WILKES, Charles (1798-1877). Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition during the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Philadelphia: C. Sherman, 1844. [With]: HALE, Horatio (1817-1896). United States Exploring Expedition … Vol. VI. Ethnography and Philology. Philadelphia: C. Sherman, 1846.
The excessively rare official printing of the first edition “of the great American scientific voyage of the nineteenth century, issued by the United States Congress to announce America’s scientific coming of age” (Forbes), being a presentation copy to the State of Iowa. Only 100 sets of this official issue were printed, and a quarter of these are thought to have been destroyed in the 1851 Library of Congress fire. Of the remaining 75, the large majority are in institutional collections as they were intended for presentation to American state libraries, as here, and to foreign heads of states. Haskell traced only one privately held set (the Wilkes copy, which sold at auction in 2009).
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. Hale’s “volume 6” present here is also one only 75 of the official issue, with “By Authority of Congress” on the half-title. The ethnography and philology covered largely relates to Oceania and Australia. Forbes 1517, 1589; Haskell 1, 15, 19; Hill 1746, 1866, Howes W-414, Rosove 353.A1, 354-1.A1.
Seven volumes, quarto (312 x 232mm) comprised of the Narrative complete in five text volumes plus atlas and volume six, being the first of the separately issued scientific reports. Half-titles in all text volumes; errata slip in vol 5. Numerous text illustrations, 64 engraved plates and 17 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; vol. 6: 3 maps, 2 of which are double-page and 1 of those hand-colored in outline (mild toning, occasional small stains or fingersoiling, maps with light offsetting, large maps in atlas all backed, vol 3 plates with pale marginal dampstain, encroaching on images of 2 plates; overall still in very fresh condition internally with tissue guards generally intact). Original full green morocco by Gaskill stamped in gilt and blind, covers with U.S. coat of arms, all edges gilt (rebacked with worn original spines laid down, endpapers renewed, except vol. 6 rebound to style but still with original spine laid down, blank leaves detaching in atlas vol.). Provenance: The State of Iowa (presentation bookplates, “Iowa State Library” neatly penned in one of two places within each volume, small withdrawal stamps on titles, additional library labels preserved separately) – Ten Pound Island Book Co.