The First Generally Obtainable Edition
WILKES, Charles. Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. During the Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842. Philadephia: Lea and Blanchard , 1845.
Third Edition, first generally obtainable edition. Preceded by the extremely rare official quarto edition of 100 copies (of which sixty-three were given to foreign nations and twenty-five destroyed by fire), and the unofficial edition of the same size limited to 150 copies. The present edition is limited to 1,000 copies, which also includes the atlas which was omitted from later editions. Five small quarto text volumes and atlas (11 1/16 x 7 1/8 inches; 280 x 182 mm). [4, blank], lx, [1]-434, [2, blank]; [6, blank], xv, [1,blank], [1]-476, [6, blank]; [6, blank], xv, [1, blank], [1]-438, [8, blank]; [6, blank], xvi, [1]-539, [7, blank]; [6, blank], xv, [1, blank], [1]-558, [8, blank] pp. With sixty-four engraved plates and 295 inter-textual vignettes and woodcuts and nine double-page engraved maps. Atlas with five folding maps, one of which ('Chart of the World') is hand-colored. Each plate with protective tissue guard.

Publisher's full brown cloth, decoratively stamped in blind. Each text volume with a pictorial centerpiece, stamped in gilt. Spines lettered in gilt and each pictorially gilt-stamped. Atlas, lettered in gilt on front board and spine, back board with gilt-stamped pictorial centerpiece. Uncut. A very small amount of intermittent foxing and minor toning. Two previous owner's bookplates on front pastedown of each volume. The 'Chart of the World' map in the atlas with a 3.5 inch closed tear, with no loss. Some of the large maps with a bit of offsetting. Head and tails of spines and board edges with just a bit of rubbing, and spines uniformly sunned. overall a very good set.

"Charles Wilkes joined the U.S. Navy in 1818; twenty years later he was appointed to command this first navel exploring expedition to the South Seas. The aims of the expedition were to survey unfamiliar ocean regions and make scientific discoveries. Assigned to this duty were the sloops of war Vincennes and Peacock, the brig Porpoise, the ship Relief, and the tenders Sea Gull and Flying Fish. Aboard these vessels were naturalists, botanists, artists, and others with specialized training in scientific exploration, in addition to officers and sailors. The chief fields of exploration in this expedition were the coast of the Antarctic continent, the islands of the Pacific Ocean, and the American northwest coast. In total, some 280 islands in the Pacific and adjacent waters and 800 miles of streams and coasts in the Oregon country were surveyed, and 1,600 miles of the coast of Antarctica were charted... Wilkes continued his navel career, after some controversy about his claim to have been the first to sight the continent of Antarctica and his severe punishment of some crewmen who had broken into the liquor stores. His disagreeable nature caused him to quarrel with many expedition members, casting a shadow over his leadership. Many years later he fought prominently on the Union side in the Civil War, and in 1861, in command of the San Jacinto, Wilkes initiated the famed Mason and Slidell affair by seizing those Confederate commissioners from a British mail steamer near the Bahamas." (Hill, 1866).

Wilkes's Narrative "would also have an impact on some of America's most important and influential writers. James Fenimore Cooper, an old family friend of the Wilkes's, would integrate information from the Narrative into at least two of his sea novels. Herman Melville would purchase his own copy of Wilkes's book, and scholars have found traces of the U.S. Exploring Expedition throughout his masterpiece Moby-Dick. Melville appears to have been most taken with the book's illustrations. For example, his description of Ishmael's Polynesian companion Queequeg has been attributed to an engraving of a tattooed Maori chief in volume two. In an age before the widespread use of photography, the pages of the Narrative provided a visual link with the exotic world of the South Pacific (as well as Antarctica and the Pacific Northwest) that no other American book could match" (Nathaniel Philbrick, The Scientific Legacy of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, part of The United States Exploring Exhibition, 1830-1842, an online exhibition by Smithsonian Institution Libraries (Washington, D.C.: 2004)).

Hill. Howes W-414. Sabin 103994. Streeter 3324.

HBS # 67958 $11,000