My client had told me that one evening while watching the Antiques Roadshow on television, he and his wife were surprised and excited to see a framed photograph which looked almost identical to the one they had inherited and which they were about to donate to the local thrift store. On hearing the estimated value, my client decided not to donate but to engage the services of a professional art appraiser.
Edward S. Curtis, The Fisherman, Wisham (c. 1904-1909), goldtone on glass
Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) photographed and documented the traditional way of life of the North American Indian and took some 40,000 photographs of over 80 tribes; images which he later published in a limited edition 20-volume set from 1917 to 1930.
Curtis visited the Northwest Coast of BC where he developed a somewhat dubious reputation of embellishing the truth by artificially staging some of his photographs of native subjects to make them appear more real.
According to text by Gloria Jean Frank, he reportedly is said to have had all of the male (native) actors in his 1914 film, In the Land of the Headhunters, shave off their moustaches for fear that audiences would not see them as authentic Indians. Word has it that he became so frustrated with his Kwakwakawakw actors for not performing one scene properly that he actually dressed up in costume and performed the scene himself.
This photograph, entitled The Fisherman, Wisham, dates from about 1904-1909 and depicts a salmon fisherman who most probably lived along the banks of the Columbia River near The Dalles, Oregon.
The image is a goldtone or orotone (also named by Curtis as a Curt-tone) photograph and is signed E. Curtis in the lower right of the image with a copyright symbol in the image at the lower left. The image measures approximately 8 ¥ 10 inches and was in the original batwing-cornered frame with the overall size including frame of 13.5 x 11.5 inches.
The image was reproduced in Volume VII of The North American Indian by Edward Curtis, and in Visions of a Vanishing Race by Curtiss daughter, Florence Curtis Graybill, and Victor Boesen.
Curtis is known to have produced this image in several sizes; the most popular being 11 x 14. The printing process involved coating the back of a glass plate with a light-sensitive silver gelatin emulsion which then was exposed to a glass plate negative of the same image. The resultant positive image was fixed on the rear of the glass plate with a coating of banana oil impregnated with bronzing powder, thus giving it its gold colour. Other types of prints were made from the same negative such as gelatin silver prints on paper, however the most rare, due in part to their fragility, were the photographic prints on glass, of which this is a very good example.
This photograph is, therefore, one of many prints of the same image, printed in different sizes and on different materials. The frame would have been sold with the print directly from the factory. It is the smallest goldtone print of this series; others were sized 11 x 14, 11 x 17, and 18 x 22.
Needless to say my client was surprised to learn of the photographs significant appraised value and does not plan to donate it to a thrift store.
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