1835-1836]. · [Philadelphia
THE ABORIGINAL PORT FOLIO represents the first attempt at a collection of portraits of North American Indians, preceding the works of Catlin, and McKenney and Hall. It is one of the earliest large projects in American color printing, and one of the first large visual works to deal with subjects beyond the east coast of the United States.
James O. Lewis was born in Philadelphia in 1799, moved west as a teenager, and had become an engraver and painter by the time he was living in St. Louis in 1820. In 1823 he moved to Detroit, and painted the first of his Indian portraits at the request of Gov. Lewis Cass of Michigan. He accompanied Cass on four Indian treaty expeditions in the Great Lakes region in 1825-27 and painted Indians during the course of each. Virtually all of the originals of the images published here were executed by Lewis in this period. Subsequently, many of the Lewis portraits were copied by Charles Bird King, and some appeared in the King versions in the McKenney and Hall portfolio. All of the Lewis originals were destroyed in the Smithsonian fire of 1865.
THE ABORIGINAL PORT FOLIO was published in Philadelphia by lithographers George Lehman and Peter S. Duval. It was issued in ten parts, with each part containing eight plates. Given the size of the undertaking, the first nine parts were issued remarkably quickly, appearing monthly between May 1835 and January 1836. The reason for this haste is probably that Lewis was aware that the imminent appearance of the first part of McKenney and Hall's HISTORY OF THE INDIAN TRIBES OF NORTH AMERICA would adversely affect his subscriber numbers. The evidence of the surviving copies suggests that his fears were well-founded, as there are a number of sets made up from eight parts (with sixty-four plates), but very few with nine parts (seventy-two plates, as here); and ten- part sets with the full complement of a frontispiece/title-leaf and eighty plates are virtually never found: only two copies (including the Siebert copy) are listed as having sold at auction in the past twenty- five years, and there are only about a half dozen or so other recorded sets (the Siebert set, and two others, are the only two examples to include the titlepage).
A landmark volume in the history of American printing, and the depiction of Native Americans. BENNETT, p.68. EBERSTADT 131:418. FIELD 936. HOWES L315, "b." SABIN 40812. REESE, STAMPED WITH A NATIONAL CHARACTER 23. (Inventory #: WRCAM23483M)