WILKES, CHARLES. 1798-1877.
WILKESS OWN COPY OF THE EXCESSIVELY RARE CONGRESSIONAL ISSUE OF HIS EXPEDITION NARRATIVE.
Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Philadelphia: C. Sherman, 1844. 5 volumes plus atlas. Text volumes with 64 engraved plates and 9 double-page maps (Vol 1: 8 plates and 1 map; Vol 2: 14 plates and 3 maps; Vol 3: 11 plates; Vol 4: 16 plates and 1 map; Vol 5: 15 plates and 4 maps) plus over 250 woodcut and steel engraved text illustrations chiefly after Joseph Drayton and Alfred T. Agate. Atlas with 5 large folding maps, 4 of which are hand-colored. 4to (311 x 235 mm). Original full green morocco by Gaskill (with binder's tickets), stamped in gilt and blind, covers with eagle vignettes, all edges gilt. Foxing (mostly marginal, but heavier at ends and near plates), occasional corner dampstain, endpapers discolored, bindings rubbed with some abrasions, small chip to foot of vol 2 spine.
First edition, rare official Sherman issue, and a presentation copy from Congress to Commander Wilkes, the bookplate in vol 1 reads: "Presented by the Congress of the United States to Captain Chas. Wilkes, US Navy, Commanding Expedition." Only 100 sets of the official Congressional issue were printed, and of these only about 75 were thought to survive the 1851 Library of Congress fire. This is the best possible set of the greatest American scientific voyage of the 19th century, "issued by the United States Congress to announce Americas scientific coming of age ... It was the first American scientific expedition of any size, charged to "extend the bounds of Science and promote the acquisition of knowledge," and was one of the most ambitious Pacific expeditions ever attempted" (Forbes). The Expedition represents "the first governmental sponsorship of scientific endeavor and was instrumental in the nation's westward expansion. Specimens gathered by expedition scientists became the foundation collections of the Smithsonian Institution. Significant American contributions in the fields of geology, botany, conchology, anthropology, and linguistics came from the scientific work of the expedition. Wilkes's evaluations of his landfalls influenced later U.S. positions in those areas" (Dictionary of American Biography). Wilkes also made immensely important charts of the American Northwest, Hawaii, Fiji, the Philippines and more. Wilkes was the first to announce the existence of an Antarctic continent.
The 100 sets of the official printing were all intended for foreign heads of states, American state libraries, and other special presentations. This set, presented to Wilkes himself is of the utmost desirability. Moreover, it remains unsophisticated and in its original Gaskill bindings. The only other auction record found by us for a Congressional issue was the Crosby-Kitham set which was bound in period calf. Haskell records one set of the official issue in the possession of descendant J. Frank Wilkes of Charlotte, N.C. as of 1942, possibly this is the same set. Forbes 1517; Haskell 1 (text) & 16 (atlas); Hill 1867; Howes W414; Sabin 103994.
- Upper cover of atlas volume started.