Auction 163, Lot 391

Northern Sheet of Humboldt's Landmark Map of the Southwest

"[Northern Sheet] Carte Generale du Royaume de la Nouvelle Espagne...", Humboldt, Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von

Subject: Southwestern United States & Mexico

Period: 1811 (published)

Publication: Atlas Geographique et Physique du Royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne

Color: Black & White

27.3 x 18.7 inches
69.3 x 47.5 cm

This is the northern sheet of the first French edition of Humboldt's landmark map of the Southwest. Wheat describes the map as undoubtedly the most important and accurate published map that had yet appeared (as of its 1811 publication date). He further notes “it appears on the map itself that it is drawn in Mexico in 1803, and that it was corrected by Humboldt and three associates in 1809.” Humboldt's map would remain the standard source until Fremont's mapping of the area in the 1840s. As a testament to the accuracy of the map, contemporaries Zebulon Pike and Aaron Arrowsmith copied copious information in Humboldt's map for their own publications in 1810, one year prior to Humboldt's printed map being released to the public.

Humboldt, a world-renowned naturalist and explorer, spent 5 years (1799-1804) traveling in South and Central America collecting data on plant and animal life. In 1803, he arrived in Mexico City to compile his findings into Essai Politique Sur le Royaume de la Nouvelle-Espagne..., and it is during this time that he constructed this map. Humboldt's reputation provided him access to a vast number of documents and maps held in the local Spanish archives, including important accounts from Costanso, Mascaro, Alzate, de Fer, Urrutia, Pichardo, Lopez, Carces, Font, Venegas, Lafora, and Miera. In fact, the northern third of the map is based almost entirely from Miera's Escalante earlier map (1777).

Cartographically, the northern sheet covers Arizona, New Mexico, the northern half of Texas, as well as Utah, Colorado, and Kansas to the north. In addition to the map's superior accuracy, it is notable for introducing the concept of hachuring (orthographic projection) to convey topography. However, despite these improvements and innovations, Humboldt's map still contains a few errors including a depiction of the mythical Lake Timpanogos, along with several notes concerning its sources. Humboldt himself acknowledges the incomplete information and that "it must be allowed that all that part of the west of North America is still but very imperfectly known."

A seminal map of the American Southwest which Streeter describes as "one of the six most desirable maps of Texas."

References: Wheat (TMW) #272; Cohen pp. 100-101; Sabin #33756; Streeter #1042; Howes #H786.

Condition: B

A dark impression with some minor surface soiling that is more prominent in the blank margins. The sheet was severed along the centerfold and professionally and invisibly repaired on verso with archival materials. There are several small wormholes along the upper right and left side of the image that are only visible when held to light.

Estimate: $2,750 - $3,500

Sold for: $2,000

Closed on 6/14/2017