In the 1830s and 1840s a new and distinctively American genre of color-plate book emerged that rivaled natural history and view books for popularity, the Indian portrait gallery. The new genre made use of a new medium, hand-colored lithography.
The Indian portfolios were expensive, and they came out at a time when book funds were under pressure, so we never acquired some of the most important ones. For example, George Catlin’s 1845 North American Indian Portfolio was offered colored or merely tinted; we acquired the cheaper tinted version to satisfy the immediate public curiosity until some member donated his colored copy. That hoped-for donation never materialized. By clever bargaining, though, we did get a copy of the best of them all: the McKenney and Hall History of the Indian Tribes of North America.
This print is a relic of the early development of McKenney and Hall, not included in the final work. The proof of Mah-has-kah is inscribed by McKenney “a perfect likeness of the man.”
The most artistically appealing of the Indian portrait galleries, the McKenney and Hall plates are based on portraits painted from life by Charles Bird King. The work took over twelve years to complete, by which time it had depleted the fortunes of five publishers and exhausted the talents of three lithographic firms. At $120 it was too expensive for us, but happily a local bookseller was willing to barter: we got our copy in exchange for three shares in the Library Company.