Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Itinerary Maps

I have always loved maps of all sorts. As a kid I studied maps in books and magazines, poured over automobile maps from gas stations, and then when I realized that one could actually get hold of them, became entranced by antique maps. Back in the sixties, when my family would go on a road trip, we would use the famous AAA “triptiks.” I would love to follow along the routes, noting the intersections and sites that appeared on either side of the route we were following.


The triptiks are a good example of itinerary or directional map. That is a map the primary concern of which is to follow an itinerary or route from point A to point B, noting the places, rivers, bridges, intersections one would come across in following that route, but not showing anything further afield than what one might see along the way.


These maps are in contrast to “area” maps, which show cartographic information for an entire area—-usually rectangular but sometimes circular—-without predetermining a starting or ending point, nor a route to take (though one can, of course, draw a route onto an area map).


[ Facsimile part of the Peutinger Table centered on Rome ]


The earliest directional map I know of is the famous “Peutinger Table.” In the late first century B.C., Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa produced a road survey and map of the world for Emperor Augustus. None of the original maps has survived, but a later version was found near the end of the fifteenth century and eventually found its way into the library of Konrad Peutinger (fl. 1508-47). Though that map is now lost, copies of various cartographers and modern facsimiles have been made.


[ Detail of facsimile of area around Rome, with roads in yellow ]


The Peutinger Tables consist of eight sections depicting the world along the primary roads of the Roman Empire. The area shown extends from the southeast corner of England—part of the first section showing the rest of Britain having been lost—to Ceylon, the eastern edge of the known world. Reflecting its source in Agrippa’s road survey, the map is drawn around the roads, which are laid out in a schematic fashion—not dissimilar to the way the lines are laid out on the famous tube map of London—though here the roads are put down mostly in a horizontal direction, creating a map that is essentially a long, narrow strip. The Roman roads are given in detail, each notched to indicate a day’s march, with the places and camps one would come to if traveling on those roads. Really, very similar in intent and execution to a triptik.


The notion of itinerary map appeared again in the middle of the thirteenth century in the work of Benedictine month Matthew Paris. Paris worked in the monastery of St. Albans and he was one of the greatest mapmakers of the medieval period. He produced maps of England, Palestine, and itinerary maps for the Pilgrim route to the Holy Land. Written itineraries for pilgrims were well known in the Middle Ages, and they contained descriptions of what one would find along a pilgrimage route. Paris went further and presented much of this information in map form, showing the route from England to Apulia, each day’s journey marked out and important topographical and social features noted along the way. As an aside, the cartographers for a number of the area maps produced in the medieval period, such as the Hereford world map, used written itineraries to create the maps, though presenting them in an area rather than itinerary format.


The next examples of directional maps are the strip maps issued by John Ogilby in his Brtiannia of 1675-76. Ogilby (1600-1676), one of the more colorful figures associated with cartography, started life as a dancing master and finished as the King’s Cosmographer and Geographic Printer. In the course of an eventful life he built a theater in Dublin, became the Deputy Master of Revels in Ireland, translated various Greek and Latin works and founded a book publishing business. In the process he twice lost all he possessed, first in a shipwreck during the English Civil Wars and then in the Great Fire of London. Even this disaster he turned to advantage by being appointed to a Commission of Survey following the fire.


After the fire, Ogilby organized a survey of all the main post roads in the country, and then published a road atlas, Britannia. In this atlas, the maps were engraved in strip form, essentially like a series of triptik pages put next to each other on the same sheet. The maps give details of the roads themselves and descriptive notes of the country on either side. Intersections of other roads are indicated and each strip has a compass rose to indicate changes in direction. Topography is shown using the molehill style, and uphill or downhill is illustrated by inverting the picture of a grade on the page. A number of other publishers later followed the Ogilby model, which was particularly popular in Great Britain.


[ One of four sections of Simpson map ]


Another place one finds itinerary maps is from explorers, who would make maps they surveyed along their routes. These surveys would often be amalgamated into area maps, but they also were sometimes issued as itinerary maps. James Hervey Simpson mapped a route from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Santa Fe, producing a map in 1849 which was intended as a wagon road itinerary map for emigrants and traders.


[ One of seven sections of Preuss map ]


Another example of that is the seven sheet map drawn by Charles Preuss based on the surveys and notes made during John Frémont’s expedition along the Oregon Trail in 1842-43. These maps were combined into the Preuss/Frémont map of 1845, but the seven sheets were very much in the tradition of an itinerary map intended for use by the many emigrants along the Oregon Trail, as well as 49’s heading off to the gold fields of California.


In the twentieth century, AAA was not the only firm to produce itinerary maps, though their triptiks were by far the most commonly used. Today, in the twentieth century, itinerary maps are even more common, though now they are not on paper, but rather appear as ephemeral digital maps on car dash boards and on smart phones. Google maps and Waze both are programs which produce itinerary maps in a modern and incredibly detailed form.


On a personal note, though I still love maps in all different formats, I am a bit sad to see the relative demise of the use of area maps. So many people use the digital directional maps, that area maps—especially printed ones—have become almost obsolete. This is a shame, as while one can follow a route most easily using an itinerary map, area maps put those routes into a wider context. They also allow one more easily to stray from the planned itinerary—either physically or just mentally—and the loss of that is I think a sad one.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Foolish men jumping

One of the great things about antique prints and maps is that even after 35 years in the business, I still am surprised and delighted on a regular basis by things we come across. Just yesterday, while organizing some of our prints here in the shop, we came across two prints with remarkably similar images of foolish men jumping. No connection at all between the prints, but a pretty funny coincidence.


The first print is from a delightful series of illustrations of Mother Goose rhymes by Frederick Richardson. These prints, issued in 1915, are fun both because they include many of the rhymes I learned as a child, but also because of the charming illustrations. This print has a rhyme I am not so familiar with, but the drawing is a hoot. This man is definitely foolish though he seems to come out of his trials ok.


The second print was issued over four decades before and it shows French journalist and "demagogue," Henri Rochefort. The print was issued in Vanity Fair on January 22, 1870 and the description of Rochefort by the magazine is anything but flattering.


It may be total coincidence that the two images are so similar, but we might speculate that perhaps Richardson was familiar with this image from Vanity Fair and decided to borrow it for the nursery rhyme print. Whatever the case, another of the many fun things we've run into over the years.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Provenance of prints and maps

Anyone who has read about the huge prices on oil paintings will have heard of the importance of their provenance. The provenance of a item is a record of its ownership/location since it was first created. This is important for some expensive items such as paintings mostly to establish their authenticity. As a painting can be reproduced by a skilled forger, knowing that the painting was, say, in a family estate since it was originally purchased from the painter, gives one assurance that it is an original.


Provenance can also be important if the item in question was owned by someone famous. So, the earrings worn by Katherine Hepburn in a famous movie would be worth more than the same items never owned by anyone famous, so having a solid provenance can be important in established their value.


Interestingly, rarely does provenance matter for antique maps and prints. For the vast majority of such items, not only is the provenance not important, but it is unknown. A dealer might know the immediately previous owner of something in her stock, but almost never any of the owners before that. There are a number of reasons for this relative lack of importance of provenance for antique maps and prints.


The main reason for that is that the authenticity of the items is determined not by tracking their ownership since creation, but rather simply by looking at the physical objects. If the process is right and if the paper is right, then the print is almost certainly authentic. It would be possible, by getting hold of old paper and using the proper process to create the object, to fake an antique prints or map, but prints and maps usually do not have the value to warrant the effort it would take to do this. When some antique maps started getting very expensive towards the end of the 20th century, some pretty good fakes started appearing, but these could be identified by a close physical examination. There are also some known "good" fakes of some of the old master prints, but such good fakes are very rare in the antique print and map world. Because of this, the main purpose of provenance just does not apply to most old prints and maps.


Secondly, in very, very few cases is the provenance known. Unlike paintings, prints were rarely considered "important" enough to be tracked and recorded through the years. Much like the history of most books, people bought prints and maps for decoration or interest, but didn't write down or pass on the history of that purchase for future generations. It is very rare that someone who owns a print can tell you its provenance beyond perhaps the person they got it from.


There are a few cases where a print was owned by someone famous or, perhaps, appeared in a movie, and that can add some value, but rarely a lot, so again that provenance is relatively unimportant.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Vérendryes search for a route to the Pacific Ocean

As discussed in the previous blog, the French were very focused on finding a "River of the West", which would provide a water route from the western part of New France to the Pacific Ocean. The search for it became the obsession of a family of French trappers, the patriarch of which was Pierre Gaultier de la Varennes, Le Sieur de la Vérendrye. At his post at Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, Pierre Vérendrye heard from Native Americans of a great river which would lead to the Pacific, and with backing from French Canadian merchants, he and his sons built a series of trading posts to the northwest of Lake Superior as bases from which they could explore for this hoped-for river.


Vérendrye’s initial information on this river came from some maps of the region west of Lake Superior he was given by local Indians, including by a Cree named Auchagach in 1728. Auchagach’s maps showed the system of rivers and lakes which flowed into Lake Superior from the northwest, which were shown as arising in a “River of the West” which started near some Mountains of the Bright Stones, flowed into Lake Winnipegosis and then on to the Lake of the Woods. Vérendrye had Auchagach’s maps copied in manuscript, and one of those was copied by Bellin onto his map of North America from 1743.


Auchagach’s maps were, of their type, quite good, but by the time his water system made it onto Bellin’s map, it was far from reality. Auchagach’s maps had neither orientation nor scale indicated and Bellin erred in both these aspects when he copied them to his map. The actual river systems to the northwest of Lake Superior have a much more Northwest-Southeast orientation than the almost straight West-to-East alignment shown by Bellin, and Bellin shows the river systems as much larger than they are in reality. While Bellin does not show a definite Pacific coast in the west, his River of the West extends very close to wherever that coast would be, presenting what appears to be an easy water route to the Pacific. As good as this looked on Bellin's map, failed French attempts in pursuing this route to the Pacific in the following years soon demonstrated the fallacy of Bellin’s depiction.


The Vérendrye family influence on the story of the River of the West, however, extended further than this. In 1738, continuing to look for a water route to the Pacific, the Vérendryes traveled west from Lake Winnipeg along the Assiniboine River, then dropped south into what is today North Dakota. There they came to a village of a tribe they called the Mantannes. The sons then visited a village further on which they said was located on the “Riviere des Mantannes.” About this river Pierre later wrote:
“I discovered recently a river flowing to the west... That the river appeared to go, according to the compass, south west by south...the lower part may go to the sea to the south west by west.”
That is, the river may flow to the Pacific Ocean.


According to a scholarly study, the Vérendrye sons had probably visited a Hidatsa village [though the names are similar, the Mantannes were almost certainly not Mandans, as they are often thought to be]. The village was located just south of the conjunction of the Little Knife River with the Missouri, on a part of the Missouri where it looks like the river flows south/southwest. The perceived direction of the river flow, combined with information gathered from conversations with the Indians interpreted through the lens of their hopes, led the Vérendryes to conclude the river might be the much desired River of the West. Philippe Buache included his take on their "discovery" in his 1754 map of western New France shown above.


Interestingly, though by the time it was issued, Buache included another version of Auchagach's map in a panel at the top of the map. This is similar to the one shown on Bellin's map, but by 1754 it was not something that was generally believed by the French.


In the main part of the map, Buache shows his take on the Vérendryes' discoveries. The Assiniboine River is shown flowing east-west below Lake Winnipeg, and along its side is a trail labeled as ‘warrior’s route to the River of the West.’ This path crosses a ridge of mountains and comes to an “Ouachipouanes” village (the Cree name for the Mandan), which is located on a river which shortly makes a large bend to the west. Soon after it turns west, this river becomes a dotted line labeled “Riv. de l’Ouest.”


Buache tried to merge this Vérendrye information with previous beliefs, so he has another river, which flows out of a "L. du Brochet," merge with the dotted-line River of the West [this coming from Delisle's 1722 map shown in the previous blog] and this river in turn flows into our old friend the Sea of the West.



By the middle of the century, the Vérendryes seem to have discounted the idea that the River of the Mantannes was a true “river of the west,” but that river did hang around on maps for a number of years, sometimes shown as flowing to the west and sometimes depicted as possibly being connected with the Missouri, as on this Bellin map from 1755. Here Bellin shows a "Riv des Manton" connected with a lake similar to Delisle's Brochet Lake, but without a clear indication of whether that river flows east or west. Belling includes a note by the river which indicates that the river might be the source of the Missouri. Bellin didn't commit one way or the other to the River of the West, also including a note by the Assiniboine River indicating it might lead to the River of the West.


Basically, the French were still confused, not sure if there was a Sea of the West, River of the West, or some other water route to take them from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. Unfortunately for them, they were never able to figure it out, for as a result of the French & Indian War, in 1763, they gave up all their possessions in New France to the British.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The French seek a route to the Western Sea: 1700-1722

Guillaume Delisle’s map of North America from 1700 left the area to the west of the Great Lakes blank, demonstrating that the French really didn’t know what was going on in that region. However, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t theories of what might be there, including some considered by Delisle himself.


Sea of the West


From 1695 to about 1700, Guilluame and his father Claude drew a series of manuscript maps of that region which include a large “Mer de l’Ouest,” that is, a “Sea of the West.” This Sea of the West is a distant cousin of the Sea of Verrazano, though as Delisle noted it was based on a number of Indian reports recorded by the French in the second half of the seventeenth century. A viable path to the Pacific had been a focus of the French from the beginning of New France, so they were always questioning Indians they met about possible water routes to the west. Communication was, of course, imperfect, and probably neither party really understood what the other said, with the French always interpreting what they heard in light of their pre-existing notions.


The French understood the Indians tales as indicating that there was a large body of water not too far to the west, which could be reached by river and which would provide access to the Pacific. In the Jesuit Relations of 1659-60 there is the report of a sea lying just ten days journey to the westward of the Great Lakes, and this sea was mentioned in other Indian reports recorded in the Relations in the following years. These reports claimed that the Indians mentioned various characteristics of this sea—-such as having tides and with Europeans living along it—-which indicated that the sea was connected to the Pacific.


Later in the century, French explorers in the western parts of New France heard similar tales. For instance, in 1685 Daniel Greyselon, Sieur Duluth reported hearing from some Indians “that it was only twenty days’ journey from where they were to the discovery of the great lake whose water is not good to drink,” that is a lake of salt water. In 1688, Jacques de Noyon explored the river systems to the northwest of Lake Superior meeting some Assiniboines who, when he enquired about the Western Sea, told him they would take him in the spring to that sea, upon which there was a great city with walls of stone and a race of men who were white and bearded. Noyon did travel with the Indians as far as Lake of the Woods, and there they told him that a river flowed from that lake into the Western Sea.


Besides all these Indian and explorer reports, the possibility of a Sea of the West was supported by a 1625 story by one Juan de Fuca, who said that in 1592 he been sent by the Viceroy of New Spain north along the California coast searching for the “Strait of Anian,” which was the supposed entrance to the passage across the north of America from the Pacific Ocean. Fuca said at between 47 and 48 degrees north he found a bay which he sailed into, thereafter finding a large sea which led further to the east. After sailing for more than twenty days, Fuca thought that he had reached the “North Sea” (that is the Atlantic), thus achieving what he had been sent to do.


Whether Fuca’s tale was a complete fabrication or a confused account of an actual voyage has never been determined for certain. However, there are no archival records of such a voyage, and there is no knowledge of a Spanish ship ever having reached beyond 43° N in that period. Whatever the truth of this tale, it was another “first-hand” account which seemed to indicate the possibility of a large sea to the west of the Great Lakes.


The Fuca tale, along with the Indian & explorer reports enthused the French so much that near the end of the sixteenth century the governor and intendant of New France recommended to the King that they establish posts in the western part of the colony as bases from which to explore for the Western Sea. The Fuca tale, along with the Indian and explorer reports, also stimulated Claude and Guillaume Delisle to consider the possibility of a Sea of the West.


Like all French geographers, they were trying to figure out what was going on beyond New France. By the late sixteenth century, they had a better idea of the width of the continent, so the closeness of the sea mentioned in the Jesuit Relations seemed to give support to the notion that there was an arm of the Pacific extending into the continent. Based on all of this, between 1695 and 1700 the Delisles drew a number of manuscript maps showing a Sea of the West lying between the Great Lakes and the northern coast of California. Interestingly, they must have had doubts about this sea, for it appears on none of Guillaume’s printed maps.


Delisle’s Sea of the West did, however, find a believer in another French cartographer, Jean Baptiste Nolin, who in 1700 produced a double hemisphere world map showing this sea in a form essentially similar to Delisle’s. Delisle claimed that Nolin copied his geography from a manuscript globe he had produced for the Chancellor of France, which did show the Sea of the West. Delisle won his suit in 1706, which forced Nolin to remove any of the “offending geography” from all his coppers plates and also to destroy all copies of the wall map in existence (resulting in the fact that only three copies on the Nolin map are known to have survived).


However, the Nolin map had already been copied by Dutch publishers Pierre & David Mortier, and their world map included the Sea of the West depiction. This map was beyond the reach of the French courts so it was circulated in Europe, giving wide distribution to the Sea of the West notion. Besides this, Nolin produced other maps with a smaller, modified Sea of the West, and by these means this non-existent geographic feature appeared on a number of maps in the first half of the eighteenth century.


Long River


About the same time as the mythical Sea of the West first appeared, another non-existent body of water was introduced to the geography west of the Mississippi River, this time probably based more on a deliberate falsehood than on mistaken interpretations of Indian reports.


This new myth was of a “Riviére Longue,” perpetrated by Baron Louis de la Hontan. As an officer in the French military, in 1683 Lahontan went to New France and traveled extensively throughout the colony. In 1703, he wrote about his travels in Noueaux Voyages de M. le Baron de Lahontan dans l’Amerique Septentrionale. In that work, Lahontan claimed that during a six month period in 1688, he explored from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River, going as far south as the Missouri River, then heading north along the Mississippi until he came to this Long River.


Lahontan recounted how there he met a tribe of Mozeemlek Indians, who told him that the Long River arose in some mountains well to the west, and that on the other side of those mountains lay another river flowing westward, which is where they had their home. Furthermore, Lahontan recorded that the Indians stated that that river flowed about 500 miles to the west where it emptied into a great salt lake, about 300 leagues (1,000 miles) in circumference. This geography was boldly illustrated on this map published in the Nouveaux Voyages.


While Lahontan did travel around New France, the consensus is that his tale of the Long River and his meeting with the Mozeemlek was made up. Though it is possible that this episode did occur, in which case the Long River was probably the Missouri, the geography presented in the map is very mistaken. However, a ‘first hand’ report from someone who had explored in the region was not to be dismissed lightly, and Lahontan’s Long River appeared on a number of maps, such as Guillaume Delisle’s Carte du Canada [1703] and Gerard Van Keulen’s Carte de la Nouvelle France [1720].


While the River Long soon passed from the scene—-Delisle never again showed this river--the notion of a river flowing into the Mississippi with its source in some mountains to the west, over which lay a westward flowing river—-a notion introduced by Marquette in the previous century (see previous blog to read about this)—-which emptied into a salt lake or sea, was reinforced by Lahontan’s imaginary geography.


In the beginning of the 18th century, the search for the Western Sea became an important focus for the the French. In 1717, the French Council of the Marine wrote that:

“If the Western sea is discovered, France and the Colony could derive great benefits in trade,... The navigation would be brief, compared with European vessels and subject to far fewer risks and costs, which would provide such great benefit over the trade of that country that no European nation could compete with us.”
The Governor and Intendant of New France recommended to the King that a number of posts be established to the west of the Great Lakes as bases for the search for the Sea, and in 1720, Father Charlevoix was sent out “to proceed to the principal posts of the upper country in order to make inquiries there respecting the Western Sea.”


About this time, Father Bobé presented to the King a “Memoir for the Discovery of the Western Sea,” in which he argued that this shouldn’t be a difficult search, for the Western Sea was not far distant from New France and could be reached by a number of feasible routes. He thought that the suggested route up the Missouri then across the mountains to a western flowing river provided an easy route, though it was possible the westward flowing river might end up in the Bay of California rather than the Western Sea. Also feasible was a practical portage west from the headwaters of the Mississippi to a westward flowing river which would empty into the Western Sea.


These concepts are shown nicely in our old friend Guillaume Delisle’s map of 1722, which shows a “Grande Rivier coolant a l’Ouest,” probably the first mention specifically of a “River of the West,” which would soon take center stage in the search for the waterway to the Pacific.


[ Go to previous blog about the quest to find a water route to the west ]


Click here to read the next stage in the search for a route to the Pacific.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Value of the Eagle map of the United States

At the Palm Springs filming for Antiques Roadshow, one of my favorite maps of all time—-the Joseph Churchman “Eagle” map of the United States from 1833--came in and I was able to do an on-air appraisal which just appeared in late March, 2017. I appraised the map at $25,000 for a retail value, noting that though that valuation might be a bit aggressive, it was “fair.”


In deciding on what value I would put on the map for ARS, I chatted with a friend who is also a map seller. We knew of only one instance where the map had been for sale in the last several years, where it was listed at $25,000, but my friend said he thought that price was high. He commented that the map isn’t (geographically speaking) that important and $25,000 is really quite a high figure for most American maps of the nineteenth century. However, the more I thought about it, the more I thought $25,000 was a fair price.


[image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection]

As I have often noted, the value of most maps comes from their historical importance in showing new geographic or political information. This map is geographically derivative. It is basically a simplified version of the C.S. Williams map of the United States from the same year, which itself was based on a S. Augustus Mitchell’s map, which in turn was based on an 1830 map by Anthony Finley. Clearly, the value of the map does not come from its historical, geographical importance.


[image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection]

A lot of the value, of course, comes from its unique appearance. The eagle is a very popular image, one which has an appeal across the board for anyone interested in Americana. Maps, prints and pretty much any objects with an eagle design are always in demand and the eagle here is striking and quite attractive, so that would naturally give the map extra value above its geographic content.


What makes this even more relevant is that this is the only use of the eagle for a map of the United States. Joseph Churchman wrote about how it was the happenstance of the way a map of the United States was hanging in his apartment which caused the light and shadows to create the impression to him which suggested a bird. Combine this with the fact that soon the shape of the United States changed—-with the addition of Texas in 1845—-so that the eagle shape no longer fit the country. Thus, this really delightful concept and design only appear on this single map.


The final factor increasing the value of this map is its extreme scarcity. Scarcity by itself does not create value, but when an object is particularly desirable, scarcity can ratchet up the value by considerable amount.


[image courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection]

This map is particularly scarce because of its publication history. The map was issued folded into a quite small book. Any such folding map—and these maps were printed on very thin paper—tends to be scarce because repeated folding and unfolding often leads to major tears or pieces torn right off. This natural attrition to a map folded into a book is compounded in this case by the fact that the book it was issued in, Rudiments of National Knowledge, Presented to the Youth of the United States, and to Enquiring Foreigners, was a book for young people, not a group of readers who would likely take much care with the map.


Given this history, it is somewhat remarkable that any of these maps survived in good shape. Almost all copies of the book which come on the market are missing the map or have only a fragment, and the map itself very rarely comes onto the market.


So, combining the fact that this is a very rare map with an appearance and symbolic power which appeals to a very wide body of buyers, creates a strong value for this map. Basically, the map almost never comes on the market and when it does everyone wants to own it. I think $25,000 would be a fair retail value, but would not be surprised if one came up at an auction and brought even more!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

America's Greatest Patriots

Assault on Fort Sanders


The Chicago printmaking firm of Kurz & Allison is well known for its production of commemorative prints of American historical scenes. Founded in 1880, the firm's avowed purpose was to design "for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship." Elaborate they certainly were: the majority of their prints are bright and dramatic, with action throughout the image, though others were of a more restrained character, often issued in black and white. Drawn in a broad, graphic style that developed from Kurz's background as a muralist, their prints have a striking appearance.


Kurz & Allison did a number of prints of Presidents, some as individual portraits and some as family groupings. One can imagine these somber images hanging in the homes of Americans in the late 19th and early 20th century, as a nationalistic statement and also undoubtedly as inspiration for the family.


In 1890, the firm lithographed a print of “America’s Greatest Patriots.” This was a highly patriotic print--“Pro Patria!” bannered at the top--included four Presidential portraits in a setting with ivy, laurel branches, and American flags. The ‘father of his country,’ George Washington, has his portrait at top center, below which is U.S. Grant, flanked by the two assassinated Presidents, Lincoln and Garfield. This print was copyrighted by J.M. Wolfe & Co. and it is not clear why it was issued in 1890, as Garfield had been assassinated in 1881 and Grant died in 1885. Only the first state of the print has the Wolfe name on it, later ones listing only Kurz & Allison.


On September 14, 1901, William McKinley became the third American President to be assassinated, shot in Buffalo, New York. Like all print publishers, Kurz & Allison saw this as an opportunity to make a print which would sell because of this national tragedy. Thus they took the original stone--which they must have kept in their warehouse and which they may have continued to issue since 1890—removed Grant’s portrait and substituted that of McKinley. Now they had the perfect commemorative print, with Washington accompanied by the three assassinated Presidents. A nice example of a ‘recycled print.’


Friday, March 10, 2017

The French seek a route to the Western Sea: to 1700

From the time of Columbus, finding a practical sea route to China and the Indies was very much a goal for the major European powers, including France. In the first decades of the sixteenth century, the Spanish had claimed most of the lands between Florida and the northern part of South America, and the French hoped to find a route to the Orient by sailing north of those Spanish domains. Thus King Francis sent out Giovanni da Verrazano to explore that region, looking for the desired sea route to the South Sea, as the Pacific Ocean was then known.


From March to June, 1524, Verrazano sailed from the northern part of today’s Florida to Newfoundland, making many discoveries, such as New York and Narragansett Bays. The ships of the day could not point close to the wind, so Verrazano could not sail right up the coast, but had to beat out to sea and then back in towards land, meaning he saw only a series of discontinuous sections of the North American coast. This explains why Verrazano missed discovering both the Chesapeake and Delaware bays.


Early in this voyage of discovery, Verrazano came upon one of the barrier islands of North Carolina. He did not see any of the gaps between the islands, but did see what looked to be a vast body of water across what he took to be an isthmus of land. As the whole point of his exploration was to find a route past the Americas, the Pacific Ocean was very much in the front of Verrazano’s mind, and thus he jumped to the conclusion that that body of water was the Pacific. As he wrote in a letter to King Francis:

We called it Annunciato from the day of arrival, where was found an isthmus a mile in width and about 200 long, in which from the ship, was seen the oriental sea between the west [corrected from ‘east’ in the text] and north. Which is the one, without doubt, which goes about the extremity of India, China and Cathay. We navigated along the said isthmus with the continual hope of finding some strait or true promontory at which the land would end toward the north in order to be able to penetrate to those blessed shores of Cathay.”


As a result of Verrazano’s report, this concept—-that somewhere along today’s American southeastern coast, there was an arm of the Pacific Ocean separated from the Atlantic only by a narrow isthmus—entered into the European understanding of the region, for what better source could there be than a first-hand report? This hypothesis was reinforced by a manuscript map drawn by Verrazano’s brother, Girolamo, which showing this “Sea of Verrazano” in graphic fashion. This false sea was soon shown on other maps, like Lok's 1582 map shown above.


About a decade later, the French tried again. Jacques Cartier was sent out to seek the passage to the Pacific in the regions to the north of Verrazano’s route. In two voyages between 1534 and 1536, Cartier discovered the Gulf and River of St. Lawrence, sailing as far west as an Indian village, Hochelaga, located where Montreal is today. The local Indians told him of large bodies of water to the west, and Cartier was convinced that if he could have kept sailing he would have reached China and the Indies.


By the end of the sixteenth century, most European geographers had rejected the idea of a large Sea of Verrazano lying across the middle of the North American continent, so the general consensus was that the two most likely possibilities for a water route west from Europe to China and the Indies were either by a “Northwestern Passage” around the northern coast of America, or by a route which began with the St. Lawrence River. It wasn’t clear to geographers if that route would end up in the supposed North Sea or would lead right across the middle of the continent to a “Western Sea.” This Western Sea would, of course, either be the same as or would lead to the Pacific Ocean.


Samuel de Champlain became a believer in the latter of these routes. He began visiting Canada in 1603 and over the following years explored further into the interior, where, like Cartier, he heard of large bodies of water to the west. He is reported to have promised “never to cease his efforts until he has found either a western sea or a northern sea, opening the route to China, which so many have thus far sought in vain.” (Lescarbot, La Nouvelle France, 1609). Champlain did discover two of the Great Lakes-—Huron and Ontario—-but no western or northern sea. Still, he remained convinced that a route to the Pacific lay somewhere up the greater St. Lawrence water system.


This was a widely held belief at that time, and in particular it had become the “ever-constant opinion of a school of contemporary geographers, that the great river of Canada [St. Lawrence] issued from a lake which also poured its waters by another channel to the South Sea.” (Justin Winsor, Cartier to Frontenac, p. 99) That is, the thought was that if one went far enough up the St. Lawrence, one would come to a lake which not only was the source of the St. Lawrence, but also of a river which flowed westward to the Pacific.


In the early seventeenth century, French explorers and missionaries continued to make inroads in exploring the Great Lakes and the river systems feeding the St. Lawrence. At some point the French heard of a “Nation of Stinkards,” who came from a body of water which smelled foul and which rose up and down. This sounded to the French an awful lot like the Western Sea they were seeking, bringing them, they hoped, into contact with traders from Cathay.


In 1634, Jean Nicolet was sent to find these “People of the Sea,” sailing from Lake Huron into Lake Michigan and on to Green Bay, wearing a damask robe for his anticipated contact with the Chinese. While he didn’t find the Western Sea, he was convinced that he would have found it if he had been able to sail just three more days journey up a river which flowed into Green Bay. His belief in this may have come from rumors he heard about the Mississippi River, which one could get to by sailing up the Fox River, which flows into the southern end of Green Bay, then down the Wisconsin River, with only a short portage between them.


The Mississippi seems to have been the source of a number of tales, reported in the Jesuit Relations, which the French missionaries heard from the Indians in the following decades about a large river which lay to the west of Lake Superior. This river supposedly lay not too great a distance west of the Great Lakes, maybe eight days journey, though the distances varied. The French understood these tales as indicating that this river flowed into a salt water sea where could be found men who were like the French. While it is possible that there might have been some reports, which traveled along the Mississippi River, of contacts with the Spanish on the Gulf of Mexico, it is more likely that these reports came from a wishful-thinking misinterpretation of reports provided by eager-to-please Indians.


The French hoped that this river was their long-sought-for route to the Indies and China, but they were not sure which direction it would take them. They thought that it could lead north to a “Mer Glaciale,” which they believed might lie west of Hudson’s Bay, connecting to the Pacific. They also thought the river could lead southwesterly, either to the Gulf of Mexico-—to which of course the Mississippi does lead—-or to the “Vermillion Sea,” which was at that time thought to be a sea lying between the North American coast and the large island of California. Finally, it was also thought possible that this was a “River of the West,” which would flow directly west to reach the Western Sea.


By 1669, the French had received clearer reports of the “Messipi” River, which flowed southward. They hoped it would flow to the Vermillion Sea, thus offering them a route to the Orient. Thus, Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette were sent out in 1673 to explore the river and see where it went. Jolliet and Marquette canoed down the Mississippi to its confluence with Arkansas River, at which point they realized it likely flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, and so they turned back.


All was not lost, however, for when they passed by the mouth of the Missouri River, flowing into the Mississippi from the west, the explorers thought that this might be the real route to the Western Sea. The Relation of 1672-73 (written by Father Dablon) gives this account from Marquette

“Pekitanoui (as they named the Missouri) is a river of considerable size coming from the Northwest from a great distance and it discharges into the Mississippi; there are many villages of savages along this river and I hope by its means to discover the Vermilion or California Sea....It would be a great advantage to find the river leading to the southern sea toward California and as I have said this is what I hope to do by means of the Pekitanoui according to the reports made to me by the savages. From them I have learned that by ascending this river for 5 or 6 days one reaches a fine prairie 20 or 30 leagues long. This must be crossed in a Northwesterly direction and it terminates in another small river---one which one may embark for it is not very difficult to transport canoes through so fine a country as that prairie. This second river flows toward the Southwest for 10 or 15 leagues after which hit enters a lake, small and deep. [That lake is] The source of another deep river which flows toward the west where it falls into the sea. I have hardly any doubt that it is the Vermilion Sea and I do not despair of discovering it some day.” (Vol. 59, p. 143)


This concept was confirmed by Louis Hennepin, who in 1680 was sent by La Salle down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River. On his trip Hennepin saw the Missouri, about which he wrote, in 1683, that the Indians informed him that “its source was found by ascending ten or twelve days journey to a mountain from which all these streams are seen flowing, that then form this river. They added that beyond this mountain the sea is seen and great vessels....” (From Louis Hennepin, A descripton of Louisiana. New York: John G. Shea, 1880, p. 344) In a book published in 1697, which expanded on his 1683 publication—much of the expansion being fabrication—Hennepin expanded on this with the assertion: “They told me further than from that Mountain [emphasis added] one might see the Sea, and now and then some great Ships..” (From English edition A New Discovery of a Large Country in America by Father Lewis Hennepin, 1698).


These reports of Marquette and Hennepin seemed to offer a plausible water route to Pacific, as was first demonstrated in a 1691 map by Chrestien Le Clercq. The Missouri River is there shown as arising in some mountains, from which also flows a river which leads to the Vermillion Sea.


The general acceptance of this notion by many French geographers at the end of the century is further demonstrated in a 1700 map by Guillaume Delisle, a leading French cartographer of the day who became Premier Géographe du Roi in 1718. On that map, the Missouri (“Pekitanoni R.”) is shown arising-—though somewhat speculatively, as Delisle uses dashed lines for part of its course—-in the R. des Francisco and S. Jerome, whose headwaters again lie not very far from the “R. de bon guis,” that is the Colorado River, which flows to the Gulf of California.


By that time, hope in a route to Cathay by heading to the north of the Great Lakes had faded both because of the lack of success in finding any western outlet from Hudson’s Bay or other northern waters, and also because by then the British had seized control of the area to the north with their Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670.


As for the third alternative, a sea route heading west from the Great Lakes, there was no clear evidence, though there were suggestive reports. Whether such a route existed simply was not known, as Delisle shows by leaving the area west of the Great Lakes totally blank. Most maps had left this area blank, and making this a convenient place to put cartouches and inset maps—a common thing demonstrated in the Delisle map. Of course, it is such blank spaces on maps that allowed for continued, unfettered speculation, and this is exactly what we will find in the following decades. It is just in this hitherto blank area to the west of the Great Lakes that myriad conjectures about water routes to the Western Sea would appear in the eighteenth century.


[Go to next blog in this series ]
[ Go to previous blog in this series ]