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  McKenney & Hall,
"History of the Indian Tribes"
(8vo, 1855–58).
McKenney and Hall, History of the Indian Tribes 8vo

McKenney and Hall, History of the Indian Tribes 8vo

“One of the largest and most splendid works
which the literature and arts of the country have ever produced.”
The Philadelphia Saturday American Courier, April 2, 1842.

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). 8vo. Three volumes with 120 hand-colored lithographs, printed and colored by J. T. Bowen. Volume I is the fourth ed. dated 1858; volumes. II and III are the third ed. dated 1855. Bound in contemporary full brown morocco, gilt titles, blind-stamped decoration and raised bands to spine, blind-stamped rules and decoration to boards, all edges gilt. Some extremely minor professional restoration to each volume. Otherwise, practically pristine with all tissue guards intact. Overall, a superb, clean example with bright, beautiful color and desirable evidence of gum arabic. Certainly one of the best examples in existence today.

Thomas McKenney was Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs under Presidents Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Jackson, and he maintained a passionate interest in Native American customs and beliefs throughout his lifetime. The famous Cincinnati author, newspaper editor, and frontier lawyer James Hall joined forces with McKenney to create the Indian Portrait Gallery published in three portfolios beginning in 1836.

Hall supplied the text, while McKenney commissioned the artist Charles Bird King to paint portraits of the leading Indian chiefs, either from life or by repainting the earlier, cruder attempts of Detroit artist James Otto Lewis and, in a few cases, other painters from the colonial era. Together McKenney and Hall turned the portraits (collectively known as the War Department gallery) into a coherent representation of Indian life, lore, and costume. The result was a spectacular series of images, certainly the best series of such portraits to be produced in America, and a unique source for the study of Native Americans. Initially, the publication was distributed by subscription, and the final volume was published in 1844 by Daniel Rice and James G. Clark. However, Rice & Clark was taken over by the new firm of Rice & Hart, who published the first royal octavo edition in 1848–1850. The present set comprises the third octavo edition (volumes 2 and 3) and the fourth editon (volume 1) by Rice & Hart, dated, respectively, 1855 and 1858.

All types of Indians are included in this significant work—from noble warriors and imposing statesmen to the most downtrodden tribesmen and exploited chiefs. The fact that King’s original oil paintings were destroyed in a fire that swept the Smithsonian Institution castle in 1865 yields further importance to the anthropological documentation provided by History of the Indian Tribes of North America.A classic work of Americana and Native Americana, with the plates free of the foxing that often plagues the book, and competitively priced.

Refs.: Whitman Bennett, A Practical Guide to American Nineteenth-Century Color Plate Books, p. 79 (folio edition); Howes, M129 (8vo edition); Herman J. Viola, The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1976).

Copyright 2003, William R. Talbot