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Item 38. Forbes’s California, with an important map and outstanding plates by artist William Smyth—“The first book in English to relate exclusively to California” (Streeter).
|38. FORBES, Alexander
(1778-1864). California: A History of Upper
and Lower California from Their First Discovery to the Present Time,
Comprising an Account of the Climate, Soil, Natural Productions, Agriculture,
Commerce &c. A Full View of the Missionary Establishments and Condition
of the Free and Domesticated Indians. With an Appendix Relating to
Steam Navigation in the Pacific. Illustrated with a New Map, Plans
of the Harbours, and Numerous Engravings. London: Smith, Elder and
Co., 1839. xvi, 352 pp., lithographic frontispiece of Father Antonio
Peyri, 9 lithographic plates, folding lithographic map of California
on thin paper with original outline coloring in red, green, and yellow:
The Coasts of Guatimala [sic] and Mexico, from
Panama to Cape Mendocino; with the Principal Harbours in California.
London, Smith Elder & Co. 1839. John
Arrowsmith (37 x 50 cm; 14-1/2 x 19-3/4 inches),
with insets: (1) Harbour of San Francisco, by Captn.
Beechey R.N.; (2) Sketch of Puerto de S. Diego by Captn.
John Hall; (3) Sketch of Monterrey Harbour, by
Captn.John Hall; (4) Sketch of St.
Barbara Harbour by Captn. John Hall; (5) Sketch of
Port S. Gabriel, or S. Pedro by Captn. John Hall.
8vo, original blindstamped plum cloth, spine gilt-lettered. Spine
light, otherwise exceptionally fine, unopened, the plates and map just
about perfect. Preserved in a brown board slipcase. With San Francisco
bookseller Newbegin’s typed catalogue slip tipped onto front free endpaper,
and pastedown with small printed labels of Newbegin’s and Westley’s
& Co. Bindery in London.
First edition, with the errata slip at p. 339. Barrett, Baja California 866. Cowan I, p. 88. Cowan II, p. 217. Graff 1377. Harlow, Maps of San Francisco Bay 23; Maps of the Pueblo Lands of San Diego 13. Hill, p. 107. Holliday 382. Howell 50, California 83. Howes F242. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 38. LC, California Centennial 42. Norris 1155. Streeter Sale 2491: “The first book in English to relate exclusively to California.” Van Nostrand & Coulter, California Pictorial, pp. 22-27 (illustrating one lithograph from this work and original watercolors on which two of the plates were based). Walker, A Literary History of Southern California, p. 37: “Survey of California, the rich plum of the Pacific, made by...Forbes, the English merchant at Tepic, who in his vivid and charming California (1839) did his best to persuade the English to act while there was yet time.” Zamorano 80 #38.
The map with insets of San Francisco, San Diego, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and San Pedro is important. Harlow (Maps of San Francisco Bay 23) comments on the San Francisco chart: “A detail of the Beechey chart of San Francisco Bay, including the San Francisco peninsula to south of the mission, a large part of Marin peninsula, and the east shore from Point Pinole south to San Antonio Creek. It is a selective copy, showing the approaches to the bay, soundings, and some surface details but not the amount of relief found in the original.” Forbes’s use of Beechey’s (q.v.) map is an early reworking of Beechey’s important San Francisco map (Harlow 19). Harlow (Maps of the Pueblo Lands of San Diego 13) comments on the early chart of San Diego port: “One of the charts of California ports made by the English sea captain John Hall during the visit of the Lady Blackwood to San Diego in 1822, probably for his own use, and published in 1839.... The coastal map, according to Hall and the editor of the accompanying work, was by Arrowsmith.... John Forbes, editor of his brother’s work on California, stated that the charts of Bodega, ‘Monterrey,’ Santa Barbara, San Pedro, and San Diego were from Hall’s ‘own original surveys.’” ($1,200-2,400)
|38A. FORBES, Alexander. California:
A History of Upper and Lower California from Their Discovery to the
Present Time.... San Francisco: Thomas C. Russell, 1919. 10, xvi,
372 pp., 10 hand-colored plates. Royal 8vo, original tan boards, printed
paper spine label. Joints split and repaired with tape, a few mild stains
to boards, internally very fine, with bookplate of Thomas Wayne Norris
on front pastedown. Original prospectus laid in. Thomas C. Russell’s
autograph letter signed to Thomas Wayne Norris dated at San Francisco, February
7, 1919, advising that all copies with hand-colored plates have been
sold but that he will endeavor to fill the order since the binder had
not yet finished binding the entire edition.
Limited edition (#30 of 250 copies, signed by publisher). Norris 1154 (this copy). ($100-300)
38B. FORBES, Alexander. California: A History of Upper and Lower
California.... San Francisco: John Henry Nash, 1937. [1, facsimile
of original title page]  xxxi  229 [1, colophon] pp., decorated
title and chapter headings, frontispiece portrait, folding map, text
illustrations (full-page, from original plates). Large 8vo, original
brown cloth over marbled boards, printed paper spine label. Superb
British merchant Alexander Forbes wrote the first book published
in English relating exclusively to California. His narrative, as observed
by Hubert Howe Bancroft, was not so much a history as “a presentation
by an intelligent man of business of the country’s actual condition,
capabilities, institutions, and prospects.” His book, more than any
other, made California known to the English-speaking world and spurred
on both European and American interest in controlling this remote Mexican
——Gary F. Kurutz
Additional sources consulted: Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California (San Francisco: The History Company, 1886), vol. 4, pp. 151-52; Edith M. Coulter, Introduction to An Account of a Visit to California 1826-27 (San Francisco: The Book Club of California, 1941); Herbert I. Priestly, Introduction to California: A History of Upper and Lower California (San Francisco: John Henry Nash, 1937), pp. ix-xxii; Neal Harlow, Maps of San Francisco Bay (San Francisco: The Book Club of California), p. 71 and Maps of the Pueblo Lands of San Diego (Los Angeles: Dawson’s Book Shop, 1987), pp. 76-77.