Beautiful Plates of Mexico & Central America by a Polish Soldier of Fortune

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535. TEMPSKY, G[ustavus] F[erdinand] von. Mitla. A Narrative of Incidents and Personal Adventures on a Journey in Mexico, Guatemala, and Salvador in the Years 1853 to 1855. With Observations on the Modes of Life in Those Countries. G.F. von Tempsky. Edited by J[ames] S[tanislaus] Bell, Author of “Journal of a Residence in Circassia in the Years 1836 to 1839.” London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts [verso of half title: London: Printed by Spottiswoode and Co., New-Street Square], 1858. [i-vi] vii-xv [1], [1] 2-436 pp., folded copper-engraved map with original outline coloring, 5 lithograph plates on toned grounds with original hand coloring, one of which is folding, 9 leaves of wood-engraved illustrations, 2 wood-engraved illustrations in text (views, archaeology, ethnological and costume, encounter between ranchero and Native Americans, all by author). 8vo (22.4 x 14.5 cm), full contemporary rose polished calf, spine extra gilt with raised bands and green gilt-lettered spine label, covers and edges of binding rolled in gilt, edges marbled, matching marbled endpapers. Gift inscription in ink on front free endpaper: “William Turner, with the best wishes of William, Wyndham, Portal—on his leaving Eton to the regret of his friends; Christmas 1865.” Light binding wear (with minor professional restoration), interior fine except for occasional very mild water staining affecting top blank edge of a few plates, one color plate with spot in blank margin, overall a fine copy of one of the more beautiful nineteenth-century color plate books on Latin America. The plates are very fresh. Like the Hill copy, our copy has the rare half-title but the ads are not present.


Route through Mexico, Guatemala & S. Salvador by G. F. v. Tempsky [below neat line] London Longman & Co. | Drawn & Engraved by Edwd. Weller Duke Strt. Bloomsbury. Folded copper-engraved map on thin, strong paper, with original outline hand coloring. Neat line to neat line: 28.8 x 33.9 cm; overall sheet size: 34.2 x 35 cm.

Lithograph Plates with Original Hand Coloring

All measurements for are image area only irrespective of imprints and titles. Imprints are immediately below images and titles follow. Imprints are: Von Tempsky, Delt. | M & N. Hanhart, lith. Overall sheet size for all but the folded plate [2, below] is 13.2 x 21.8 cm.

[1]  Mexican near the Hacienda. del Valle. Image size: 9 x 15.2 cm. Lively scene on a hacienda, with excellent costume details and several men on horseback, including one riding like the wind and whirling a lasso. Frontispiece.

[2]  View of Durango from the Santuario. Image: 9 x 15.2 cm; overall sheet size: 13.2 x 25.4 cm. City view of Durango in which figures lounge on a tile patio overlooking scenery and Durango in the distance. A man on horseback and a blue carriage are outside the patio perimeter; smaller figures are in the distance. Folding plate after p. 44.

[3]  Fight between the Ranchero and the Indian Antagonists. Image size: 9 x 15.7 cm. Animated clash between equestrians: a well-armed rancher on a white horse and Native American warriors wielding shields and arrows. Following p. 166.

[4]  Main Building of the Ruins near Mitla. Image size: 10.5 x 16.8 cm. Placid view of Mitla with two men in rocky foreground and mountains in background. Preceding p. 253.

[5]  Lake of Atitlan. Image size: 10.2 x 16.9 cm. Majestic scene of the Maya country in the Guatemala Highlands, the centerpiece of which is Lake Atitlán, the deepest lake in Central America shaped by the volcanoes surrounding it. In the foreground is an equestrian figures and carriers, and at mid-ground is a white structure with a tile roof. Preceding p. 319.

Uncolored Wood-Engraved Plates & Text Illustrations

[1]  La Ramada. Domestic village scene. Plate facing p. 1.

[2]  Plaza of Zacatecas. Typical plaza with tents and vendors against the backdrop of impressive colonial architecture and high mountains. Plate facing p. 157.

[3]  Mexican Saddle.—(Silla-Esceleto.). Text illustration on p. 180.

[4]  Two architectural plans of Mitla: [upper] First Group of Ruins near Mitla. [lower] Second Group of Mitla Ruins. Plate facing p. 250.

[5]  Two views of Mitla: [upper] Main Building of the First Group. With Pillar of Death in the Subterraneous Chambers. [lower] Side View of a Flank Building of the First Group. Plate facing p. 251.    

[6]  Mexican Mosaic. Architectural detail of the corner of a stone wall at Mitla. Plate preceding p. 252.

[7]  Two views of Mitla: [upper] Grand Hall of the Main Building of the Second Group. [lower] Chamber of the Main Building of the Second Group. Plate preceding color plate before p. 253.

[8]  Indian Headman and Woman of Santa Catarina. Costume plate facing p. 363.

[9]  Indians of Santa Catarina.—Woman and Child. Costume plate facing p. 365.

[10] Indian and Priest of Santa Catarina. Costume plate facing p. 368.

[11] [Marimba Player]. Text illustration of a musician on p. 385.

     First edition. Abbey, Travel in Aquatint and Lithography I:665. Field 1612. Palau 329979. Parker, Travels in Central America, p. 323. Hill I, p. 589: “This work has become very scarce and costly.” Hill II:1684:

Tempsky [1828-1868], a Prussian adventurer and talented artist, was educated in the Berlin Military academy and served many years in the army and later as a mercenary. His wife, Emilia Bell, was born in Greytown, Nicaragua. This book is an interesting account of Tempsky’s journey in Mexico, Tehuantepec, and Central America, and his attempt to portray the inhabitants ‘in a life-like manner.’ The text begins with an 1853 sea voyage aboard the French brig Indépendance from San Francisco to Mazatlán, Mexico. The author had spent three years in California (he has been described as John Sutter's personal bodyguard) and gives an interesting [and positive] account of Joaquín Murieta. In later years, Tempsky immigrated to Australia and then went on to New Zealand, where he was killed in bush fighting against the Maoris.

     Some idea of the mettle of the man may be inferred by Tempsky's legendary skill with the Bowie knife and the monicker of “Manu Rau” (Thunder Bird) bestowed on him by the Maori for his fighting prowess. Yet, the man could paint a delicate watercolor landscape or capture the details of Native dress or the floor plan of a Mitla structure with his pen and pencil. The exceptionally beautiful color plates in this book are after Tempsky's own art work. For more on the author-artist, see W.T. Parnham, Von Tempsky: Adventurer... (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1969) and Rose Young, et al, G.F. von Tempsky: Artist & Adventurer (Martinborough, New Zealand: Alister Taylor, 1981). Also, Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, which states in part:

The political and economic instability of early nineteenth-century Europe, and stories of a brave new world in another hemisphere, were at once a temptation and a challenge to the young officer whose adventurous spirit rebelled against the peacetime maneuverings of an army into which he was hustled by an uncompromising jack-booted parent. Unrest and insurrection were paving the way for the consolidation of the new Germany, but politics and intrigue had no appeal for young von Tempsky, and it was only natural that, at the conclusion of his military service in 1848, he should turn his attention to more exciting fields. Armed with an introduction from Lord Westmoreland to the British authorities in the tiny Mosquito Kingdom in Central America, he set out with some sturdy companions with the intention of establishing a small settlement there. The colony failed due to rigours of climate and a hostile native population, and von Tempsky drifted into the filibustering that was then almost endemic in the Mexican Confederation. Commissioned as a captain, he led a guerrilla force into Nicaragua late in 1848, and then joined up with British naval units, acting as a guide in forays against up-river Nicaraguan cities.

From Central America the young soldier of fortune turned his eyes towards the Californian gold diggings, where he found plenty of action and excitement but little money. He spent the year 1850 in the maelstrom that was San Francisco, and then turned his back on the Pacific seaboard and returned to Mexico, where he attached himself to an expedition into the interior which extended over 3,000 miles of wild hostile country, including large expanses of Guatemala and Salvador. At the end of two years he returned to the coast and married Emilia, the daughter of the British Resident, James Stanislaus Bell, with whom he and his wife returned to Scotland when his tour of duty was completed. For some months he was content to concentrate on a fascinating book, Mitla, which recounted his adventures in the Americas; and it was at this time that he also began to develop a talent for water-colour sketching some of his engagements in the Maori Wars in New Zealand.

     A good deal of the text and several of the plates illustrate Mitla, the Zapotec ruins outside Oaxaca, Mexico. Tempsky's travels in Northern Mexico document in an engaging fashion ranching on a grand scale (“cattle estates”), rustling, and Comanche and Apache depredations in the Borderlands. The handsome copper-engraved map is an accurate, careful delineation showing routes and boundaries to inform future travellers. Supplementing the map is a table charting Tempsky's itinerary with stations, place names, and distances in leagues between point.


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

Auction 23 Abstracts

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