AUCTION 23

 
 

The Exploration & Remains of the Mysterious Maya Civilization Finally Revealed to the World at Large

A Landmark of Mesoamerican Archaeology

 
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529. STEPHENS, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan...Illustrated by Numerous Engravings. In Two Volumes.... New York: Harper & Brothers, 82 Cliff-Street, 1841. Vol. I: [iii] iv-viii, [2], [9] 10-424 pp., 25 lithograph plates (including frontispiece on tinted ground), folding engraved map; Vol. II: [i-iii] iv-vii [1, blank], [2], [7] 8-474 pp., frontispiece (folded), 44 lithograph plates (including folded frontispiece noted in illustration list). Total: 1 folding map, 69 plates, some made from a camera lucida on site (views, archaeology, antiquities, expedition party at work), 1 folding map, 9 engraved text illustrations. 2 vols. 8vo (23.1 x 15 cm), original publisher’s brown gilt pictorial cloth with gilt Maya iconography on spines and upper covers. Bindings a little worn and chipped at extremities and edges, backstrip of Vol. 2 separated at lower joint; text and plates with mild foxing. A desirable copy, in the original pictorial bindings, fresh and clean interior, with tissue guards present. Contemporary ownership inscription and engraved bookplate of B. Homer Dixon, dated Boston July 31, 1841. U.S. author Dixon wrote The Border and Riding Clans and a Shorter History of Clan Dixon (Albany, 1888).

     First edition, author’s preface dated New York, May 1841 (p. iv). In Vol. I plate list, the Nicaragua Canal profile is incorrectly noted as being at p. 312 instead of 412, slug prints in right margin of Vol. I, p. 305, running head incorrectly reads “T” instead of “AT” on p. 465 of Vol. II. Sabin (cf. 91297) notes that: “There were many reissues from the same plates, with only slight variations in the collations.” The ownership inscription in the present copy is dated July 31, 1841, indicating that this set is from an early printing, if not the first. The book was published at the end of May 1841; the first copies appeared on the market at the end of June 1841. Reviews of the book were numerous and unanimously laudatory, stimulating spectacular sales. By August, 5,000 copies had been sold; by October, 12,000; and by December Stephens’ best-seller had sold over 20,000 copies and was into its eleventh printing. There are modern editions, and later printings, but they do not do justice to the fine Catherwood illustrations, which here are in good, dark impressions.

     Dumbarton Oaks, Archaeological Illustration in the Americas, p. 29:

Still one of the great bestsellers in the field of Pre-Columbian studies, John Lloyd Stephens’ account of his travels and studies in the region that is now Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico was of great importance for the study of the ancient Americas. It has been republished dozens of times since its first appearance in 1841. Stephens was one of the first authors to assert that the great Maya centers were built not by the Lost Tribes of Israel or shipwrecked Greeks, but by the ancestors of current populations of the area. The first edition of this immensely popular book was illustrated with black-and-white plates, maps, and plans by the artist Frederick Catherwood [see Catherwood herein]. Finding early representations lacking, Stephens and Catherwood sought to create accurate and complete illustrations, and spent ten months among the Maya documenting the remains of ancient centers. The numerous fine engravings, such as the view of the palace at Palenque, were certainly part of the book’s appeal. Ruins were first “scrubbed and cleaned” and, then, drawn in the field by Catherwood using a camera lucida.

     Field 1496 (citing only the twelfth edition): “It is difficult to believe that two individuals were capable of such an astounding amount of labor.” Hill I, p. 282. Hill II 1636: “This famous journey was 3,000 miles in length, and visits were made to forty-four ruined cities or places in which ancient populations were found, few of which had been explored before; it was the most extensive journey made up to that time in the Yucatán.” Palau 322310. Pilling 3749 (Lord’s Prayer in Quiche, Vol. 2, pp. 190-191. Numerals 1-1000, p. 191). Valle, Bibliographia Maya, p. 312.

     This work by two pioneers in Mesoamerican archaeology awakened an interest in the antiquities of Central America and became an instant classic. Their books on this subject remain in print to this day and are still consulted by scholars and travelers alike. Stephens wrote this book while on a confidential diplomatic mission to the Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan area “looking for the government to which he was accredited, and which he could never find” (DAB). Stephens had been sent by President Van Buren in 1839 to mediate between conservative and liberal factions in the throes of a civil war. The name John Lloyd Stephens is one that simultaneously evokes admiration and rancor in Yucatan. Stephens and Catherwood bought Copan for fifty dollars with the hopes of placing it in a museum in the U.S., but fortunately, this did not come to fruition.

    English artist Frederick Catherwood, who had previous archaeological drafting experience, accompanied Stephens. His plates are a worthy monument to Mesoamerican archaeology. Stephens and Catherwood brought to the world for the first time a reliable account of the fabulous Maya ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula and northern Central America. The existence of the marvelous cities of Palenque, Copan, and Uxmal was finally and unequivocally confirmed. The romantic image of ancient stone cities mouldering beneath the dense tropical rain forests captivated the public imagination. These two volumes, illustrated with Catherwood’s extraordinarily accurate engravings, caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. The results of the second expedition were published in 1843 as Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (see below).

     Stephens wrote “with a quick and keen observation, an appreciative and good-natured sense of the ludicrous, and a remarkable facility of retaining vividly to the last the freshness of first impressions” (DNB). As a result of his extensive travels and popular narrative accounts, Stephens became known as “the American traveler” (DNB). Stephens’ straightforward prose found its perfect match in Catherwood’s photographically precise engravings.

     Dumbarton Oaks, Archaeological Illustration in the Americas, p. 29: Still one of the great bestsellers in the field of Pre-Columbian studies, Stephens’ account of his travels and studies in the region that is now Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico was of great importance for the the study of the ancient Americas.... The first edition of this immensely popular book was illustrated with black-and-white plates, maps, and plans by the artist Frederick Catherwood. Field 1496 (citing twelfth edition). Hill I, p. 282. Hill II 1636. Palau 322310. Pilling 3749. Valle, Bibliographia Maya, p. 312.

($300-600)

Sold. Hammer: $500.00; Price Realized: $612.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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