Lot 269 of 392:
Wilkes Narrative 1/150 copies "Unofficial Issue"  

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$20,000 - $30,000

Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842

Wilkes, Charles


Lea & Blanchard



5 volumes + Atlas. lxvi, [2], 455; xvi, 505; xv, [1], 463; xvi, 574; xv, [1], 591 pp. Errata slip in Vol V. Atlas with half-title, title & contents leaves + 5 engraved maps (2 of them hand-colored). Text volumes illustrated with 64 steel-engraved plates; 47 steel-engraved vignettes in the text; numerous woodcuts in the text; 9 double-page copper-engraved maps. Text volumes are (4to) 33x24 cm. (13x9½"), original dark brown (sometimes called black) cloth stamped in gilt, expertly rebacked with original spine strips laid down; atlas is (8vo) 28x17.5 cm (11x6¾"), original brown coth stamped in gilt. One of 150 copies. U.S. Congress Edition, Unofficial Issue [i.e. Second Edition].

The rare second edition of Wilkes' Narrative, an unofficial re-issue of the first edition of the preceding year. On the versos of the title-pages are the imprints, "C. Sherman, Printer,/ 19 St. James Street, Philadelphia." The 1844 first edition was limited to 100 copies, 25 of which were destroyed by fire, 63 of the remaining copies distributed to heads of state of foreign countries, and most of the others sent to American state libraries. Most copies of this second edition, virtually identical to the first edition save for the imprint, were likewise sent to institutions. Both of these editions are technically quarto, though often referred to as folio. They are not to be confused with the first trade edition of 1845, limited to 1000 copies, sometimes called a quarto though in actuality imperial octavo. The atlas volume in the present set is from the trade edition with only the world map hand-colored, whereas in the atlas for the two "Congress" editions, the map of Oregon was colored as well. As Howes notes, this was "The first United States scientific expedition by sea. Wilkes sailed along and surveyed the whole Northwest coast and his exploring parties penetrated into the interior at many points..." Hill notes that Wilkes "sailed into the Antarctic Ocean and along the Antarctic Continent from 150° to 97° East, reporting land at a number of points in the region now know as Wilkesland. He visited Tonga, the Fiji group, and the Hawaiian Islands in 1840, and in 1841 explored the west coast of North America. The findings were timely, in view of the dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon Territory, and he also visited San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River...." The numerous engravings and plates include striking depictions of Pacific islands and their natives, Hawaiian volcanoes, Australia, the continent of Antarctica, an early rendition of the outpost at Astoria, an encampment on the Sacramento with Californios relaxing, mountains in the distance, Mt. Shasta, etc., and an important map of the Western half of the present U.S. The atlas volume contains five significant maps:

  • Chart of the World Shewing the Tracks of the U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1838, 39, 40, 41 & 42, 59x85.5 cm. (this one hand-colored).
  • Chart of the Antarctic Continent Shewing the Icy Barrier Attached to it..., 59x87 cm.
  • Chart of the Viti Group or Feejee Islands..., 59.5x86 cm.
  • Map of the Oregon Territory... with inset of Columbia River from its mouth to Walla Walla, 58x86.5 cm.
  • Map of Part of the Island of Hawaii, Sandwich Islands, Shewing the Craters and Eruption of May and June 1840..., 39.5x60 cm.

Haskell 2-A & 17B; Howes W414; Cowan p.538; Hill 1866; Forbes 1573; Tweney 83.

Due to the size and/or weight of this lot extra shipping charges may apply.

Lot Amendments

Some rubbing to covers, wear to corners and spine ends; moderate toning to contents, offset from the plates and engravings; atlas cloth faded, some darkening and offset to maps, a few repaired tears, some nicks at fold intersections, Oregon map with unrepaired tear (10") and is partially detached, world map is backed with tissue repairing some tears and with some loss; overall very good.

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