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October 26, 2007

“The Most Satisfactory of the Overland Guides”-Streeter

252. WADSWORTH, W[illiam]. The National Wagon Road Guide, from St. Joseph and Council Bluffs, on the Missouri River, Via South Pass of the Rocky Mountains, to California. Containing a minute description of the entire route, with all its branches and cut-offs; distances from place to place; lakes, springs, creeks, rivers, ferries and fording places; mountains, canons [sic], deserts, alkali lagoons, meadows, camping and recruiting places; birds, animals, insects and reptiles; natural phenomena and remarkable scenery; with a Map of the Route, including the Salt Lake Country, with an Appendix. By W. Wadsworth. San Francisco: Whitton, Towne & Co., Printers and Publishers, No. 125 Clay Street, corner of Sansome, 1858. 160 pp. (including frontispiece), 30 wood-engraved illustrations by Charles Nahl and others (some full page, including wrapper illustrations), lithograph folded map by Kuchel & Dresel (in partial facsimile): Map of the Overland Route [lower left below neat line] Kuchel & Dresel Lith. 176 Clay St. S.F., approximately 13 x 45.5 cm. 8vo (17 x 10.5 cm), original pale green upper wrapper and spine (lacking lower wrap), wrapper title within ornamental border: The National Wagon Road Guide. [illustration of buffalo] In the Trail of the Buffalo, Followed First the Indian, Then The White Man. [rule] [six lines of verse] [rule] San Francisco: Published by Whitton, Towne & Co. 125 Clay St., corner Sansome. 1858; ads on verso of upper wrapper. Lacking lower wrapper and approximately 35 (of 41) cm of map (provided in facsimile). Covers moderately stained and lightly chipped (no loss of text or image). First few leaves lightly dog-eared. Except for light scattered foxing (more pronounced on early and last leaves), a very good copy of a rare survival.

            First edition of a very rare overland and a somewhat early California imprint. Cowan II, p. 665 (not in Cowan I). Graff 4502 (map with ms. notes, wraps). Flake 9499. Graff 4502. Greenwood, California Imprints, 1832-1862 #1029 (Copyrights, Appendix A, #147). Howes W3 (“d”). Huntington Sale 941: “Excessively rare. No record of sale at auction... Wagner says: ‘I think there is no doubt but that a map was published with this guide, but the copy in the Bancroft library lacks it as well as my own’” (the Huntington duplicate of Wadsworth in that 1923 sale went to Eberstadt for $290). Jones, Adventures in Americana 281 (illustrated). Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 656. Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives 1311: “Emigrant guidebooks as such are not included in this bibliography with the exception of a which the authors tell of their own personal adventures in addition to the usual advice and listing of mileage checkpoints. Wadsworth’s observations, although limited and somewhat effusive, qualify him as an eyewitness.” Mintz, The Trail 476. Plains & Rockies IV:313. Sabin 100930. Streeter Sale 3185 (complete copy with wraps and map): “This is one of the two perfect copies recorded of what seems to me the most satisfactory of the overland guides. Wadsworth had himself made several trips across the plains, of which he tells various incidents, and in writing his guide he had the advantage of over a dozen years of experience. In addition he knew how to write.-TWS.” Turner, In the Trail of the Buffalo: A Descriptive Bibliography of the Oregon, California, and Texas Guidebook, 1814-1860 (Ph.D. dissertation, George Washington University, 1980) 171.

             Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West #691 (incorrectly stating that the book in which the map appeared was The National Railroad Guide), illustrated in Vol. IV, opposite p. 106 & IV, p. 109: “In The National Railroad Guide [sic], published by W. Wadsworth, there is an excellent map from Independence, Fort Leavenworth, St. Joseph and Council Bluffs to San Francisco (although the railroad is shown ending at Sacramento).... This is a rare map and the book in which it is contained was one of the early ones published by Whitton, Towne & Co. in San Francisco. The map was lithographed by Kuchel and Dressel [sic] of San Francisco.” Wheat, Maps of the California Gold Region #313: “This map shows the route from Council Bluffs and St. Joseph via South Pass, thence via Fort Hall and Salt Lake to the Humboldt River, thence to California via ‘Noble’s Pass’ (to Quincy) and ‘Johnson Pass’ (to Placerville). Another route leading from Hope Valley to Murphy’s Camp is indicated, but no routes are shown across either ‘Truckee Pass,’ ‘Beckwourth’s Pass’ or ‘Henness Pass,’ though they are named on the map.” The map appears in facsimile in: The Memoirs of Lemuel Clarke McKeeby, San Francisco California Historical Society, 1924.

            Copies located: Bancroft (lacking p. 49-50 and 65-66; map removed and placed in map collection). Denver Public Library (complete). Huntington (lacking map). Graff/Newberry (complete). Princeton (wanting upper wrapper and map). Yale (lacks back wrap, missing map and some text). Becker reports a copy at WU (University of Wisconsin), but it is not in their catalogue.

            The illustrations are one of the appealing features of this book and in some cases represent comic art applied to a serious subject. Most notable among the artists is Charles Christian Nahl. Other artists include D. Van Vleck, Harrison Eastman, W. C. Butler, and an otherwise unidentified person who signs his initials “WW,” which may refer to Wadsworth himself. Hamilton (Early American Illustrators and Wood Engravers) does not list the book but comments on Nahl (#1109 & Vol. I, p. xli): “Nahl’s...spirited sketches depicting the life of the miner in the days of the gold rush are extraordinarily good, although...his miners have something of a Tyrolian look.... [Nahl] was an excellent interpreter of the humor and pathos of early California life and...dominated the field of the graphic arts on the western coast.” Harrison Eastman is discussed by Hamilton (Vol. I, pp. 121-122 & Vol. II, pp. 77-78). Van Vleck is not listed per se in Hamilton, but is mentioned in the entries for Nahl (Vol. I, p. 111 {#1113} & p. 119 {#1117}). All of these California artists are represented in the California pictorial lettersheets, as are Kuchel & Dresel (for the latter firm, see entries in this catalogue under Bird’s-Eye View).

            Amelia B. Bliss, in California Printing: A Selected List of Books which Are Significant or Representative of a California Style of Printing (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1980) #14:

The lengthy sub-title well describes the scope of the book... Although there had been earlier overland guide books, this was written by a man who had himself traveled the route and carefully noted distances, availability of water and feed for animals, good (and poor) camping sites, etc. He also had the advice and assistance of the U.S. Commissioner to give the line of the western section of the national wagon road. The road guide proper, pp. 73-132, is simply written in a straightforward manner and should certainly have been of invaluable help to those undertaking the journey. This, alone, would make the book an important item of California printing.

            The real charm of the volume, however, is in the first section and the appendix. In his preface, the author states that he had three reasons for writing the book: (1) to convince would-be emigrants from eastern states of the feasibility of the overland route and its comparative cheapness over other modes of travel, and (2) to show to the world that California is a land of unequalled inducements and advantages. In both instances, Wadsworth makes an impressive case. Careful lists and descriptions of the sort of equipment needed for the trip, scenery, pitfalls to look for and, hopefully, to avoid, all are presented in a sprightly text with dashes of humor to liven his truly serious purpose. Lively, almost cartoon-like illustrations by Charles Nahl also provide comic relief especially those that show how greenhorns could have saved themselves from all sorts of disasters had they been foresighted enough to have bought copies of the book! Since it appeared shortly after the Mountain Meadows Massacre, there is, not surprisingly, a long passage relating to potential difficulties with the Indians and Mormons in Utah Territory.

            In the appendix, Wadsworth becomes the perfect California booster. In his view, California is truly the golden legend, waiting only for young and strong men and women to come to live and work and turn it into a veritable Eden on earth. Although he continues to stress the opportunities in mining (particularly quartz mining), he is also foresighted enough to state strongly the importance of agriculture, whose capacities have scarcely been tested but which, he feels, should attract the energies of new emigrants.

            The book makes delightful reading and it is very tempting to quote some of the more diverting passages. Space will not permit this, but one, at least, must be included. In a burst of candor, the author states in his introduction: “Authors frequently omit to give the more real reason for the publication of their works. We avoid that error by declaring our third motive-perhaps it ought to have been put first-in getting up this work to be, to make money by its sale.”

When the Book was published in February, 1858 the printing costs were as follows:

5,000 copies “Wagon Road Guide” $520.00
1-1/4 reams of paper 10.00
binding same  44.00
500 posters  11.00

The guide was widely advertised both by the publishers and the author and, it was soon clear, was an unqualified success. As copies were sold by Towne, entries for credit were entered under Wadsworth’s name and by August, 1858, all printing costs had been repaid. I have been unable to determine what the price of the “Wagon Guide” was when published, although Wadsworth said he wanted it to be cheap in order to sell copies quickly. It would appear that the edition was disposed of rapidly and, if scarcity is a criterion (N.U.C. lists only 5 copies extant), it must have been used and re-used until its fragile binding fell to pieces. Hopefully, Mr. Wadsworth earned his money, for the guide was, as he himself stated, “just the book for the times.”


Sold. Hammer: $28,000.00; Price Realized: $32,900.00

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