Catalog Archive
Auction 174, Lot 805

Full Twelve-Volume Set of Monumental Railroad Survey

"[13 Volumes] Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean...1853-6", U.S. Railroad Surveys

Subject: Exploration & Surveys

Period: 1855-60 (published)


Color: Printed Color

9 x 11.8 inches
22.9 x 30 cm
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This is the U.S. Congress' twelve-volume set of the monumental railroad survey, including the important Warren Map, published in 13 quarto volumes (Volume XII has Book I and Book II). This set is considered by Wagner-Camp as the "cornerstone work in a Western Americana collection and is considered one of the most important works on the Transmississippi West for its published reports on the explorations and the data collected during the surveys." This set appears complete, however not all of the maps and plates have been counted, and this set is not matching. It is a mixed set with 8 Senate reports and 5 House of Representative reports. It is very difficult to locate a complete set, particularly one of uniform size and binding.

In March 1853, Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, was directed to survey railroad routes to the Pacific per the Army Appropriation Act of that year. Four potential routes were to be explored and surveyed under the supervision of the Topographical Corps.

The governor of Washington Territory, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, directed the northern-most survey between the 47th and 49th parallels. This was the route most favored by Asa Whitney, an early proponent of a transcontinental railroad. Stevens’ reports are contained in Volumes I and XII.

The route along the 38th & 39th parallels was the route advocated by the powerful Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Capt. John W. Gunnison was selected to lead the survey party along what is also known as the Cochetopa Pass route. Gunnison was a surveyor on the Stansbury expedition where he learned the region and developed a good working relationship with Brigham Young and the Mormons. For this reason he was chosen over John C. Fremont who also had knowledge of the area and had lobbied for the job. Indians killed Gunnison and his ill-fated party in the winter of 1853 near the Sevier River in Utah. Lt. Edward G. Beckwith continued Gunnison’s work, traveling north to the 41st parallel and continuing into California. Beckwith wrote the reports for his and Gunnison’s surveys which are contained in Volumes II and X.

The survey along the 35th parallel westward to California was under the command of Capt. Amiel W. Whipple and Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives. This is the route that was favored by Jefferson Davis and was essentially the route traversed by Josiah Gregg in 1839 and later surveyed by Col. John J. Abert. Volumes III, IV, and X contain these reports.

The most southerly survey, which followed the 32nd parallel, was surveyed by Lt. John G. Parke and Capt. John Pope. Parke explored and surveyed from California along the Gila River to the Pima villages and on to the Rio Grande. At the same time, Pope mapped the eastern portion of the route from Dona Ana, New Mexico, to the Red River. The reports for these surveys are in Volumes II, VII, and X.

Jefferson Davis added a fifth survey to locate suitable routes along the Pacific coast and the Sierra Nevada range in order to connect California, Oregon and Washington. These north-south surveys were conducted under the direction of Lt. Robert S. Williamson. His reports are contained in Volumes V, VI, and X.

The surveys demonstrated that a railroad could be built along any one of the routes. This led to political disagreements because the southern routes were objectionable to northern politicians and, of course, the northern routes were objectionable to southern politicians. The Pacific railroad question and resolution stalled over the political wrangling. Through the efforts of Theodore D. Judah, engineer of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, along with Abraham Lincoln’s support, the Railroad Act of 1862 put government support behind the transcontinental railroad. These volumes bring to life the dedication, sacrifice and loss that was finally repaid when, over a decade later, the continent was linked on May 10, 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah.

This set is illustrated with hundreds of lithographs, both black and white, tinted and hand colored, and scores of (mostly large folding) maps. The plates include scenery, native inhabitants, flora, fauna, birds, botanical, etc. These reports provide the single most important contemporary source of knowledge of the West. All volumes are hardbound, with 8 volumes bound in dark brown cloth with embossed covers and titling on spines (the Senate volumes), and 5 volumes bound in quarter leather with marbled paper-covered boards (the House of Representatives volumes).

References: Wheat (TMW) Chapter XXXIV.

Condition: B+

Overall the majority of the volumes are in very good (B+) condition. Volumes I, III, and XII (Book 1) are in "A" condition; volumes IV and X are in "B" condition. The most common condition issues are light toning and foxing, and short binding tears or fold separations on the maps. Some of the plates have moderate to heavy toning and/or foxing. In general the bindings are sound with a few exceptions: Vol. IV the back cover is nearly detached and the spine is cracking; Vol. V the binding is loose and a few plates are detached; Vol. X the spine is cracked and the block is in two pieces, with a number of plates and pages loose. Some bindings have minor archival repairs. The Warren map has been removed from Vol. XI. This map's condition is worse than the others and in need of conservation, with light toning and split in half horizontally with very small loss of image along the split. The Milk River map is in superb condition with a sharp, dark impression and just a short binding tear. Overall a nice set that appears to be complete.

Estimate: $3,000 - $4,000

Sold for: $3,750

Closed on 9/11/2019