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Auction 15: Fine Collection of Californiana Formed by Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lots 218 & 219: Wilkes and the U.S. Ex. Ex.

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218. WILKES, Charles. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1845. lxvi [2] 455 pp., 8 plates (including frontispiece), 1 folded map + xvi, 505 pp., 14 plates (including frontispiece), 3 folded maps + xv [1, blank] 463 pp., 11 plates + xvi, 574 pp., 16 plates, 1 folded map + xv [1, blank] 591 pp. (errata slip after title page), 15 plates, 4 folded maps + [5] pp., 5 folded maps (2 colored) [for a total of 64 steel-engraved plates (scenes, views, seascapes, ships, natives, artifacts, natural history, including 2 frontispiece portraits), 14 engraved maps (5 folded, 2 colored), and almost 300 steel-engraved text illustrations. 6 vols., folio (32.5 cm; 12-7/8 inches tall), three-quarter contemporary maroon roan over purple cloth, spines gilt-lettered (some volumes skillfully rebacked, original spines preserved). Bindings moderately stained and shelf-worn, endpapers darkened, light uniform browning to text, some offsetting (mostly confined to original tissue guards), a few maps have tears (no losses) and minor soiling. Overall a very good set, almost all the plates and maps excellent.

Selected maps:
Map of the Oregon Territory by the U.S. Ex. Ex. Charles Wilkes Esqr. Commander. 1841 [lower right below neat line]: J. H. Young & Sherman & Smith, N.Y. [inset left side]: Columbia River Reduced from a Survey Made by the U.S. Ex. Ex. 1841. 58.2 x 86.2 cm; 22-7/8 x 34 inches. Original outline hand-coloring. Cohen, Mapping the West, pp. 120-122: “The first official [U.S.] chart of any portion of the West Coast and covers the coast from Cape Mendocino to Queen Charlotte Islands. The inset of the Columbia River includes geography extending as far as Walla Walla. It is a handsome map printed on imported paper from copperplates purchased in France from the Dépôt de la Marine. The engravers themselves were European craftsmen who not only executed the work, but also trained the American apprentices, including the artist James McNeill Whistler, who served as an engraver on the Coast Survey and learned his craft from those who engraved the Wilkes charts.” Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West 457 & II, pp. 177-178: “This map was in many respects the most detailed of this extensive area yet published, and for the main Oregon region and the Hudson’s Bay Company territories to the north it was an accurate, really quite extraordinary, map.... The areas now embraced by Oregon, Washington, and Idaho are very well mapped.... This map had much influence on the later maps of the area.”
Map of Upper California by the U.S. Ex. Ex. and Best Authorities. 21.2 x 29 cm; 8-3/8 x 11-3/8 inches. Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West 458 & II, pp. 178; Maps of the California Gold Region 23.

Selected plates:
Pine Forest, Oregon [below neat line]: J. Drayton | W. E. Tucker, Sc. 12 x 18 cm; 4-3/4 x 7-1/4 inches. This plate showing members of the expedition measuring a mammoth tree was recyled in subsequent books on California, including Chavannes de la Giraudière and Ferry (q.v).

Shasty Peak. [below neat line]: Drawn by A. T. Agate. | engraved by G. B. Ellis. 11.7 x 17.8 cm; 4-5/8 x 7 inches.

Encampment on the Sacramento. [below neat line]: Drawn by A. T. Agate. | J. W. Steel Sc. 11.7 x 17.7 cm; 4-5/8 x 7 inches.

    First edition, official issue sheets (larger and better quality paper, steel-engraved text illustrations) with unofficial issue title pages. The work first came out in 1844 in an official edition consisting of 100 copies, quickly followed by an 1845 unofficial edition of 150 copies supplied to Wilkes for presentation and sale. In 1845 the trade edition came out in an edition of 1,000 copies, and the work was completely reset (editorial changes were made, woodcut vignette were used rather than steel engravings, etc.). Cowan I, pp. 248-249n. Cowan II, p. 683: “The observations regarding California are extensive, but their inaccuracies have been severely criticized by later writers.” Ferguson 4209. Cf. Forbes, Hawaiian National Bibliography 1573. Cf. Haskell 1 & 2A (text); Haskell 17A (atlas). Hill 1866. Howes W414. Palau 375505. Cf. Pilling 4125-4126 (noting names of months in Flathead). Rocq 16158. Rosove, Antarctica 353. Streeter Sale 3324. Taxonomic Literature 17646. Tweney 89 #83. An early American exploring expedition conducted almost exclusively at sea, this voyage had numerous accomplishments to its credit, including mapping nearly three hundred islands, totally exploring the American Northwest coast, and establishing the true nature of Antarctica as a continent. Other scientific works arising from the voyage followed in later years. Despite being marred by Wilkes’s fractious temper, which later caused trouble in his career, this voyage was a highly successful circumnavigation in practically every respect. The accounts of California and the Northwest coast are in vols. 4 and 5.


Charles Wilkes (1798-1877) joined the United States Navy in 1818, and in 1838 he was appointed to the command of the United States Exploring Expedition authorized by Congress in 1836 for the exploration of the southern oceans, particularly the Pacific. With a crew of six hundred, twelve botanists, zoologists, scientific artists, cartographers, astronomers, and hydrographers were assigned to the large squadron of six vessels.

The United States equivalent to the voyages of James Cook, Jean François Galaup de Lapérouse, Alejandro Malaspina, and Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenshtern for England, France, Spain, and Russia, and the maritime equivalent of Lewis and Clark, the expedition sailed from Hampton Roads in August 1838. Wilkes reached Madeira and the Cabo Verde islands, crossed the Atlantic to Brazil, and continued southward to the South Shetland Islands and entered the Pacific. Sailing northward along the Chilean and Peruvian coasts, the expedition then proceeded westward to Tuamotu, Samoa, and Sydney. From Australia Wilkes sailed for Antarctica and conducted a detailed exploration of about 25 percent of the coastline, later to be known as Wilkes Land, before sailing back northward to Tonga, Fiji, and Hawaii in 1840. In 1841, the expedition explored and charted the Pacific coast of North America from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, through Puget Sound, to the Columbia River, and southward to San Francisco, visiting the Russian establishment at Ross and going up the Sacramento River to John Augustus Sutter’s New Helvetia in boats, returning to San Francisco after exploring the San Joaquín River system. From California, Wilkes sailed westward to the Philippines, Borneo, Singapore, and across the Indian Ocean. Rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the expedition reached New York in June 1842.

    The lengthy sojourn in California from August to November resulted in extensive knowledge of the cartography of the region as well as its strengths and weaknesses, and coupled with the premature invasion of Monterey by Thomas ap Catesby Jones four months after Wilkes’s return, was indicative of the intense interest of the United States in acquiring the territory.
    In addition to the narrative and atlas, over 250 maps and charts were produced of the South Pacific islands and Antarctica, and over the years specific volumes devoted to ethnology, zoology, geology, meteorology, botany, and herpetology were written by the expedition’s scientists, and in all twenty-eight extensively illustrated works resulted from the enterprise. Various editions of the Narrative... appeared in the nineteenth century, and abridged editions were published in London and Philadelphia.

––W. Michael Mathes

219. WILKES, Charles. Western America, Including California and Oregon, with Maps of Those Regions, and of “The Sacramento Valley.” Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1849. ix [1, blank] [13]-130 [2, blank] [30, ads] pp. (wanting 2 blank leaves preceding title page), 3 folded lithographed maps. 8vo, original tan printed stiff wrappers, original stitching. Wrappers stained and with a few abrasions, price erased from upper part of upper wrapper, minor chipping. Interior very fine except for foxing to ads. In blue cloth slipcase with chemise. Uncommon in wraps.

A Correct Map from Actual Surveys and Examinations Embracing a Portion of California between Monterey and the Prairie Butes in the Valley of the Sacramento Shewing the Placeres 1849 Drawn by F. D. Stuart Soundings in Fathoms. [below neat line at center]: Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1849, by Lea & Blanchard, in the Clerk’s office of the district court of the Eastern district of Pennsylvania. 60 x 42.6 cm; 23-5/8 x 16-3/4 inches. Short tears at text block just into neat lines, somewhat wrinkled. Discloses “graphically the great advances in geographical knowledge of the American West during less than a decade” (Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West III, p. 90). “One of the first large scale maps of the Gold Region” (Howell). “The map of the Sacramento Valley was an important source of information for gold seekers” (Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 679a).
Map of Upper California by the Best Authorities 1849. 21.8 x 29.5 cm; 8-1/2 x 11-5/8 inches.
Map of the Oregon Territory from the Best Authorities. 1849 [lower right]: Edwd. Yeager Sc [with inset]: Columbia River Reduced from a Survey Made by the U.S. Ex. Ex. 1841. 21.2 x 33.2 cm; 8-3/8 x 13-1/16 inches. Lightly browned, upper and lower blank margins lightly chipped. “Carefully drawn and up-to-date” (Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West III, p. 90).
    First edition. Cowan I, p. 249. Cowan II, p. 683. Eberstadt 121:376: “This is Wilkes’ own narrative of the Oregon and California explorations and experiences in 1846. It contains much information regarding those countries and their situation which he could not with propriety dwell upon in his official reports ‘before the territory became part of the public domain.’” Graff 4656. Holliday 1195. Howell 50, California 256. Howes W416: “In a sense it constitutes the first Pacific coast guide.” Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 679a. Norris 4222. Plains & Rockies IV:175a:1. Rocq 16162. Sabin 103995. Streeter Sale 3326. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 229; Mapping the Transmississippi West 654 & 655; Maps of the California Gold Region 134 & 135. Written by Commander Wilkes at the request of the National Institute and based on material not published in his official report, this work includes materials given him by Frémont and de Smet, the Jesuit missionary then active in Montana and Oregon. He wrote it in part for “those who intend emigrating to California” (p. viii).

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