Zamorano Eighty

“The first book in English to relate exclusively to California”—Streeter

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148. FORBES, Alexander. 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., Cornhill [colophon: Chichester: Printed by William Hayley Mason], 1839. [i-iii] iv-xvi, [1] 2-352 pp., errata slip at p. 339; 10 uncolored lithograph plates (frontispiece of Father Antonio Peyri, Californian throwing the lasso, Indians of California, views of San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara) by Day & Haghe after original artwork by Capt. W. Smyth and others; plus folded lithographic map of California with 6 insets of ports (see below). 8vo (23 x 14.8 cm), original blind-embossed green cloth, spine gilt-lettered. Spine slightly faded, with minor wear to binding, occasional foxing to interior (mainly confined to first few leaves), overall very good to fine, map very fine. Front pastedown with engraved armorial bookplate of Strathallan, with two men holding clubs and wearing wreaths, two falcons, two lion heads, and motto: “Lord Have Mercy” and Latin phrase translating: “‘Tis from the mercy of our God that all our hopes begin.”


The Coasts of Guatimala [sic] and Mexico, from Panama to Cape Mendocino; with the Principal Harbours in California. 1839. [below neat line] London, Smith Elder & Co. 1839. John Arrowsmith]; 6 insets, clockwise from top right: [1] Sketch of Port S. Gabriel, or S. Pedro by Captn. John Hall. [2] Sketch of St. Barbara Harbour by Captn. John Hall. [3] Sketch of Monterrey Harbour, by Captn. John Hall. [4] Sketch of Puerto de S. Diego by Captn. John Hall; [5] Harbour of San Francisco, by Captn. Beechey R.N. [6] Sketch of Port Bodega by Captn. John Hall. Engraved map on thin paper with original outline coloring in red, green, orange, and yellow. Neat line to neat line: 37 x 49 cm; overall sheet size: 41 x 58 cm. Harlow, Maps of San Francisco Bay 23; Maps of the Pueblo Lands of San Diego 13.

     First edition of “the first book in English to relate exclusively to California” (Streeter Sale 2491). Barrett 866. Cowan I, p. 88. Cowan II, p. 217. Graff 1377. Hill, p. 107. Hill II:619. Holliday Sale 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. Sabin 24035: “The author was one of the first of the Anglo-Saxon race to explore this, till lately, unknown country; he reaped the reward of his enterprise by securing the possession of the great quicksilver mines, now worked by the firm of which he is the head. Mr. Forbes says that ‘if the country round St. Francisco bay were only peopled, that port would engross the commerce of the coast.’ He also refers to the total absence of gold and silver in the region! Tempora mutatur.” 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.

     Gary Kurutz, commentary in Volkmann Zamorano 80 Catalogue:

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 province.

A longtime resident of Mexico, Forbes completed the text for his book in October 1835 before sending it off to England for publication. Amazingly, Forbes had never set foot in California. A delay in publication allowed for the addition of new material up to the year 1838. His brother, Dr. John Forbes, edited the work and supervised its publication. The majority of this book consists of a history of both Baja and Alta California based on the works of Miguel Venegas, Francisco Palóu, and others. For more current affairs, Forbes relied on correspondence with Californios like José Bandini and his agents. The volume contains excellent descriptions of the region’s climate, natural productions, agriculture, and commerce. Showing his futuristic thinking, Forbes included material on steam navigation in the Pacific and advocated using the Isthmus of Panama as a more rapid means of linking Europe to the Pacific. The most fascinating component, however, is a chapter entitled “Upper California Considered As a Field of Foreign Colonization.” As British vice-consul in Tepic, Mexico, Forbes was keenly interested in the future prospects of California, writing: “Taking every circumstance into account, perhaps no country whatever can excel or hardly vie with California in natural advantages.” Sparsely settled California with its natural harbors and fertile soil, he campaigned, would be an attractive colony for English settlers and “the innumerable starving population of the Old World.” Forbes hoped that England (and not America) would acquire California in exchange for the millions of dollars owed to it by the Mexican government. He postulated that if an industrious people settled California, it “would soon be one of the most interesting and prosperous spots on the earth.”

Although called engravings on the title page, the volume is actually illustrated with ten handsome lithographs of native peoples and coastal settlements. Eight of the plates are based on watercolor sketches by William Smyth. The artist had served on Captain F. W. Beechey’s ship the Blossom when it cruised the California coastline in 1826-1827. The plate of “California Mode of Catching Cattle” was first published in Beechey. Smyth’s images also appeared in the works by Duflot de Mofras, Dwinelle, and Farnham.... In the appendix, Forbes added Hall’s “Remarks on the Harbours of California, with Directions for Navigating Them.”

     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 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.’”

     Forbes includes good coverage of the ranchos and great haciendas of California, cattle, and the culture of the horse. The lithograph “California Mode of Catching Cattle...” shows an expert horseman in action with his lasso. Forbes discusses the Californian skill with the rope, contests involving lassoing, and notes that “the first thing you saw in a little urchin’s hand was a lasso of thread or twine with which he essayed to ensnare his mother’s kittens and chickens” (p. 274).


Sold. Hammer: $1,100.00; Price Realized: $1,347.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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