Curtis & Cameron, Inc., Boston, MA & NYC (American Fine Art Publishers, 1895-c1937) were photographers and fine art publishers primarily known for their famous line of Copley Prints, Copley Color Prints, Copley Etchings, Copley Color Cards, books, handbooks and photographs. The company also accommodated the public by reproducing and preserving their old daguerreotyes, old photographs, tintypes, miniatures, old paintings and old manuscripts privately as Copley Prints.
The firm was established by Benjamin Franklin Curtis, Jr. (American, 1863-1932) in the fall of 1895. The company was initially listed as Curtis & Company or simply Curtis & Co., and was quickly changed to Curtis & Cameron, Inc.—The Cameron name was a fictitious name added to Curtis’ name in 1896 so as to distinguish himself amongst other businesses with the same name. Curtis once stated, “The ‘Cameron’ of the firm name of Curtis & Cameron is more or less a myth, although Cameron '87 is responsible. I started the business alone in '95 with no partner, either active or silent. I went under the firm name of Curtis and Company, as being sufficiently impersonal. But I found there were six other firms of that name, their products being variously apples, collars and cufis, pants. Ladies’ Home Journal etc. So I picked up an art catalogue and running my eye down the A’s and B’s until I hit on Cameron, whose name seemed to go well enough with mine for a firm designation. In '97 J. B. Noyes '91 became my partner (August, 1897), and has been with me ever since, although the firm name has remained the same.”
Curtis & Cameron was located at 12 Harcourt Street, Boston, MA and their salesroom was located in the Pierce Building across from the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. Over the years they expanded their business into other addresses located on the same street at 55, 61, 62, 77, 96 97, 150 & 258 Harcourt St., as well as later at 221-C (also later N) Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA, and also had a New York City Sales division located at 6 East 39th Street. In May of 1900, Curtis & Cameron partnered with the Small, Maynard & Co. to form a new fine art book publishing company called the Noyes, Platt & Co., located at 17 Pierce Building, Copley Square, Boston, MA, with Benjamin Curtis as Treasurer. The manufacturing of books for the new company was under the supervision of Small, Maynard & Co., and the illustrative reproductions of artwork were under the supervision of Curtis & Cameron.
The Copley Prints were first printed in 1895 and the initial images to be printed were from the original murals of Edwin Austin Abbey (American, 1852-1911), John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (French, 1824-1898) in the Boston Public Library. The Copley Prints were named after the early American artist John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1815) and were initially printed in a photomechanical print process of black & white and sepia tones, and also later hand-coloring. After that time they added continually added new subjects from public collections including those from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were praised for their fine quality from artists and the public alike, and Edwin A. Abbey stated, “I could not wish better.” John Singer Sargent-“I have pleasure in expressing my opinion of the excellence of your Copley Prints.” Augustus Saint-Gaudens-“I could not believe you could make your large sizes so clearly defined and so fine in quality.”, and Elihu Vedder-“They are all that an artist could ask in the reproduction of his work.” They even won highest award medals at many great expositions including Gold Medal at the Paris Exposition, and they also exhibited them at various societies, clubs and churches. The Copley Prints were guaranteed to be permanent and were sold through many publishers world-wide. They were also made for the schools and public buildings and the Copley Prints came in numerous different sizes (depending on the source image) with approximate sizes being 16 x 20”, 10 x 12” and 7 x 9”, and extra large sizes were about 24 x 34”, 29 x 42”, 34 x 50” and 38 x 56” with some even larger still as well as some specialty sizes. Each of the prints had their name and respective logo CC (overlapped). The firm published handbooks of the Boston Public Library and the Library of Congress, of which two books were of Abbey's “Quest of the Holy Grail”, and Mural Painting of America, along with several editions of their constantly increasing catalogue, which was in a small way, practically a handbook of American art at that time.
In 1915, the company introduced the Copley Color Prints which were faithful to the originals in color and even the subtlest details. At the same time the company also introduced the Copley Etchings of high distinction and represented notable architecture around the United States, with some in limited editions printed on Imperial Japan paper with the plates being destroyed afterwards. The well known American etcher & architect George Taylor Plowman (American, 1869-1932) is the artist who reproduced the etchings.
Edwin Austin Abbey’s “Quest of the Holy Grail” Prints: The “Quest of the Holy Grail” frieze mural decoration was originally painted by the artist & illustrator Edwin Austin Abbey (American, 1852-1911) and is located at the Boston Public Library (with the exception of the “City of Sarras). The Copley Prints were sold in various sizes but also sold as the entire frieze which consisted of fifteen panels which were reproduced as one whole image with a few different sizes being printed; approximately 9.5” x 220” in length (originally sold for $60 in 1915) and a massive 15.5” x 30’ feet in length (originally sold for $130 in 1915), with still larger sizes which were done for schools and civic halls.
About Benjamin Franklin Curtis, Jr.: Benjamin Franklin Curtis, Jr. (American, b. March 27, 1863-d. 1932) fine arts photographer and art publisher of Curtis & Cameron, Inc., was born March 27, 1863 in Boston, MA, to parents Benjamin Franklin Curtis and Mary Jane Curtis. He married Mary Barnes (née Mudge, 1860-1928) in Lynn, MA, June 27, 1891 and they had five children Gordon (b. Dec. 19, 1892-1963, married Katherine Seabury in Wellesley Farms, MA, Jan. 1, 1916), Robert Mudge (b. Sept. 10, 1894-1936, married Isabelle Baker, Chicago, IL, Jan. 27, 1917), Mary Carroll (b. Dec. 17, 1896-?), Helen Child Salmond (b. March 5, 1900-1985), and Jane Elizabeth (b. July 12, 1907-?). The family resided in Wellesley Hills, MA, during the winters (circa 1891-1920’s), and during the summers Curtis maintained a large residence in Blue Hill, ME (circa 1910’s-1920’s). They later resided at 76 Revere Street, Boston, MA (c. 1928). Curtis didn’t like to drive cars and preferred to go to-and-from the station in a horse-drawn carriage. On one of his many frequent trips to Europe for his publishing business, Curtis had the novel experience of being arrested on the allegations that he was signaling Graf Zeppelins during the night. Curtis’s civic duties included work on the Committee of Public safety in Wellesley, MA, as well as serving for two years as secretary on the Wellesley Advisory Committee. He also worked in the local hospital volunteering is time to help the sick and poor. He established the American Branch of the Medical Society of London and was a member and served as President of the Print Publishers’ Association, Boston, MA, the St. Botolph and Boston Athletic Clubs, Players' Club of New York, and the Cosmos Club, Washington, DC.
(Rewritten in parts & compiled chronologically by Mark Strong of Meibohm Fine Arts, Inc., East Aurora, NY, 14052, meibohmfinearts.com.)