Edward S. Curtis photograph and ephemera collection, 1897-1951  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952
Edward S. Curtis photograph and ephemera collection
1897-1951 (inclusive)
89 photographic prints, ephemera, postcards (3 boxes)
Collection Number
Photographs of prominent photographer Edward S. Curtis; also includes photographs of American Indians made by Curtis as well as materials advertising Curtis' exhibitions and entertainments.
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
Box 352900
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-543-1929
Fax: 206-543-1931
Access Restrictions

Selections can be viewed on the Libraries' Digital Collections website. Permission of Visual Materials Curator must be obtained to view the originals. Contact Special Collections for additional information.

Additional Reference Guides


Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Edward Sheriff Curtis was born in 1868, grew up in Minnesota, and moved to the Puget Sound area with his family in 1887. In 1891 he established a photography business in Seattle. Within a few years, Curtis and his partner, Thomas Guptill, established themselves as the leading photographers on Puget Sound. In 1897 Guptill left the business, and its name was changed to Edward S. Curtis, Photographer and Photoengraver. In addition to photoengraving for other businesses and publications, Curtis's stock in trade consisted of fashionable wedding portraits, society portraits, dramatic prints of Northwest scenery, and photographs of local Indians. As his business prospered, Curtis was able to leave the studio in the charge of others so that he could photograph subjects which interested him.

In 1899 Curtis was chosen as the official photographer for the Harriman expedition, a scientific expedition to Alaska sponsored by railroad tycoon Edward Harriman. The expedition stimulated Curtis's interest in photographing Native Americans, exposed him to scientific methods, and provided him with a number of useful contacts. In the next several years, he continued his studio work as well as his Indian work, but from 1904 on, he spent most of his time away from Seattle. By 1903 or 1904 he began to form a plan for a photographic project that would be "a permanent record of all the important tribes of the U.S. that still retain to a considerable degree their primitive traditions and customs." Reflecting a general belief that Native Americans were a vanishing culture, Curtis embarked on a monumental project that was both artistic and ethnological. His Indian photographs emphasized traditional elements of dress and culture, deemphasizing acculturation. In this he mirrored the interests of ethnologists of the day.

Curtis's project benefited from broad public interest in the West. In 1904 Curtis went to the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology and discussed his plans for a multi-volume collection of photos of Indians. Frederick Webb Hodge, a leader of the Ethnology Bureau, agreed to edit Curtis's collection, The North American Indian . In 1904 Curtis also met Theodore Roosevelt, who became an enthusiastic supporter of the project. Curtis organized an Eastern tour in 1905; his exhibitions in Washington and New York resulted in sales of his pictures, patronage for his fieldwork, and a commission from Scribners magazine for four illustrated articles. In 1906 Curtis sought financial support from J. P. Morgan, who initially agreed to give Curtis $15,000 a year for five years to research, write, and publish 20 volumes of The North American Indian . Each volume included ethnological text illustrated with 75 small photogravure prints, plus a companion portfolio of 36 copper photogravure plates. The volumes were printed on handmade paper with fine engravings and bound in Moroccan leather. The first two volumes were published in Apr., 1908, but the project was not completed until 1930, when volumes 19 and 20 were released. By this time, Morgan and the Morgan estate had contributed half of the project's total cost of $1,500,000.

Curtis concentrated his study on the tribes west of the Mississippi, from New Mexico to Alaska. He began his work in the Southwest in 1904 and made his last field trip, to Alaska, in 1927. He studied over eighty tribes and took 40,000 photographs. He attempted to participate as much as possible in the daily and ceremonial life of each tribe. Although not academically trained, Curtis and his assistants conducted extensive fieldwork. With his assistant, William Myers, Curtis recorded many songs (now in the University of Indiana archives) and amassed information on Indian life. Myers did most of the writing for North American Indian after the first two volumes.

The project suffered a number of delays and temporary setbacks. By 1907 Curtis's reputation had grown and his photographs enjoyed popular success, but he was continually short of funds to cover the cost of the project. He spent the warmer months of each year in the field, photographing and conducting research with his crew, and the rest of the year raising money or promoting the project. There was a six-year lapse between the publication of volumes 11 and 12 due to delays caused by World War I. After the war public interest in Curtis's work had waned and he gave up trying to make advance subscription sales of future volumes. In 1917, after a divorce and a loss of the Seattle studio, Curtis moved to Los Angeles and set up a new studio there. In addition to his studio work and efforts finishing up The North American Indian , Curtis pursued an interest in mining and occasionally took jobs as a cameraman on early Hollywood movies. He died on October 21, 1952, in Los Angeles.

Florence Graybill was Edward Curtis's middle daughter. As a child she was taken on some of his field trips. In the summer of 1922 she assisted Curtis with his work among the Indians of northern California and southern Oregon. Together with Victor Boesen she published Edward Sheriff Curtis: Visions of a Vanishing Race in 1976. She died in 1987.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection contains photographs relating to the life and work of photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis. Included are examples of Curtis' famous photographs of American Indian men and women, as well as studio portrait photographs, many depicting well-known Seattleites. Advertisements for Curtis' various events, including photograph exhibitions such as "In the Land of the Head Hunters," a "photo drama" with interpretive music, are also included in the collection. Photographs of Curtis as a young man and as an older man make up part of the collection.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

View selections from the collection in digital format

Restrictions on Use

Restrictions might exist on reproduction, quotation, or publication. Contact the repository for details.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top


Series A: North American IndiansReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box/Folder item
1/1 AA1
Chimakum female type [portrait of middle-aged Indian woman wrapped in blanket]
Printed on tissue paper
1/1 AA2
Gathering tules - Cowichan [woman in canoe gathering reeds]
1/1 AA3
Tying the bundle - Cowichan [woman tying large bundle of reeds]
1900-1912 ?
1/1 AA4
The Headstrap - Cowichan [woman with bundle of reeds on her back]
1/1 AA5
Hénĭpsŭm Village - Cowichan [village viewed from water]
½ AA6
Qámŭtsŭn Village - Cowichan [structures in village, some with partially constructed roofs]
½ AA7
Cowichan Housefront [front of building with wooden carvings]
½ AA8
Cowichan River [canoe docked with village in background]
½ AA9
Káktsamah - Cowlitz [portrait of woman]
½ AA10
Flathead camp on Jocko River [people gathered near tipis, Western Montana]
½ AA11
Hoh profile [man in profile]
Same man appears in Item 12.
1/3 AA12
Hoh Type [portrait of man]
Same man appears in Item 11.
1/3 AA13
The Vanishing Race, Navajo [people on horseback]
1/3 AA14
Lotsubelo - Quilcene [portrait of woman]
1/3 AA15
Tsátsalaltsa - Quilcene [profile of woman with braided hair]
1/3 AA16-AA17
Silto - Quilliute [portrait of man]
1/4 AA18
Quilliute Girl [portrait of young woman]
1/4 AA19
Quinault Female Profile [profile of woman with headdress]
1/4 AA20
Setting the Net - Quinault [men in canoe with net in water]
1/4 AA21
Going for Clams - Quinault [woman on beach with basket on back]
1/4 AA22
In the Forest - Quinault [woman in hat and grass skirt among trees]
Same woman appears in Item 23.
1/4 AA23
Quinault Berry Picker [woman in hat and grass skirt picking berries]
Same woman appears in Item 22.
1/5 AA24
River "Shovelnose" Canoes - Quinault [canoes on riverbank]
1/5 AA25
Quinault Canoes [canoe on beach with driftwood]
1/5 AA26
River Canoes - Quinault [canoes on river shore]
1/5 AA27
On Quinault River [canoe on river shore near trees]
1/5 AA28
The Mouth of Quinault River [men in canoes on river]
1/5 AA29
Quinault Houses [houses on river shore]
1/6 AA30
Kalasetsah - Skokomish [portrait of woman in hat]
1/6 AA31
Yálqablu - Skokomish [portrait of woman]
1/6 AA32
A Mat Shelter - Skokomish [two women seated outside mat shelter with canoe and baskets]
1/6 AA33
Still Life - Puget Sound [baskets and an oar in front of a canoe]
1/6 AA34
Shores of Shoalwater Bay [people in canoes on shore]
Box/Folder item
2/1 AB1
 Tulalip women spinning wool, Tulalip Indian Reservation, Washington
Original print missing since 2007.
2/1 AB2
 Tulalip houses and canoe, Tulalip Indian Reservation, Washington
Original print missing since 2007.
2/2 AB3
 Sealer's camp, Yakutat Bay
Same item as PH Coll 333.84, Souvenir of the Harriman Alaska Expedition Photograph Album.
2/2 AB4
 Chief Joseph, Edmund S. Meany, and Red Thunder
Edmund Meany was called "Three Knives" by Chief Joseph.
Reburial of Chief Joseph
Box/Folder item
2/2 AB5- AB6 June 20, 1905
2/2 AB7- AB8 June 20, 1905
2/2 AB9-AB10 June 20, 1905
2/2 AB11 June 20, 1905
2/2 AB12 June 20, 1905
2/2 AB13-AB14 June 20, 1905
Box/Folder item
2/3 AB15
 Native man standing, Door-of-lodge Grizzly, Salish
: Cyanotype
Written on verso: Door-of-lodge Grizzly, Salish
2/3 AB16
 Dog dancer Waswaslikyi, Qagyuhl
Gift of Barbara Davis, 1987.
2/3 AB17 1914?
2/3 AB18 1915?
2/3 AB19
 American Indians in canoe near beach
Gift of J. and L. Flury.
2/3 AB20
 Cree man with fur hat
Written on verso: Cree Hunter, Great Whale River.
2/3 AB21 1900-1935?
2/3 AB22 1898-1900?
2/3 AB23 1900-1935?
2/3 AB24 1900-1935?
2/3 AB25 1900-1935?
The North American Indian
Photos used in Curtis' book The North American Indian.
Box/Folder item
2/3 ABN1
 Chief of the Desert - Navaho
Print signed by Curtis. Title and image the same as original photogravure used for Plate no. 26, Portfolio 1, of The North American Indian
2/3 ABN2
 Navaho Medicine Man
Print signed by Curtis. Title and image the same as original photogravure on p.86 in volume 1 of The North American Indian
2/3 ABN3
 Nampeyo, Hopi potter
Print signed by Curtis. Image the same as original photogravure used for Plate no. 426 in Portfolio 12 of The North American Indian
Postcards with Edward Curtis North American Indian images. Printed on all postcards: Copyrighted 1904 by E.S. Curtis. Included are images of Apache, Blackfoot, Hopi, Mohave, Navaho, Nez Perce, Yakama, and Zuni people; some images of villages and activities, such as clam digging, are also included. Most of the postcards are addressed to Miss Carol H. Ober of Seattle and signed with the initials M.N.O. or B.B.
Box/Folder item
2/4 AC1- AC3 1904
2/4 AC4- AC5 1904
2/4 AC6- AC7 1904
2/4 AC8 1904
2/4 AC9 1904
2/4 AC10- AC11 1904
2/4 AC12- AC14 1904
2/5 AC15- AC18 1904
2/5 AC19-AC21 1904
2/5 AC22-AC23
Composite images of postcards
Includes duplicate images of postcards above.
The Curtis Indians ephemera
Box/Folder item
2/6 AD1
 Postcard advertisement for Edward S. Curtis and his Indians with an image of Blackfoot Encampment
Printed on postcard: A picture talk with Stereopticon, Christensen's Hall, Arcade Building, Monday, Nov. 13 at 8:15pm Tickets $1. For sale at Curtis' Gallery, at the Times and at the door.
2/6 AD2a-AD2c
The Curtis Indians booklet
Three versions of the Curtis Indians booklet. One has a different type of paper cover. Two of the booklets have the Curtis Studio address at 709 Second Avenue Seattle. The third has the address Fourth Avenue at University Street.
2/6 AD3 undated
2/6 AD4 1905
2/6 AD5 March 2, 1905
2/6 AD6 1905
Picture Musicale program
In the early 1910s Curtis produced the Curtis Indian Picture Opera also known as the Curtis Picture Musicale. The show included hand-tinted lantern slides as well as a twenty-two musician orchestra performing an original score by Henry F. Gilbert.
Box/Folder item
2/7 AD7 December 6, 1912
2/7 AD8
Advertisement for Edward S. Curtis and his Picture Musicale A Vanishing Race at the Metropolitan Theatre, Seattle and press excerpts about the production
December 6, 1912
2/7 AD9 1912
2/7 AD10
Program booklet from The Metropolitan Theatre
In the Land of the Head Hunters
In the Land of the Head Hunters was a full length silent film produced by Edward Curtis featuring non-professional actors of the Kwakwaka’wakw and Curtis. The film was accompanied by an original score by John J. Braham.
Box/Folder item
2/7 AD11
Newspaper advertisement for Moore Theatre matinee screening
December 7-15, 1914
2/7 AD12
Synopsis of In the Land of the Head Hunters for the Moore Theatre
December 7-15, 1914
Curtis Studio
Box/Folder item
2/8 AD13
Advertisement for Curtis and Guptill Photographers and Photo Engravers
Advertisement reads: Line and half-tone portraits and illustrations. Embossed cards and letterheads. Finest Photographic work in the city.Located at 614 2nd Street, Seattle, Washington.
2/8 AD14
Envelope for Curtis copyrighted photo tint indian postal cards
Written on verso of envelope: Whither away this Valentine Day Hong Kong Bombay [ill.] us we prey.
2/8 AD15
Curtis Studio envelope
Stamped on envelope: Edward S. Curtis Photographer 709-2-Ave Seattle Wash. Photographers Association of America.
2/8 AD16
Edward S. Curtis Photographer envelope
Stamped on envelope: Curtis Studio 614 Union Street Seattle, Washington. Additional stamp on envelope: Curtis Studio, Inc. 1204 Fifth Ave. Seattle, Washington.
2/8 AD17
Mock-up card with portrait of Edward Curtis
2/8 AD18
 Photograph of poster for The Curtis Studio
Promotes Curtis' studio at 709 Second Avenue, Seattle, "as a point of interest on the Western Trail" with Harriman Expedition photographs and an Indian Corner with curios.

Series B: Curtis Studio PortraitsReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box/Folder item
2/9 B1 1898-1925?
2/9 B2 May 29, 1924
2/9 B3
 Adele McNeilan Ballard
Written on verso: Adele McNeilan Ballard (1860-1939) Writer, lecturer, critic, social worker. Photo by Curtis Studio, Gift of Helen Ballard, Her Daughter-in-law.
2/9-2/11 B4-14
 Caroline McGilvra Burke
Twelve portraits of Caroline McGilvra Burke at various ages.
Woman standing in dark silk dress
Box/Folder item
2/12 B16-B17 1900-1910?
2/12 B18 undated
2/12 B19
 H.C. Coffman
Coffman was head librarian of the University of Washington from 1899 to 1906.
2/12 B20 1915
2/13 B21 undated
2/13 B22 1901
2/13 B23
 Ray Goodrich
Written on front: To my esteemed friend and classmate Walter G. McLean.
2/13 B24
 Frank Pierrepont Graves
Graves was the president of the University of Washington from 1898-1902.
2/13 B25 undated
2/14 B26 February 1902
2/14 B27 undated
2/14 B28
 Richard W. Huntoon
Written on verso: Yours in φΓΔ.
September 27, 1902
2/14 B29
 Orrin S. Jones
Written on verso: 1722 E. Thomas St. Seattle.
2/14 B30 1899-1900?
2/14 B31
 Will T. Laube
Shorthand sentence written on verso.
April 21, 1902
2/14 B32
 Theresa S. McMahon
Written on verso: To Son Mercer from Mother Mac. (Theresa S. McMahon).
2/15 B33 1920-1925?
2/15 B34 undated
2/15 B35
 Ira Nadeau, Director General of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific-Exposition
Written under photo: Cordially yours I.A. Nadeau Director General Alaska-Yukon-Pacific-Exposition.
October 16, 1909
2/15 B36
 Morgan Grassie Padelford and Jessie Pepper Padelford
Written on verso: Morgan Grassie Padelford, born Oct. 10, 1902.
Morgan Grassie Padelford is the infant in the photograph; the woman holding him is probably his mother, Jessie Pepper Padelford.
January 10, 1903
2/15 B37 1898
2/15 B38-B40
 William Milnor Roberts
3 portraits
2/16 B41 undated
2/16 B42
 Alice Warner
Written on verso: Alice Warner Age 3 years Dec 26th 98. For Addee.
December 26, 1898
2/16 B43 undated
2/16 B44
 Woman with lace dress and feathers
Curtis & Guptill (photographer)
2/16 B45
 Young girl
Curtis & Guptill (photographer)
2/16 B46 1894-1897?
2/16 B47
Man, probably John McBride
John McBride was the older brother of photographer, Ella McBride.
2/16 B48
Viretta Chambers standing
Viretta Chambers was married to Charles Latimer Denny in 1887.
2/16 B49
McDonald, Edwards and Hanson, University of Washington debate team
Written on verso: Freshman team won from Portland H.S.
April 14, 1900
2/16 B50
University of Washington women's basketball team, Audrey Sander, Bess McDonnell McDonald, Ann Mitchel Foster, Monel Ward, Blanch Wilson Rice, Louise Iffland Barkley, Winnie Meyroth Blackson, Blanch Mircle Harriman, and Mae Goodman McDonnell
2/16 B51 1894-1897?
2/16 B52 1905-1915?
2/16 B53 1895-1920?

Series C: Edward S. CurtisReturn to Top

Photographs of Edward S. Curtis.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box/Folder item
2/17 C1
Edward Curtis as a young man
Copy print
Printed on photo: Ed Curtis.
3/1 C2
Portrait of Edward S. Curtis
2/17 C3
Portrait of Edward S. Curtis
Copy print
2/17 C4 1914?
2/17 C5-C7
 Edward Curtis seated
Copy print
3/2 C8 1910s-1920s?
3/3 C9 -C10
Portrait of Edward S. Curtis
Photographs are the same.Item C8 written on front: Dear Mr. Ronald Todd This is me on my eighty third birth day Edward S Curtis Feb 1951. Item C9 written on front: Dear Mr. Smith. This is old man Curtis who began photographing the Puget Sound Indians 65 years ago. This picture was made on my 83 birthday Feb 19 1951 Edward S. Curtis.
February 19, 1951

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Indians of North America--Great Plains--Photographs
  • Indians of North America--Northwest, Pacific--Photographs
  • Indians of North America--West (U.S.)--Photographs
  • Mines and mineral resources--California--Photographs
  • Visual Materials Collections (University of Washington)
  • Personal Names :
  • Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952--Archives
  • Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952--Photographs
  • Joseph (Nez Percé Chief), 1840-1904--Death and burial--Photographs
  • Titles within the Collection :
  • North American Indian