Mammoth-Plate View of Curecanti Needle
in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

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487. [PHOTOGRAPHY]. JACKSON, William Henry. “Currecanti [sic] Needle,” view of Colorado landmark, Curecanti Needle, a distinct granite rock formation in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, between Gunnison and Montrose, showing river bottom with railroad tracks and power poles on left side. Mammoth plate albumen print mounted on paperboard. Image: 53.4 x 42.7 cm; mount: 71.6 x 56.3 cm. Lettered in white at bottom left: “1081. Currecanti [sic] Needle. Black Canon of the Gunnison. [lower right] W.H. Jackson & Co. Denver.” Denver, ca. 1879-1894. Image moderately foxed and faded, mount moderately browned with two large cracks in right blank margin (not affecting image). Overall good.

     Shown is one of the most dramatic scenes along the Gunnison River. With the arrival of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, this dramatic view became more accessible for people. The Curecanti Needle is said to have been named in honor of a Ute Chief. Jackson (1843-1942) began his photographic career in his home state of New York, but then established himself as a photographer in various other places before joining the Hayden Survey in 1877-1878 as official photographer, in which capacity he became the first person to photograph the Yellowstone region. He opened a photographic studio in Denver which he operated for twenty years between trips to various other locales before moving back to the East. In 1942, Jackson was honored by the Explorer’s Club for his 80,000 photographs of the American West. When he died at the age of 99, he was recognized as one of the last surviving Civil War veterans, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Considered one of the most prominent pioneer photographers of the Old West at the time of his death, he has continued to hold a preeminent place in photographic history ever since.

     Jackson’s skill and artistry are universally recognized. William H. Goetzmann states: “William Henry Jackson, the greatest of all Western photographers [with the] ability to capture the many scenes of sublime beauty in the West on his photographic plates and stereopticon slides, did more than anyone else to publicize the tourist’s West. Jackson, like the avant-garde writers, the scientists, and even the local colorists of his time, was helping to usher in a new era of realism that would in part replace, and at the same time, as far as subject matter was concerned, parallel the romanticism of an earlier day” (Exploration & Empire, pp. 499-500).

     This image was taken by Jackson on a large glass plate, measuring approximately 21 by 16 inches, and transferred directly onto albumen paper as a contact print. Along with several other Western photographers in the late nineteenth century, including Carleton E. Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge, Jackson employed this “mammoth-plate” format to produce very large prints prior to the development of photographic enlargers (see the Yale Beineke Library’s web gallery of Mammoth Plate Photographs of the American West at for other notable examples by Jackson and Watkins). This image is also present in the William Henry Jackson collection at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee library (see


Sold. Hammer: $600.00; Price Realized: $735.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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