WILKES, Charles (1798-1877). Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition during the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1845.
The first edition, unofficial issue “of the great American scientific voyage of the nineteenth century” (Forbes); this set with documents relevant to its publication laid in. The present is the unofficial issue of the United States government edition, of which 150 sets were printed according to a letter written by Wilkes on January 28, 1845. Of these, 25 sets are presumed to have been retained by Wilkes for distribution amongst his friends. Among those friends may have been Maryland Congressman (later Senator) James A. Pearse, some of whose correspondence concerning the publication of Wilkes' narrative is laid in. The laid in items comprise: an ALS from Titian Peale to Pearse, 18 June 1847, concerning the proof sheets for Peale's zoology report for the Wilkes expedition; a 2-page MS signed by A.R. Spofford as Librarian of Congress, [after 1864], detailing the extraordinary cost of the Wilkes narrative and the disposition of the sets; 2 printed Congressional reports by James Pearse: from 7 February 1835 concerning the prayers of citizens that the Expedition would occur, and from 25 June 1846 concerning the printing of additional copies of the Narrative. Haskell 225 (1835 report); Rosove 350-18.A1 & 350-41.A1.
The United States Exploring Expedition “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's impressive survey of the Pacific Islands resulted in over 200 new charts for 280 islands, notably Hawaii, the Fiji group, the Philippines and the islands of Micronesia. Wilkes was first to use the term “Antarctic Continent.” His ships surveyed 1600 miles of coastline, and discovered the Shackleton Ice Shelf and Wilkes Land. The charting of the North West American Coast was equally important. Wilkes surveyed the entrance to the Columbia River then in the disputed Oregon territory, and all of the Puget Sound. A separate party travelled overland to San Francisco from the Columbia via Fort Sumner, and completed the earliest map of this new trail. After his return Wilkes spent the next 27 years producing a number of expedition reports. Forbes 1573; Haskell 2A, 17; Hill 1866; Howes W-414; Rosove 353.A2.
Five volumes, quarto (320 x 243mm) plus atlas volume bound into volume 5. Half-titles in all volumes including atlas; errata slip in vol 5. Numerous text illustrations, 63 engraved plates and 14 maps, in volume one: 8 plates and 1 double-page map; vol. 2: 14 plates and 3 double-page maps; vol. 3: 11 plates; vol. 4: 16 plates and 1 double-page map; vol. 5: 15 plates and 4 double-page maps; Atlas: 5 large folding maps, 2 of which are partially hand-colored (some foxing and mild browning, occasional small stains, maps with light offsetting). Contemporary red half morocco gilt, spines gilt in compartments. Provenance: James Alfred Pearse[?] (1805-1862; laid in letter and documents) – Roger Wendlick (Lewis & Clark collector, Oregon) – Stephen Lunsford.