Selling a Million-Dollar Photobook

North_American_Indian_fullset2.jpgSwann Galleries will offer a rare, complete set of Edward S. Curtis' The North American Indian during its Fine Photographs & Photobooks sale on October 4. Considering that the estimate is $1,250,000 - $1,750,000, this has the potential to be big news in the rare book world (a copy from the Kenneth Nebenzahl library made a record $2.9 million at Christie's earlier this year over a similar estimate).

This set is consigned by Detroit bookseller John King, and, says the auction house, it "appears to be the only complete version in which a treasure trove of photogravures with Curtis' stylized signature exists." This unique suite includes 722 large-format photogravures on Japan tissue, with 111 signed plates in Folios I, IV and V. The accompanying 20 text volumes contain an additional 1,505 photogravures, 4 maps and 2 diagrams, and were produced by Lauriat from Curtis' original copper plates.

We asked John King about his experience with Curtis' work.

RRB: You've been in the book trade for more than forty years -- is this the most beautiful photobook you've ever handled?

JK: We've handled Brett Weston portfolios, original Ansel Adams, Fox Talbots, Albums of Civil War carte-de-visite views, but this is by far the most important piece.

RRB: Do you collect personally (apart from your business interests)?

JK: I collect some modern American poetry but just reading editions only. Plus, I collect images and other representations of people reading and/or selling books. I try not to compete with our customers, though. I do enjoy handling fine and important items, and while owning them is fleeting it still satisfies my soul.

RRB: How long have you owned this set?

JK: The Curtis set was a multi-year project for me, and I feel fortunate to be its owner.

RRB: Why is now the time to part with it?

JK: Though I was mesmerized with each and every photogravure, and if I could I would have kept this to the end of my life, my job is bookselling and that's what I've done for over 4 decades. I need to pass this one on to someone who can bestow on it the care and love it deserves.

RRB: Will you come to NY to attend the auction in person?

JK: I'd like to go but I can't commit to it. Being an active bookseller, there might be a library to purchase that might get in the way. There is often a fine line between buying and selling great books.

RRB: Edward Curtis is a fascinating character -- a man obsessed by the multi-year, multi-volume project to document the 'vanishing' race of Native Americans. What do you think of the fact that he died virtually unknown and penniless?

JK: Just like a great many accomplished artists of the past, their work preceded their deserved compensation after death. Curtis deserved accolades while he was still alive, but unfortunately it didn't work out that way.

To read more about this auction, or to register to bid go to: