“Charnay was the first to undertake serious excavation work in the Mexican Archaeological zones”—Palmquist

“An important pioneer of archaeological photography”

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89. CHARNAY, [Claude-Joseph] Désiré. Les Anciennes villes du nouveau monde. Voyages d’explorations au Mexique et dans l’Amérique Centrale...1857-1882. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie., 79 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 1885. [i-vii] viii-xii, [1] 2-469 [1, blank], [2, errata, verso blank] pp., over 200 engravings, including frontispiece portrait, most from Charnay’s photographs (indicated as such in list of illustrations), some full-page (subjects include archaeology, architecture, artifacts, costume groups, views, natives), 19 maps and plans, including folded colored map: Carte des Migrations Toltèques d’après les explorations de Désiré Charney (neat line to neat line: 28.5 x 42.5 cm). Folio (37 x 28 cm), original grey printed wrappers with red and black printing, bound in modern black French morocco over marbled boards. About perfect condition of this handsome publication.

     First edition. Chadenat 17109. Griffin 1157n. Palau 67184. Vicaire, Manuel de l'amateur de livres du XIXe siècle, Vol. II, columns 265-266. With the passing of time, the reputation of notable French traveller-author-archaeologist-ethnographer-photographer Charnay (1828-1915) for Mesoamerican documentary and illustrative research only continues to grow. His work is highly collected by both Mesoamerican scholars and those appreciative of the aesthetics of his photography. Though criticized by some, including his contemporary Maudslay (see herein), Charnay is recognized for his pioneering use of photography and the use of papier-mâché moulds to document monuments. “ deservedly known today as an important pioneer of archaeological photography who much earlier, between 1858 and 1860, had already toured Palenque, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá and other sites with his enormously bulky photographic apparatus and fragile glass plates. On a subsequent expedition he had returned to take more photographs and to make papier-mâché moulds of monuments” (pp. 91-93, David Drew, The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings, Los Angeles: University of California, 1999). The engravings in this book were for the most part made from Charnay’s own photographs (a number of the plates are after Catherwood’s images in John L. Stephens’ book). In a few of the images Charnay is shown at work or exploring. The reproductions of Aztec and Mayan glyphs rival Catherwood’s efforts in the expeditions of John Lloyd Stephens (see entries under Catherwood and Stephens in this catalogue).

     In 1850, Charnay immigrated to the U.S. and taught languages in New Orleans, where he read the works of John L. Stephens and was inspired to follow in Stephen’s footsteps with the goal of photographing archaeological sites in Mexico. Charnay began his first voyage to Mexico in 1857, but was delayed because of the outbreak of the Civil War and political upheaval in Mexico. He made two subsequent voyages to Mexico, in 1860 and 1880-1882. These later trips, which included Teotihuacán, a cemetery near Popocatépetl, the summit of Ixtaccihuatl, Ozumba, Chimal, Tulas, the Belloe Islands, Comalco, Palenque, Yucatan, and sites farther south, were “an exhaustive archaeological survey incorporating excavations, mapping, and making molds of friezes. Charnay documented all of this work with a small camera.... In 1881 the survey continued at Palenque, where continuous January rains swelled the wood of Charnay’s camera to the point that it became inoperable.... Contemporary archaeologists generally dismissed Charnay’s archaeological theories as superficial and speculative, but most conceded that his chief value to the field was as a popularizer of Mesoamerican archaeology. Charnay was at times a keen observer, and many of his findings have stood the test of time” (pp. 171-172, Palmquist, Pioneer Photographers of the Far West). Charnay’s final expedition to Mexico was in 1886, after publication of this work.


Sold. Hammer: $600.00; Price Realized: $735.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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