The Beginning of Scientific Shipbuilding in Spain & New Spain

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New vellum binding by
Green Dragon Bindery

158. GAZTAÑETA Y ITURRIVALZAGA, José Antonio de. Proporciones de las medidas mas essempciales, dadas por el theniente general da la Armada Real del Mar Occeano [sic] Don Antonio de Gastañeta, de Orden del Rey nuestro Señor, para la fabrica de navios, y fragatas de Guerra, que puedan montar desde ochenta Cañones hasta diez, cuyas proporciones tiene resuelto su Magestad se observen por regla general en todos sus Astilleros de España, como en las de la America. Con las Explicaciones de la Construccion de la varenga maestra, plano, y perfil particular de vn Navio de setenta cañones, con los largos, gruessos, y anchos de los materiales con que debe executar. Madrid: Por Phelipe Alonso, Criado de su Majestad, 1720. [10], 31 folios, 1 folded table, 1 copper-engraved folded plate of shipbuilding plan for a seventy-gun war ship (Descripciones de la varenga maestra y espejo de toda la popa llana hasta sv coronamiento.... Gravado por D Gazan Madrid; neat line to neat line: 36.5 x 66.5 cm; overall sheet size: 39.3 x 67.7 cm). Folio (29 x 20.5 cm), new vellum. First and last leaves stabilized (no losses), all leaves and plate with small worm holes affecting some letters and image, mild stains in last half of book. Overall, very good. Very rare. Only five copies listed on OCLC, with only two in the United States, and no auction records for the past thirty years.

     First edition of the first Spanish scientific shipbuilding guide. Ensayo de bibliografía marítima española 100. European Americana 1720/100. Palau 100976. Dated at end 21 September 1720. The first leaf comprises a royal decree of 13 May 1721, ordering that this book be used throughout the kingdom, including the New World, for the construction of ships and that the directions contained in it be strictly followed. He also orders the book to be published and distributed throughout his domains. The book was written at the King’s express command.

     An extremely detailed shipbuilding guide, the work is divided into several parts. Gaztañeta opens with a rather testy introduction in which he explains and defends his education, experience, seamanship, and knowledge of ship construction, apparently written in the full knowledge that Spain was no doubt full of “experts” whom he hoped to defang. As he concludes: “Tres cosas te pido, Lector amigo, por ti mismo. Una es, que si no tienes perfecta comprehension de la Nautica, no censures lo que no entiendes. Otra, que si la possees, y dificuldades, me hagas honra de suspender la censura, hasta la experiencia. Otra, que no te detengas en buscar flores en mi estilo porque jamàs tuve cuidado de ellas, ni la sincera verdad las necessita” (p. [10]). In the first major section, the various proportions of warships from eighty guns down to ten are covered in depth, all of which is summed up on the folded table. That is followed by a discussion of construction techniques for the main hull timber (i.e., the keel) and the poop deck. Next comes a more detailed explanation of constructing a warship of seventy guns as shown in the plate. The work ends with a disquisition on interpreting correctly the plans shown in the plate. This is a major eighteenth-century treatise on shipbuilding that guided Spanish warship construction for the better part of the century and set the example for scientific ship construction. It complemented his two previous works on navigation and seamanship.

     Gaztañeta (1656-1728) enjoyed a long, distinguished career in the Spanish navy, first sailing as a young man with his father to Veracruz, where his father died. Gaztañeta was thus forced to assume some responsibility for sailing the vessel, which he successfully saw back to Pasages, Spain. That was merely the first of several voyages to New Spain, including one begun in 1699 accompanying Pedro Fernández de Navarette to eject the Scots from their Darien colony. Despite the honors and increased rank that devolved on him, he always remained interested in piloting, at which he was expert. His last name is sometimes spelled Castañeta.


Sold. Hammer: $2,500.00; Price Realized: $3,062.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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