Dorothy Sloan -- Books


October 26, 2007

“Without question the best representation of Texas that had thus far appeared” (Streeter)

102. [MAP]. HUMBOLDT, Alexandre de [Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von]. Carte Générale du Royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne depuis le Parallele de 16° jusqu’au Parallele de 38° (Latitude Nord) Dressée sur des Observations Astronomiques et sur l’ensemble des Matériaux qui existoient à Mexico, au commencement de l’année 1804. Par Alexander de Humboldt. Ls. Aubert pere Scripsit. [below neat line] Dessiné à Mexico par l’Auteur en 1804, perfectionné par le même, par MM. Friesen, Oltmanns et Thuilier. 1809. | Gravé par Barriere - et l’Ecriture par L. Aubert pere, à Paris. Copper-engraved map on two untrimmed sheets of wove paper joined horizontally, measuring together, neat line to neat line: 99.7 x 69.6 cm. Creased where formerly folded into atlas, tiny loss (7 x 9 cm) at upper center of lower sheet supplied in expert facsimile). Overall very fine, in a strong impression. Professionally washed and deacidified.

            First edition of Humboldt’s monumental map of New Spain. Humboldt’s map is legendary, presenting relatively little-known areas in Mexico and the American Southwest and forever changing cartographical representation by the introduction of hachure. This map appeared in Humboldt’s Atlas Géographique et Physique du Royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne... (Paris & Tübingen, 1808 & Paris, 1811), to accompany the first German and first French editions of Humboldt’s Essai Politique sur le Royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne.... (Paris, 1811, 2 vols., 4to; atlas sometimes found with the first French 8vo edition). Humboldt’s work on New Spain constitutes the first modern geographical monograph on Mexico and the Southwest U.S., containing data assembled during the author’s visit to Mexico at the end of the eighteenth century. Much of this information had never before appeared in print. It would be difficult to find two more energetic, inquisitive, learned, and gifted explorers than Humboldt and his companion Bonpland, although in an historic coincidence, their United States counterparts, Lewis and Clark, were also making equivalent history at the same time.

            References to map: Cohen, Mapping the West, pp. 100-101. Phillips, Atlases, p. 468. Rumsey 328. Schwartz & Ehrenberg, Plate 139 & p. 127: “Humboldt’s map remained the standard map of the Great Basin region until Frémont’s expeditions thirty-five years later.” Streeter 1042 (rating Humboldt’s map as one of the six most important maps for a Texas collection; see p. 329 in Streeter): “In speaking of the Texas coastline, Humboldt says, ‘I have followed...the map of the gulph of Mexico, published by order of the King of Spain in 1799’ ...and adds that he made some corrections in fixing of longitudes.... [Humboldt’s map] is without question the best representation of Texas that had thus far appeared.” Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West #272 & Vol. I, p. 132-138 (remarking that it is a “truly magnificent cartographic achievement”).

            References to atlas and/or text: Graff 2009 (atlas, Paris, 1811). Howes H786: “Of superlative California importance.” Martin & Martin, 23n (describing the first English edition of the map, in reduced format) & pp. 19, 32: “A noteworthy turning point in the cartographic history of Texas occurred in 1810, when the great European savant, Alexander von Humboldt, had been a guest of the Spanish government in Mexico.... His semi-official status provided him access to many confidential sources, and among the works his stay produced was a large map of New Spain. Although he left Mexico in 1804, the map was not published until 1810, when it appeared with his Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain.... Humboldt was, without question, the dominant scientific and philosophical figure of his age.... Humboldt’s Essai Politique...was one of the first to establish the field of geography as a modern science.... Humboldt’s map [of New Spain] has been termed a magnificent cartographic achievement, which in its depiction of the West it surely is.” Miles & Reese, Creating America 23. Pilling 1873. Plains & Rockies IV:7a:1a & IV:7a:3a:l: “Humboldt’s discussions of California, New Mexico, Texas and Northern Mexico are detailed and thorough, containing much data that had never before appeared in print.” Printing and the Mind of Man 320n (discussion of the historical impact of Humboldt’s work): “[Humboldt] laid the foundation of modern physical geography, meteorology and geography of plants.” Sabin 33756. Raines, p. 121. Streeter Sale 195. Palau 16977 (collation in error).

            Streeter (1042) includes a long, interesting discussion on the controversy that erupted between Humboldt, Arrowsmith, and Pike over accusations of plagiarism: “Humboldt’s bitter charges against Aaron Arrowsmith, and rather gentle chiding of Pike, for copying without credit from the Carte Générale, Arrowsmith in his New Map of Mexico, London, 1810 (entry No. 1046), and Pike in his Account of Expeditions to the Sources of the Mississippi, Philadelphia, 1810 (entry No. 1047), should be mentioned. They are detailed by Coues at pages xli and xlii of Volume I of the Coues’ edition of the Pike Account, New York, 1895. Coues quotes the charges from an American edition published in 1815 of Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions. The charges are also in the Paris, 1826, edition of that work, the only one in my library, against Arrowsmith at page xxxvi, and against Pike at pages xxxix-xl. There seems to be no doubt but that Pike copied the Mexican portions of the Humboldt map, but in the Texas portion, with which this bibliography is primarily concerned, Pike’s representation of the rivers is a considerable improvement on Humboldt, while that of the Texas coast line is greatly inferior. There Pike copies the jumble of islands in the Galveston Bay area given in the earlier representation of Jefferys Western Coast of Louisiana and Coast of New Leon, London, 1794. In neither case did he copy from Humboldt. Certainly the statement made by Coues (Vol. I, p. xliii) that ‘Pike’s map of New Spain is no other than Humboldt’s Carte Générale..., with Nau’s errors and some little further modification,’ is most misleading.... Here as in the case of Pike, while Arrowsmith probably did copy from the Mexican portion of the Humboldt map, the Texas portion is a considerable improvement over Humboldt. This is especially so in the treatment of the Brazos and Guadalupe rivers, and in the correct showing of the San Antonio as flowing into the Guadalupe. Now that it seems to be fairly well established that the Humboldt Carte Générale was actually published in 1809, or a year or so before the Arrowsmith New Map of Mexico, there is no longer a problem of how it was available for use by Arrowsmith, as we do not have to speculate as to how Arrowsmith had access to the manuscript copy that Humboldt left with our State Department in the spring of 1804. In the case of Pike, it has always seemed probable that he or his agents had access to the manuscript as charged by Humboldt. Incidentally, Mr. Wheat in his Transmississippi West, says (Vol. I, p. 137) that he made a search at the State Department for the Humboldt map but it could not be found.” ($18,000-22,000)

Auction 21 Abstracts

Click images or links labeled Enlarge to enlarge. Links labeled Zoom open zoomable images (requires Flash).

Auction 21 | DSRB Home | e-mail:

Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2007