust, and $27 for a full-figure portrait, allowing him to collect an estimated $3,500 from the government. The portraits gained widespread publicity beyond Washington during this period as McKenney broadened his project by publishing a book on Native Americans. In 1829 he began what would become many years' worth of work on the three-volume work, History of the Indian Tribes of North America. The project featured the many portraits of Native Americans, mostly King's, in lithograph form, accompanied by an essay by the author James Hall.
Bennet, p. 79 (folio); Field, p. 256 (folio); Howes M-129; Sabin 43411 (first octavo).