"The Grandest Color Plate Book
Col. Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall. History of
the Indian Tribes of North America, With Biographical Sketches and
Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs. Embellished with One Hundred and
Twenty Portraits. Philadelphia: D. Rice & A.N. Hart,
1855, 1858. Three octavo volumes, in fours. iv, 333; xvii, [1,
blank], 9-290; iv, 17-392. Preface (pages 1-2) bound before
contents leaf in the first volume (pages iii-iv). Three
frontispiece portraits and one hundred-seventeen hand-colored
lithographed portrait plates printed and colored by J.T. Bowen and
heightened in gum arabic. Tissue guards. Volume I is the fourth
edition dated 1858; volumes II and III are the third edition dated
1855. Bound in contemporary full brown morocco, gilt titles,
blind-stamped decoration and five raised bands to spine,
blind-stamped rules and decorations to boards, all edges gilt.
Issued in the United States..."
Bindings lightly rubbed, hinges expertly restored; endpapers lightly discolored, each frontispiece has a crease along its inner margin reinforced with archival tissue tape on both recto and verso. Gathering number '18' in volume one slightly sprung, small holograph pencil '5' in the "D" of "Indian" on the title page, occasional light pencil marks in margins of first third of the volume, loose tissue guard for plate facing page 173 and small paper chip in upper edge of the plate facing page 269 not affecting image. Small paper chip in outer edge of plate facing page 103 in volume two and offset discoloration across plate facing 135 from reading ribbon. Holograph pencil name on front fly-leaf of volume three. Some foxing, occasional smudging or minor soiling. Plates with few exceptions are quite clean, especially for this title, which is often plagued by foxing. Otherwise an attractive set in very good condition.
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"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. [Charles Bird] 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 copied 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 ["An Essay on the History of the North American Indians. By James Hall"] of the various Indian tribes within the borders of the United States" (Sabin).
"The work is one of the most costly and important ever published on the American Indians. The plates are accurate portraits of celebrated chiefs, or of characteristic individuals of the race; and are colored with care, to faithfully represent their features and costumes" (Field).
"With 120 folio plates in three volumes, this is the grandest color plate book issued in the United States up to the time of its publication, and one of the most important of the century. Its long and checkered publication history spanned twelve years and involved multiple lithographers (mainly Peter S. Duval and James T. Bowen) and publishers, but the final product is one of the most distinctive and important books in Americana. Almost all the plates are portraits of individual Native Americans, the majority painted from life by Charles Bird King (who also reworked the less skillful portraits of James Otto Lewis)" (Reese, Stamped with a National Character: Nineteenth Century American Color Plate Books, 24).
"The original oil paintings of which the plates were copies were all destroyed in the 1865 Smithsonian fire" (Howes, M-129).
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