The Scientific Side of Maximilian’s Invasion of Mexico

First Publication of the Boban Calendar Wheel

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149. FRANCE. COMMISSION SCIENTIFIQUE DU MEXIQUE. Archives de la Commission Scientifique du Mexique publiées sous les auspices du Ministère de l’Instruction Publique [wrapper title]. París: Imprimerie Impériale, 1864-1869. Vol. I, fascicle 1: [4], [1] 2-204 pp; fascicle 2: [2], 207-400 pp.; fascicle 3: [1] 402-467 [1, blank] pp., 2 plates. Vol. II, fascicle 1: [4], [1-2] 3-127, [1] pp., 1 color folded plate; fascicle 2: [2], 131-208, [2] pp., 1 color folded plate; fascicle 3: [2], 213-337 [1, blank] pp., 3 folded plates, 1 folded chart; fascicle 4: [1] 340-431 [1, blank] pp., 7 folded plates (6 color), 2 folded maps; fascicle 5: [2], 437-499 [1, blank] pp., 2 maps. Vol. III, fascicle 1: [4], [1] 2-163 [1, blank] pp., 4 maps (3 folded, 2 color), 6 plates (2 color); fascicle 2: [1] 168-535 [1, blank], [4] pp., 8 plates (7 folded, 4 color), 3 maps (1 color, 2 folded; including large folding map, see below). 29 plates, 9 maps, and 1 chart (lithographs and engravings), several text illustrations. 3 vols. in 10 parts. 8vo (24 x 16 cm), original salmon printed wrappers in original glassine. Except for a few waterspots and some loose plates at the end of Vol. 3, pristine, as issued. Rare in this condition. Preserved in a natural linen folding box with gilt lettered tan morocco spine label.


Carte des Régions Mexicaines explorées Pendant les Années 1864, 1865 et 1866. [above left neat line] Voyage de E. Guillemin-Tarayre [below neat line at left] Gravé chez Erhard [below neat line at right] Imprimé à l’Imprimerie Impériale. [Paris], 1867. engraved map of Mexico, present U.S., Central America, with red lines showing Guillemin-Tarayre’s route and the places visited in red shading. Moderately foxed.

     First edition (not offered for public sale). BMC (Nat. Hist.) I, p. 608. Chadenat, Le Bibliophile américain 2210 (1865-1867): “Non mis dans le commerce.” Glass, p. 595 (citing this publication Vol. III, pp. 120-133, description and color lithograph of the Boban Calendar Wheel); see also entry 30 of John B. Glass “A Survey of Native Middle American Pictorial Manuscripts.” Leclerc, Bibliotheca Americana (1878) 1067 : “Cette publication renferme d’importants mémoires sur le Mexique.” Palau 15651. Sabin 48286. For a comprehensive study of the Commission and its work, see Armelle Le Goff & Nadia Prevost Urkidi, Commission Scientifique du Mexique: Répertoire méthodique et semi-analytique (Paris: Archives Nationales, 2009).

     In 1864, as a consequence of the French invasion of Mexico, Napoleon III established the Commission Scientifique du Mexique, a large-scale multidisciplinary expedition that labored under difficult conditions. Although the commission made many enduring contributions to the understanding of Mexico, its overall success is considered somewhat less than stellar, especially in comparison to other French scientific endeavors, such as those to Egypt, partly because it was cut short by the French withdrawal in 1867. The commission’s work was not helped by the fact that the country was at war, and that situation made it difficult for members to do research unless they were under military protection. Although its activities were confined basically to central Mexico because the French army was nowhere near large enough to hold vast amounts of Mexican territory, the commission did attempt to work with local organizations and learned societies.

     Important publications from the commission’s work continued to appear for decades after the French Intervention. The large-scale 1873 Niox map of Mexico was directly indebted to the commission’s work. Finally, because two commissioners landed first at California before making their way to Mexico, the reports include material about mining in California and the American West, although those areas were not technically part of Mexico at the time. Included is text by E. Guillemin-Tarayre and two maps relating to mines in Lower California, with brief notices of the mines in Upper California (Vol. II, fascicle 4, pp. 403-415). In Vol. III, fascicle 2, pp. 341-537 is a long article by Guillemin-Tarayre entitled “Notes Archéologiques et Ethnographiques” which presents separate articles on linguistics for Mexico, along with Native Americans in New California, New Mexico, and the Borderlands (not in Pilling).

     A few comments are made on Texas, such as Vol. III, fascicle 2, p. 252-253, which contains an interesting description of experiments with cattle breeding involving wild cattle, Durham, and Brahman breeds, seeking to produce better stock that was more suited to the climate of northern Chihuahua and Texas. The author reports that the experiments have succeeded quite nicely in producing a proper breed of cattle that thrives in the area. As for linguistics of Native Americans in Texas, the author states that those languages have been superseded by Spanish.

     The commissioners also examined Mexican materials from French archives, including those from the Boban collection. Among the contributors to this work are a Who’s Who of French Mesoamericanists of the time, including Aubin and Brasseur de Bourbourg. Present is Brasseur de Bourbourg’s report on Maya ruins, an excellent piece of archaeological analysis by a senior scientist. Perhaps the most significant illustration in this work is a large, vividly colored, folding lithograph of the Boban calendar wheel which preserves elements now lost from the original thorough deterioration. The plate is in Vol. III, fascicle 1, p. 120, accompanied by an article by Colonel Doutrelaine (pp. 120-133). The original and this plate are illustrated on the John Carter Brown Library web site “Archive of Early American Images” with commentary:

Symbolic representation of the months and days of the Aztec year with explanatory text in Nahuatl language transcribed into European script. At top left of the interior circle is a depiction of Hernando decor [Hernán Cortés?] wearing a black Spanish hat seated on a blue circle [the Lake of Mexico?], at top right is Don Antonio Pimentel [son of Ixtlilxochitl, an ally of Cortés, and last native king of Tezcuco] seated on a representation of a mountain [the Sierras of Acolhuan]. In the middle is an image of Netzcualcoyotl [the king of Acolhuan], and Itzcohuatl [his ally, the king of Mexico]. Each is enthroned with their symbol in front of them. At bottom, are depictions of the ancient Chichimecas, founders of the Tezcuco empire, or native Americans, who sit before a sacrificial fire which rises to the sun.

The Boban Calendar, named after Eugène Boban, a French archeologist and collector, was brought to general attention in 1866 when Colonel Doutrelaine published a reproduction and explanation of the calendar in Archives de la commission scientifique de Mexique, Paris, 1866-1867, Vol. 3, pp. 120-133. Because of deterioration, the reproduction made in 1866 shows much greater detail than the original [emphasis added]. The names of the months are written in Nahuatl (but with Castilian characters); the months are given different symbols than are usually present on other Aztec calendars.

     Another contribution of note is the ascent of Popocatepetl in 1865 by the party of Aguste de Dollfus. Another report outlines the exploration of Casas Grandes (140 miles southwest of El Paso) and research on a meteorite found there weighing 3,407 pounds. Also worthy of note is meteorologist Andrès Poey’s article on polarization of the atmosphere, “Note sur Coloration et la Polarisation de la Lumiêre de la Lune durant L’Èclipse Totale du 30 Mars 1866, Observée á Mexico.” As might be expected, the work is rich in material on mines and mining in Mexico.


Sold. Hammer: $1,000.00; Price Realized: $1,225.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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