Curtis Goldtone Photographs And Clients That Are Pure Gold

Hello everyone:

One of the best things about owning a gallery is getting to know your clients and seeing their passion about the art first-hand.

Sometimes the best relationships start with a simple email like the one I received from a gentleman in Germany asking about various vintage Edward S. Curtis pieces. To get a better idea of what his goals were, I called him to discuss. The number one piece he wanted was a “Canon de Chelly—Navaho,” a goldtone photograph.

I should explain that Curtis perfected the medium regarded as Goldtone (or Orotone) to the extent that they were eventually named these images “Curt-Tones.”

Most photographic prints are a positive image on paper. The Curt-Tone process Curtis used was created by taking a clear plate of optical glass and spreading a liquid emulsion onto the surface of the plate.  Curtis then projected his negative onto the glass to create a positive image. The highlights and shadows could not be seen unless there was some type of backing on the image. He mixed a combination of banana oils and bronzing powders to create a sepia or a goldtone effect, and then spread this mixture onto the dried emulsion.

“The banana oil stunk to high heaven. On the days that I did the

flowing, the German piano teacher in the basement got his

students to pound on our floor because it smelled so awful.”

~ Margaret Gaia, one of Curtis’ studio assistants, 1984

The final process involved backing the glass image so that all the chemicals bonded together. The brilliance of the gold reflecting through the glass gave the Curt-Tone a truly three-dimensional quality with an aura unmatched by any other photographic process.

Goldtones, in other words, are not only special but Curtis created more goldtones than any other artist. I didn’t have the coveted image available for my German collector so I went to work uncovering stones to find the perfect example for him. I found a fabulous 11 x 14 inch “Canon de Chelly” goldtone that he purchased, and off it went to Germany.

Several months later I received an email that he and his wife were going to tour the American West and planned to stop in Aspen one night on their way to visit Canyon de Chelly (today it is known simply as Canyon).  They came, and we had a lovely dinner that evening. I had been to the canyon with Edward S. Curtis’s great-grandson and wife, John and Lesa, so I was able to recommend a very informative tour guide. (Visitors are required to have a certified Navajo guide to go down into the canyon.)  Next stop…..Canyon de Chelly in Navaho Nation, the largest Indian reservation in America.

Here is an image of the piece they bought, now hanging in a very contemporary setting, a wonderful juxtaposition. There is also an image of Canon de Chelly today.

edward s. curtis,goldtone, curt-tone, curtis photographs, canyon de chelly


This story represents what I always hope for: a connection to great art that creates a connection to great people from all over the world.

Best wishes,

Mia Valley

Edward S. Curtis, Curtis photographs

Here’s the lovely couple who bought the Curtis photograph:

PS Our most recent goldtone acquisition is the iconic image entitled “An Oasis in the Badlands”.  Feel free to call or email for more information.