Manuscript Map Prepared in the Quest for the Shortest Distance between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific

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599. [MAP]. CRAME, Agustín (after). “Ystmo de Tehuantepec y Curso del Río Goazacoalcos.” México, 1823 [after an original of February 20, 1774, signed and dated at lower left by copyist by Antonio Villard, who in turn acknowledges copying Diego García Panes y Abellán, who in turn copied the original on May 2, 1774]. Manuscript map on two sheets of laid paper joined horizontally at center, executed in black ink and watercolor wash (predominantly shades of green, ochre, and blue; roads and town markers in red), explanatory text and key at left, occupying about one-third of the surface. Overall sheet size: 72.2 x 50.3 cm. Marginal chipping touching border, old paper repairs on verso, minor splits (no losses), overall light wrinkling and age-toning. Color retention is excellent, and text is highly legible.

     An exceptionally handsome, detailed map showing rivers, bodies of water, towns, roads, geographical features with letters keyed to extensive commentary at left. The original was an early, if not the earliest, professional depiction of the area. Cortés was intensely interested in discovering a strait to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, an idea not explored again until Dampier at the end of the seventeenth century. In 1745 the project of opening the Tehuantepec route was explored but ultimately rejected by the Viceroy. Efforts to exploit and develop passage over the Isthmus continued well into the nineteenth century with no success. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 basically put an end to all such endeavors.

      The present version of Crame’s map is a manifestation of early serious interest in trying to open a suitable passage by water for ships or otherwise across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The original impetus for this map and the occasion for its creation was Agustín Crame’s 1774 expedition to see if a feasible way could be found to ship goods and armaments by land across the Isthmus instead of via Manila and San Blas. The text concentrates heavily on the available waterways and natural resources, concluding that it would not be all that difficult, using canals as necessary, to produce a means of crossing the Isthmus, a conclusion that was overly optimistic.

     In 1771 Agustín Crame (?-1780), brigadier general in the Spanish corps of engineers, came from Havana to be governor of Ulúa in Nueva España. There he began a survey of the fortifications of Ulúa and Veracruz. In 1774 Crame was sent to the West Indies and Central America to make comprehensive reports on the number and condition of fortifications and arms in the Spanish colonies there. Between 1774 and 1779 he concentrated on Margarita, Guiana, Cumana, Maracaibo, Santa Marta-Rio Hacha, Cartegena de Indias, Nicaragua, Omoa, Campeche, Yucatán, Merida-La Grita, and sites in Trinidad, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Panama, Mexico, New Granada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Honduras. On October 10, 1779, Crame filed his report with the king, Carlos III, and petitioned José de Gálvez, Marques de Sonora, minister to Carlos III, to allow him to participate in Spain’s war with Great Britain. His request, however, was not approved. Earlier that year, on September 15, Carlos III had directed him to go to Yucatán, but Crame never assumed the governmental position there as he died in Havana early in 1780.

     Cartographer Diego García Panes y Abellán (1730-1811) was educated in Barcelona and in 1755 commenced work on the fortifications at Veracruz with the Corps of Military Engineers. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General. For the rest of his career he was active in military matters, including fortifications, and in other public works, most notably an improvement of the road between Veracruz and Mexico City. He did, however, find ample time to research Mexico’s ancient history and published several books on the subject. Gabriela A. Cisneros Guerrero states in her book, Diego García Panes y Abellán: Un ingeniero militar en la historia indiana (Mexico: UNAM, 1995): “[Panes y Abellán] fue un personaje multifacético, producto de una época de profundos cambios, reformas y transformaciones.” Only recently has there been proper appreciation for his cartographic endeavors.

     Panes’ copy of the Ystmo map is preserved at the Archivo General de Indias in Seville. It is listed in Torres Lanzas No. 302. For more information on Agustín Crame see José Antonio Calderón Quijano, Historia de las fortifications en Nueva España (second edition, Madrid: Gobierno del Estado de Veracruz, 1984).


Sold. Hammer: $5,000.00; Price Realized: $6,125.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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