“FIRST ATTEMPT AT A HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA”: VENEGAS’ 1759 NATURAL AND CIVIL HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA, FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH, WITH SCARCE FOLDING MAP AND FOUR COPPER-ENGRAVED PLATES, IN CONTEMPORARY CALF-GILT
VENEGAS, Miguel. A Natural and Civil History of California. London: James Rivington and James Fletcher, 1759. Two volumes. Octavo, contemporary full speckled calf, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, raised bands, green morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers.
First edition in English of the “first attempt at a history of California” and an essential resource “regarding the original condition of the Indians of any part of North America,” published only a year after the first edition in Spanish, with engraved folding map of California, engraved frontispiece in each volume, and two copper-engraved plates of native life, which “appear to have been issued with but few copies” (Cowan, 238, 639), in handsome contemporary calf bindings.
Venegas' History "contains more on Lower California than almost any other book that had been published in 150 years… Throughout the work great attention is being paid to the geography of the country… Although the work is a most scholarly one, [it is] written in very lucid style and amply fortified by such authorities as [Venegas] had. Although the author was a Jesuit, the work is written in a secular spirit, much different from the point of view usually taken by writers of other religious orders" (Wagner 132, citing the 1758 Spanish first edition). "The volumes are replete with valuable geographical, historical and ethnological material not found in other works, many of the sources of Venegas' knowledge never having been published" (Eberstadt 105: 305). "The work of Father Venegas is undoubtedly the most faithful narration we possess, regarding the original condition of the Indians of any part of North America" (Field). It is the "foundation of a library of Californiana." Hill 1768. Cox II:127. Field, 405-06. Howes V69. Sabin 98845. Graff 4471. Zamorano 80, 78. Streeter 2435. Armorial bookplates of Abel Smith of the renowned Smith family of bankers and politicians of Woodhall Park (there were several descendants named Abel Smith). Later owner signature in each volume dated 1910.
Text and plates generally quite fresh. Expert restoration to handsome contemporary calf-gilt binding, a near-fine copy.