McKENNEY, Thomas L. (1785-1859) & James HALL (1793-1868).
History of the Indian Tribes of North America, with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs. Embellished with One Hundred and Twenty Portraits from the Indian Gallery ... at Washington.
Philadelphia: Frederick W. Greenough, 1838, [and] Daniel Rice and James G. Clark, 1842-1844.
Comparable: Christie's, 2005 - $156,000.
The grandest color plate book issued in the United States up to the time of its publication and the final product of which is one of the most distinctive and important books in Americana.
3 volumes. Folio (19 5/8 x 14 2/8 inches). (Small library stamp removed from title-pages of volumes II and III). 120 handcolored lithographed plates, including 117 portraits after C. B. King and 3 scenic frontispieces after Rindisbacher, also with a leaf of lithograph maps and table and 12 pages of facsimile signatures of subscribers (frontispiece in volume one loose, frontispiece in volume II with small stain in skyline, first portrait in volume II with marginal tear repaired, lower left corner renewed and some marginal staining, occasional minor age toning and offsetting to plates, occasional minor spotting). Modern half red morocco by Bayntun (hinges weak, extremities worn, unevenly faded).
First edition, mixed issue. Sets are seen with different imprints because it took three publishers to complete the work, each taking over from the other and printing their own title-pages. The plates are faithful copies of portraits painted from life by Charles Bird King or copies by him from portraits by J. O. Lewis. The original paintings later perished in the disastrous Smithsonian fire of 1865 so their appearance in this set preserves the only known likenesses of many of the most prominent Indian leaders of the nineteenth century. Soon after Thomas L. McKenney was appointed Superintendent of Indian Trade in 1816, he struck upon the idea of creating an archive to preserve the artifacts, implements, and history of the Native Americans. The Archives of the American Indian became the first national collection in Washington and were curated with great care by McKenney through his tenure as Superintendent and also when he served as the first head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs beginning in 1824. Artist Charles Bird King arrived in town in 1822 and, during a visit to his studio, McKenney was inspired to add portraits to the archives. King would, for the following twenty years, capture many of the visiting Indian dignitaries, as well as make copies of watercolors created in the field by the less able James Otto Lewis. Many saw the great value in preserving what was already known to be a vanishing race, but others in government criticized the expenses incurred. The visiting Indian delegations who had come to Washington to meet with the "Great Father" (their name for the president) would inevitably tour the Indian gallery, which was housed in the War Department building, and were generally impressed, many requesting that their portrait be painted and added to the collection. This seemed to help smooth relations during the often tense treaty negotiations. McKenney was preparing to publish a collection of the Indian portraits when he lost his position at the Bureau during Andrew Jackson's house cleaning in 1830. This seemed like an omen, as many other setbacks befell the project: publishers went bankrupt, investors dropped out, historical information became unobtainable, and expenses soared. McKenney finally enlisted Ohio jurist and writer James Hall to assist with the project, making him a partner. Hall was able to complete the individual biographies of each subject and put the finishing touches on the general history. Six years passed between the original prospectus and the issue of the first part. In that time, James Otto Lewis, who was likely bitter that he would receive no credit for the King-reworked portraits that he sent to the Archives, beat McKenney to the market with his own Aboriginal Port-Folio in 1835. Unfortunately for Lewis, the illustrations were of inferior quality and very few of its later numbers were ever completed. McKenney and Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America, on the other hand, was a resounding artistic success. The lithographs were of such high quality, comparable to the best work from Europe, that John James Audubon commissioned the lithographer James T. Bowen to provide illustrations for a revised edition of his Birds of America. Indian Tribes wasn't a financial success, however, for its high price prohibited all but the wealthy and public libraries from subscribing to it. This and the depression after the panic of 1837 both contributed to the work going through several publishers and lithographers before its completion. King's original paintings were eventually transferred to the Smithsonian Institute, where most of them perished in the January 1865 fire. A number of the paintings exist in the form of contemporary copies made by King and his students, but the present work is by far the most complete record of this important collection. BAL 6934; Howes M129; Reese Stamped with a National Character 24; Sabin 43410a; Viola The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King. BAL 6934; Howes M129; Reese Stamped with a National Character 24; Sabin 43410a; Viola The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King.Bennett 79; Field 992; Howes M129; Lipperheide Mc4; Reese, American Color Plate Books 24; Sabin 4310a.