Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition
“PERHAPS THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT IN THE FIELD OF EXPLORATION THAT THIS COUNTRY HAS EVER KNOWN”
WILKES, Charles. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1845. Six volumes (including atlas). Large octavo, original brown cloth with gilt American eagle centerpieces. $13,000.
Large-paper copy in original cloth of perhaps the earliest acquirable edition of “the beginning of accurate western cartography,” the narrative of Wilkes’ landmark Pacific expedition (Goetzmann, 57), with five large folding maps, nine additional maps, and 64 steel-engraved plates. One of 1000 large-paper copies, published just one year after the first edition of only 250 sets.
Wilkes stands alongside James Cook as the most important explorer of the Pacific; he is certainly the most important naval scientist in American history. Between 1838 and 1842 his six-vessel expedition carefully charted the expanse from the northwest coast of North America to the shores of Antarctica, from the western coast of South America to the South Pacific islands. He surveyed nearly 300 islands along with 1500 miles of the Antarctic coastline; Wilkes’ maps were so accurate that the charts were still in use for Marine landings in World War II. Wilkes also encountered natives of various cultures, many of whom are pictured in the handsome plates. Chief among the maps that accompany his narrative is the “Map of the Oregon Territory.” It extends inland past the Rocky Mountains and includes an important inset of the course of the Columbia River. The map is “in many respects the most detailed of this extensive area yet published… for the main Oregon region and the Hudson’s Bay Company territories to the north it was an accurate, really quite extraordinary, map. This map had much influence on the later maps of the area” (Wheat II, 457-58). This large-paper 1845 edition was preceded only by the first trade edition in 1844 (150 sets printed) and special limited edition (100 sets printed, 25 of which were destroyed by fire). Howes W414. Eberstadt 119:184. Streeter 3324. Sabin 103994.
Evidence of bookplate and spine label removal, tape repairs to verso of one map. An exceptional set with only occasional light foxing to plates. Rare, especially in original cloth.