The Fabulous Art of Wood Engravings: Winslow Homer & Others

Welcome back this week we sail into the heart of map and print making, and discuss early wood engraving techniques. For many years newspapers around the world employed thousands of artists and wood engravers to create pictorial and illustrated papers. According to our resident historian, Bill Hall, there were more than 5000 wood engravers at work in New York City during its heyday. Many early artists, such as Winslow Homer and Frederick Remington began their careers as artists and wood engravers. Homer and Remington of course were prominent artists for the famous Harper’s Weekly, and what is really neat about this is yes we can afford original Homer and Remington wood engravings, like the famous Homer Sharpshooter below that was recently mentioned in the Wall Street Journal!

Homer’s Sharpshooter: See our Homer Collection!

Frank Leslie an early pioneer of newspaper making stated in 1856, “A pictorial paper gives you literally nothing but pictures. He continued, “An illustrated paper, on the contrary, not only furnishes its weekly gallery of art, but gives the current news, thus bringing the genius of the pencil and the pen promptly to the illustrate the recorded event.”  The header on this blog is a great example of this, the bombardment of the Rebel Fort Jackson in 1862 is also from Harpers Weekly. (Frank Leslie probably wouldn’t like his name in the same paragraph as Harpers, ha, ha:-).See our Fabulous Civil War Collection!

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The first known woodcut was an image of Buddha from a Chinese manuscript dating to 868 AD, and this demonstrates their tremendous importance as an early communications media. My job at Prints Old and Rare often involves determining if a map or print is copper, steel or wood engraving and/or a lithograph. Many early maps reflect fine copper and steel engraving techniques, but the plates, especially copper wore out too quickly, enter the now lost art of interpretive wood engraving. What is interesting is about wood engraving is its done by cutting lines into the wood going cross grain mostly into boxwood from Turkey, Italy or France. Pear and apple wood were used in many early wood engravings, however, boxwood proved to be the hardest and easiest to use and was often assembled from smaller pieces and then bolted together.

When you look closely at wood engravings you can see the lines, (as in the F. Simeon’s      L’ aimable Ingenue, above and in Singer Sargent’s Woodrow Wilson below) in the fifteenth century a knife called a “formschneider” was used by wood engravers. As wood engraving evolved and reached its artistic height in the sixteenth century, so did engraving tools. Early book illustrations in Spain, France, Germany and Italy used collections of copper and woodcuts and reflect the styles of the time, such as Baroque, Gothic, French Romance and the Italian pseudo-classical style. According to William Brandt, the author of Interpretive Wood Engraving, the work of nineteenth century Americans was acknowledged as the best in the world.

Woodrow Wilson:Presidents Page

According to Brandt, the history of the repeatable image began in the early fifteenth century with the advent of relief printing of woodcuts, and allowed an image to be printed many times alongside movable print. Members of the Society of American Wood-Engravers and important artists of the time as we mentioned, published engravings that appeared in Harpers, Frank Leslie’s Newspaper and The Century Magazine. Creating wood prints often involved employing a pressman to create multiple overlays, and the precision of which the overlays were cut and attached made all the difference in the illustration. The image below from Brandt’s book clearly illustrates this.

Wood Engraving Overlays:San Francisco Wood Engraving

When it comes to newspaper images, Kathleen and Bill are indeed the experts and I took the liberty of taking Kathleen’s quote from Brandt’s book about Winslow Homer’s engravings: Is a press run of as many as 100,000 copies of sufficient rarity to merit serious consideration for collecting? The answer is definitely affirmative. The critical point here is not how many copies were printed, but how many have survived. Educated guesses on the number of sets of any such journals now extant indicated fewer than one thousand available.

Old San Francisco Street Map San Francisco Page

Above is an early engraving inset from an early San Francisco map showing Montgomery street as a port before the bay began to be filled. Inset engravings like this and many shown on the famous Tallis and Rapkin maps that I love were often difficult to do.

Delta of Mississippi:Check out our Sailing and Yachting Page

Above a fine colored engraving from the famous Picturesque America book that was very popular in its time. Below is a signed letter from Acme Wood Engravers and Electrotypers, Clay Street, San Francisco, August 13, 1891, their specialties, theatrical posters and show bills! Check out our Picturesque America Page!


As with any voyage there comes an end, and what is wonderful to know is that many of us can easily afford the works of the great artists through this medium such as the Mueller’s whimsical interpretation of George Brown’s “I’m Perfectly Happy” below, or Gertrude Hermes’ mesmerizing  Fighting Dogs.

Mueller’s I’m Perfectly Happy! Check out our Family and Children Page!
Gertrude Hermes Dogs French Dogs Page!

We hope you have enjoyed the discussion about wood engraving, it is indeed much more complicated than it seems but incredibly important for many years. Recommended reading this week Interpretive Wood Engraving, William Brandt, Oak Knoll Press, Newcastle Delaware, 2009, an outstanding book on the subject, and A History of Wood Engraving, Douglas Percy Bliss, 1964, Spring Books, London.

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California Maps & the California Map Society Meeting!

Welcome back to the blog that takes you “back to the future” so to speak into our planet’s history through old maps, prints and ephemera. Last Saturday Kathleen, Paul Slavin and I had the pleasure of attending the Northern California Map Society meeting at the San Francisco City Library, and indeed it was spectacular! I say that not just because we are map nerds, but the meeting took on a fabulous turn as Charles Fracchia and Jim Schein, owner of San Francisco map and print shop gave wonderful in depth presentations on the mapping of California.

The photo below is at the entrance of the SF Libraries Book and Arts Special collection room is of, yes the Kathleen Manning and Paul Slavin, our new President of the Pacifica Historical Society in front of a large undated globe. Susan Goldstein and Christina Moretta the San Francisco Archivist’s also gave good presentations, sponsored our meeting at the library and provided a special view of old maps like the one in the header, and others in the photos below! Thanks!


The “I left my Heart in San Francisco” map below is one of the unique old maps that Susan and Christina had for viewing, I have never seen this map before! Both Susan and Christina have very interesting jobs that interact daily with old maps of the City of San Francisco and are charged with archiving and digitizing important maps.

I Left My Heart in San Francisco Map:San Francisco Page

Jim Schein’s presentation on the mapping of California from 1570 to 1972 was one of the most fascinating and deep discussions about mapping, commerce, economy, and culture that I have ever enjoyed. Entitled: Tracing the Development of California Through the Use of Important Historical Maps, Jim began with important early maps such as the, 1570 Ortellis, Cape of California, the 1599 Ruscelli, and mentioned how many of these older maps always cite the search for the Spanish City of Gold, “Quivara city if gold.Interestingly, many old maps of the city were destroyed by the earth quake and fire of 1906.

California as an Island:California Island Map at Prints Old and Rare

Jim continued his insightful discussion with how the 1603, Vizcaino was the best map of the California coast for over 200 years and one of many maps held tightly by the Spanish. He continued with the 1607 Hondius, and how the 1630, Bleau World America, displayed what he called “an amalgam of good ideas on the map,” Jim also talked about how the 1666 Goos map continued to document California as an island for 150 years. However, it wasn’t until a Jesuit Priest, father Kino disproved this in 1701 with his map and journey into the Baja, Southern California and Arizona. Jim’s list of maps are cited below with some of his comments attached, its exhaustive and I have never seen a list like this before or such an in depth discussion with tremendous context. If you are a collector of antique California maps this list is gold. Please Visit Our California Page!

1708 Sanson
1750 Robert de Vaugondy
1798 La Perouse, San Francisco Bay
1820 Tardieu North America (and the start of Pacific Ocean Whaling)
1828 Vancouver
1846 Mitchell’s TX or CA (must have according to polk based on Fremont and Wilkes)
1848 Fremont Upper CA
1849 Eddy Map of SF
1853 US Coastal Survey Maps
1854 USCS Reconnaissance of the Western States USGS
1854 WM Eddy CA (from Colton, the first map to define the shape of CA) Eddy-Colton Map
1854 Glo map of CA John Hayes (How Land grant law super cedes township law in CA, NV, AZ, OR and WA. The early map below is of Spanish land grants in San Francisco.)

Pueblo Lands of San Francisco

Jim’s list goes on into the mid 1800’s after the gold rush and during the discovery of silver in Nevada as California and Nevada become new economic centers in the West for gold, silver, and agriculture. People are migrating fast from the East and need more information on California and Nevada, how to get there, what is the weather like etc? See our extensive California Collection!

1866 Glo Ca and NV
1868 Goddard view of SF
1868 Newport Terminus
1869 USCS SF Peninsula
1876 Holt Map of CA & NV Commercial map
1878 Thompson and West Atlases of Counties of Ca
1879 Glo Map
1886 WM Hammon Hall
1887 1888 San Joaquin valley
1888 Climate CA
1896 Blum Bike Map of Ca
1896 Pacific Steamship CA

Below is one of the earliest street maps of San Francisco, circa 1839, showing what is now the financial district, and for those of us that know Montgomery street, then it was on the beach and had a lagoon.  The first maps of the city were done by Don Julio Richardson then the mayor of the Pueblo of San Francisco, check out Detour Audio Walking Tours on Instagram promoting this collection. See our San Francisco Bay Area Page!

Early San Francisco Bay

And yes, Jim’s awesome list of California and SF maps continues with the:

1904 CF Weber
1905 Burnham plan
1908 Earth Quake Map
1912 North American Regrowth
1914?C F Weber Santa Cruz
1915 USGS Re-Bay
1922 Roads of CA
1930 Pacific coast road
1934 Ruth Taylor White Illustrated style
1946 Roads to Romance S. Cal
1948 Irrigation
1962 K. Rude
1972 Hydro Elect Map

County and City Map of San Francisco

After Jim’s presentation, which totally captivated the audience of over 100, I wondered why he didn’t mention this geological map we have? California Geology

Just kidding, his presentation should have been video-tapped it was so laden with wisdom. San Francisco is undergoing a new wave of construction and recently old maps of cemeteries are now en vogue,the map below was used to locate the odd fellow cemetery after recent construction in the city discovered bodies in coffins.

IMG_2335 (1)
Odd Fellow Cemetery San Francisco


Plan of San Francisco

And again as with any voyage there is an ending, I hope you have enjoyed our blog this week, unfortunately we didn’t attend the entire meeting, which lasted all day but I think we got the best of it! The wonderful thing about this meeting was the large attendance, but more importantly, Jim Schein’s amazingly insightful and intimate knowledge of the mapping of California. In spite of some early technical difficulties, Jim put on an academy award winning performance that demonstrated a more modern approach to understanding maps and their makers, in addition to demonstrating a true love and excitement for old maps that only us map nerds could understand.

Check out Jim Schein’s blog!

This week’s recommended reading, International Port of Call, An Illustrated Maritime History of The Golden Gate, by Robert Schendinger, Windsor Publications 1984. Below is a hydraulic mining map I researched and processed at Prints Old and Rare, from the destructive days of hydraulic mining in California’s gold country, this is an extremely rare map!

Prints Old & Rare California Page!

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Yosemite in Antique Prints & Ephemera!

Welcome back this week we go back to the future of Yosemite by experiencing it through our antique print and ephemera collection. The word Yo-sem-itee means full grown grizzly bear in the language of the Ahwahnee Indians that once roamed this valley  before it was turned into a park in 1864.  The print above is from “Harpers Weekly,” November 30, 1878 entitled, On the Way to Yosemite Valley from a sketch by Paul Frenzeny showing travelers  on and off horseback with a guide taking a rest.Please Check out our Awesome Yosemite Page!

Approximately 200 million years ago the Sierra Nevada mountain range was covered  by a shallow arm of the Pacific Ocean. Sediments and outwash from land masses accumulated on the ocean bed during what is called the Permian epoch. Volcanism uplifted the sediments to form what we know now as the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. Remember, this is not long in geologic time, and as the famous words of E. O Wilson ring in my head; if the earth were a calendar month old, (its really around 5.5 billion years old,) man has been around 30 seconds of that month, (man has been around 4.5 million years,) so what do we really know about the earth?  Yosemite valley was formed by the Merced river and two massive glaciers one named the Lyell Glacier that still exists today. Below is a very old engraving of a painting of the Lyell Glacier by D. Robinson, circa 1890.

Lyell Glacier: See our Yosemite Page
Ahwahanee People Our Native American Page!

The Ahwahnee people inhabited Yosemite Valley long before the white man and John Muir, however, the famous Ahwahnee Hotel was renamed this year the Majestic for some strange reason, (a new management company) is actually named after them. Below is a photo of a bark house from inside this little pamphlet, photo circa 1880.

Ahwahnee Bark Dwelling

The Ahwahnee Hotel below was  built to be fire proof as the previous four hotels had burned down, construction of the hotel began in 1926 and the famous Frederick Law Olmsted designed the landscape.

Ahwahnee Hotel Renamed the Majestic Yosemite Page!
Early Yosemite Map

Above is an early Sunset Magazine map of Yosemite Valley depicting many of the wonderful geologic features, the Ahwahnee Hotel was built to provide the best view of Yosemite Falls and was visited by many Hollywood stars of the times, including Boris Karloff, Gertrude Stein, Ginger Rodgers, Lucille Ball and even JFK.

Yosemite Ephemera 1921 Yosemite Page!

Above is a nicely designed booklet cover by John Williams, 1921, in the earlier days at the park most visitors traveled by horse back.

Cathedral Rock: See Our Yosemite Page

Above is a very early engraving, circa 1874 of Cathedral rock, one of the many spectacular sights of Yosemite!

Yosemite’s Famous Glacier Point Yosemite Page!

A fun cover from Leslie’s Weekly in 1903, Glacier point a famous and often photographed site with incredible breathtaking views up and down the Sierra Nevada.

Yosemite Falls: See this print on our Yosemite Page!

This engraving of Yosemite Falls and the next below of Vernal Falls were are from the late 1880s and are incredibly detailed and offer rich color schemes.

Vernal Falls: See this print on our Yosemite Page!

IMG_2310 (1)Above are two fun brochures of the early 1950s, below is a menu card with a picture of Half Dome and inside is the 1940 for lunch menu at Camp Curry.

Half Dome: See this pint on our Yosemite Page!
1940 Camp Curry Lunch Menu
Mirror Lake: See our Yosemite Page

Above is a wonderful engraving of perhaps the most photographed lake in the world, Yosemite’s Mirror Lake. Below is an early photo of a large redwood in the Mariposa Grove, look closely to see the human!

Giant Redwood Awesome Big Tree Page!

And finally two wonderful early prints of the entrance to Yosemite Valley, I especially like the last print of Mt Lyell with the flower and bird cartouche.

Early Yosemite Valley View: See this print on our Yosemite Page!
Mt Lyell Antique Print: Yosemite Page!

We hope that you have enjoyed our trip to Yosemite through ephemera and antique prints. The next time some one smarts off about global warming ask them how old the earth is, and how long man has been around. If they can’t answer those two simple questions they have no business pontificating about global warming!

This year more than 4 million people will visit Yosemite! This week’s suggested reading, The Mountains of California, John Muir, 1894, and check out chapter 12 about the Water Ouzel!

Please Visit Our Yosemite Page!

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Good Roads & Early Maps of the American Interstate Highway System

Welcome back to the future in antique maps, prints and ephemera, strap on your seat belts and goggles, this month we drive into early motor touring maps of the U. S. Interstate Highway System. And explore the beginning of the Lincoln Highway with D. Eisenhower. In the early 1900’s demand for and use of automobiles exploded in the United States with the success of Ford, Packard and other auto makers. Unfortunately, good roads and maps were hard to find and few people had ever crossed the country in an automobile. In 1911, Charles Henry Davis founded the National Highways Association with the famous slogan: “Good Roads Everywhere.” The map above and shown again below, is one of the largest “Good Roads Everywhere” maps for the Eastern Seaboard, dated 1926, this map is really a time capsule that also displays ephemera from the time.

Good Roads Map

Automobile touring maps have wonderful color and character and are now rare, close inspection of the upper right corner above shows a fun slogan, “A Paved United States in our Day.” Sometimes called “Motoring Tour Maps,” and beginning around 1912, these maps were available in Europe as well at the U.S. as lithographed “ephemeral publications” and were often created by individuals, associations, tourist organizations and sponsored by hotels and other businesses along the route. As ephemeral publications, they provide important insights into activities and perceptions of the period, in addition to a record of the roads at that time.


The map above sponsored by the Vicksburg Bridge Company (circa 1940) is a great example of an early auto touring map, published by the Mid West Map Company of Aurora Missouri, inside are wonderful depictions of what you might see along the route.



Above is a panoramic fold out of the Vicksburg National Military Park and Vicinity, below are more scenes from this touring map, “cotton picking now, and a southern plantation.”


Check out our Truck Page!

Charles Davis was an innovative visionary, raised in Philadelphia as a Quaker he became a civil engineer and resided in the famous house of Seven Chimneys, of Yarmouth Massachusetts (probably haunted.) He was also president of the American Road Machine Company and built the first high-speed street railway from Washington D. C. to Mount Vernon, VA. Davis a great believer in autos, leased his coal holdings to Henry Ford and received a royalty on each Ford car produced. It was then his vision of a National Highway Network emerged with an ambitious early initiative, building out a National Highway System that would serve 66% of the U.S. population, consisting of 100, 000 miles of:

  • 6 Main Great Highways
  • 13 Trunk Highways
  • 40 Link Highways
National Highway Association

Davis believed that the National Highway System should be built by the federal government and a $10,000 a mile the cost would be around $500M.  He proposed the creation of a National Highway Commission to study and report to Congress, established headquarters in Washington D. C. and as President brought in the rich Coleman Du Pont as Chairman. By 1913 he had built an office on his estate in Yarmouth, had 40 employees and began working with State highway officials to develop up-to-date maps of every state.

In late 1916-1919, Davis’s organization was kind of super-ceded by AAA, and other organizations, such as the American Highway Association, which supported the creation of the Federal Highway Commission. It wasn’t until the Federal Highway Act of 1921 that any federal aid would go to building a national system of highways. By that time Davis had been dismissed by the highway community, primarily because none of the highways he had proposed were built, and it was felt that his organization had created only ideas and content. There is an old saying about pioneers and innovators, sometimes they get arrows in their backs!

Automobile Club Adds

The First Transcontinental Motor Train

At the end of WWI truck convoys of troops played a strategic and major role in the mass movement of troops in France and the military took notice. But it wasn’t until 1911 that the American Army wrote the specifications for an Army truck, thus began the long relationship between Detroit and the military.

On July 7, 1919 a convoy of 81 military vehicles and one shiny white Packard carrying convoy pilot Henry Ostermann, began an epic journey from the White House traveling       3, 250 miles to San Francisco. Known as the “First Transcontinental Motor Train,” it was the first step in the building of the Lincoln Highway and one of its participants was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Sold as a public relations and recruitment drive for the Army, the expedition encountered some the the worst roads in America through mountains, deserts and mud as they made their way West. They also had a film crew in tow and filmed events along the way, like the photos below.

Ostermann Stuck in the Mud!
Sliding off the Road!

At the time American roads were terrible, average speeds were 6 miles per hour and there was no organized network of connected highways in any state of the union. On September 9, 1919 nearly eight weeks after leaving Washington, the convoy completed their mission. Even Eisenhower had his doubts and stated, “We were not sure if it could be accomplished at all.” Thirty seven years later, Eisenhower signed into law the biggest civil engineering project in the world, the building of the U.S. Interstate Highway System.

Into the Desert

And again as with any journey there is an end, and more importantly, if you haven’t driven across the U.S you need to!.  I hope you have enjoyed this week’s “Journey’s into History,” recommended reading this week, American Road, by Pete Davies, Henry Halt and Company, New York, 2002. The photos above came from his excellent book: American Road, The Story of an Epic Transcontinental Journey at the Dawn of the Motor Age!

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Captain Cook’s Voyages of Discovery

Welcome back this week we are very excited to share with you rare antique prints and maps documenting some of the voyages and discoveries of Captain James Cook. Cook was one of the first explorers of the Pacific Ocean and he chronicled three voyages of discovery by illustrating many of the aboriginals and scenes of the times.

This is indeed a unique and unusual “back to the future” adventure for us, thanks to his charter and observations and the collection at Prints Old and Rare. The first step in the training of a biologist is the power”observation.” I can remember my first field trip with professor Peter Young, who made us all sit on a log and write down everything we observed during the course of an hour.  Cook’s observations during the three long voyages, are indeed stunning, incredibly insightful and encompass years of observations!

The map featured this week is a projection of the Northern Hemisphere on the Plane of the Horizon of London, a large copper engraved map by Edinburgh cartographer John Thompson, 1816. The routes of Cook’s voyages 1772-1776 are noted along with the Bherings Island of Kamachatka Peninsula, this map and unusual projection covers all of North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and parts of South America. Our World Map Page!

Check out our Cook Pages!

Above is the cover of Anderfon’s large folio edition of the Whole of Captain Cook’s voyages where many of the images we will enjoy came from. As you can see below, discovery was not for the meek and lasted years; interestingly during the American Revolutionary War, Cook’s ships were given safe passage because they were ships of exploration. You can thank our in-house historian, Bill Hall for that one!

Cooks Voyages

  • First Voyage: 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771
  • Second Voyage: 1772, 1775, 1771, 1775
  • Third Voyage: 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, 1780
Check out our Cook Pages!

Just imagine what Cook and his men were experiencing as they began to explore the Pacific ocean, the next series of images, including the one above, are detailed copper engraved etchings of aboriginals they encountered along the way. Amazing!

Cook Pages!

During Cook’s visit to the Sandwich Islands, (known now as the Hawaiian Islands) the explorers made significant contact with aboriginals and there are many very interesting engravings of them like the one above. The engravings below represent aboriginal men they encountered on Prince William Sound and the Kamtschatka peninsula in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Remember that these aboriginals enjoyed an elaborate lifestyle because of the abundance of food and resources the rivers, inlets, clam flats and sea provided. Unlike many American Indian tribes that wandered the plains in search of food, these tribes spent less than one third of their time finding food. Most of their time was spent on elaborate ceremonies like the “Potlatch.”

Cook Pages!
Cook Pages!
Cook Pages!

IMG_2217Nootka Sound Articles Cook Pages!

Native Caps Cook Pages!IMG_2215

The engravings above of kayaks, headpieces probably used as decoys or to sneak up on prey and the shields just above provide wonderful insights into how aboriginals survived without a capitalist system. They were one with nature, depended on her bounty and respected nature and the earth in more ways than our society ever will.

Check out our Cook Pages!

Cook an excellent navigator, was also known for his detailed maps during his days at war, and his cartographers created very detailed maps of their discoveries like Macao below.

Check out our Cook Pages!


Cook Pages!

The image above is another engraving from Anderfon’s large folio edition and shows Cook and his men interacting with aboriginals on the island of New Hebrides, now Vanuatu.

Cook Pages!

What must it have been like to encounter a group of large walrus like depicted in this engraving? No doubt they learned from the natives that this was also great food, and amazing source for ivory and lamp oil for their ships. Whale oil was for many years the primary source of fuel for lamps and small stoves, especially on sailing vessels.

Captain Cook Pages!

Above is what appears to be a burial ceremony on Pacific Island, probably one of the Sandwich Islands. Unfortunately for Cook he was killed on the Big Island of Hawaii after going to shore to teach the natives a lesson. The natives had been stealing nails from his ships for the iron, and they were starting to fall apart, so Cook went ashore to punish them and it was the beginning of the end for him.

Captain James Cook, F.R.S. was born in Yorkshire November 3, 1728 and was “killed by savages on the island of Owhyee Feb 14, 1779.”

According to Wikipedia, his ship the Endeavour was largely forgotten after her epic voyage, spent the next three years sailing to and from the Falkland Islands. Sold into private hands in 1775, and later renamed as Lord Sandwich, she was hired as a British troop transport during the American War of Independence, Endeavour was scuttled in a blockade of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island in 1778. As of 2016 her wreck had not been precisely located but was thought to be one of a cluster of five in Newport Harbor, and searching continues. Relics, including six of her cannon and an anchor, are displayed at maritime museums worldwide. The US Space Shuttle Endeavour is named after the ship and she is depicted on the New Zealand fifty cent coin.

Cook was no doubt a great leader and his voyages of discovery must have tested the courage and will of many.  We hope that you have enjoyed the wonderful observations engraved for history by the famous Captain Cook!

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Mexico in Maps, Prints & Ephemera

Welcome back this week we travel to one of my most traveled and favorite countries, one with a very long and interesting history, Mexico. Cinco de Mayo was just a few days ago and its really a holiday celebrating Mexico’s independence from France (not Spain) and the execution of Ferdinand Maximilian by firing squad. In my life as a software marketing executive I opened an office in Mexico city in 1995 and spent a considerable amount of time there up until 2003. I especially loved the cuisine of Mexico City, which is a unique blend of French, Spanish and Aztec flavors, wonderful sauces, blue tortillas and black mushrooms grown on decaying Aztec corn.  Before the Spanish arrived in Mexico there was no garlic, pig, cow and many other spices, however, the natives lived on deer, and other mammals, fish, corn, insects, snakes, spiders, ants and even worms. And of course before the arrival of the Spanish, after Aztec sacrifices on Friday nights, the Saturday barbecues included human flesh! Please see our Mexico Page!

The map above is a wonderful 1867 version of Johnson’s Mexico showing all the Mexican states along with an nice inset of the state of Tehuantepec, the narrowest region of the country and the closest to the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.

IMG_2174The map above is one of the oldest in my personal collection of Mexico and its dated 1592, showing most of Mexico City as a large lake with surrounding swamp lands. You can see that this map came from a book, and is engraved as many did during this time and was made by a Dutchman named Johan Bullemecher. Most interestingly the description is all in Latin. A the top left you can see the grossly underestimated size of the Baja peninsula and its inner islands of the Sea of Cortez. The Baja is the longest peninsula in the world at 1000 miles, and its Sea of Cortez was made famous by John Steinbeck, in his book with Doc Ricketts, “A Log from the Sea of Cortez.”

See our Mexico Page!

Above is a Harper’s Weekly lithograph image of the Volcano Popocatepetl, June 19, 1886, photographed by W. H. Jackson of Denver Colorado.  Popocatepetl in the Aztec language of Nauhuatl, means smoking mountain and the Aztec’s believed that (Popo) and another nearby volcano, Iztaccihuati (Izta) where once humans deeply in love. These two large volcanoes dominate the view of the valley of Mexico.

IMG_2169Another fine Harper’s Weekly print (April 30, 1853) features the new President of the Mexican Republic, Antonio Lopez De Santa Ana. The text provides exerts of his speech upon arrival at Vera Cruz, “Mexicans: On placing my foot on the shores of my country, I salute them with the liveliest emotion.” Its quite a moving discourse indeed, however, in the end he tries to “Napoleonise” the Mexicans with new vigorous and determined policy as related to confiscated wealth in building up profitable businesses for foreigners, he may yet benefit his country. Santa Ana was a successful military man, however, his public policies weren’t entirely successful.

IMG_2176Another nicely colored print from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, of Mexican Soldiers leaving Mexico City on the way to the Mexican American war, August 14, 1886, entitled “The Trouble on the Rio Grande.”

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Above, this print is a famous Frederic Remington, entitled “The Mexican Major” from Harpers Weekly, September 27, 1890. According to Wikipedia, “The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended and specified the major consequence of the war: the Mexican Cession of the territories of Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo México to the United States in exchange for $15 million. In addition, the United States assumed $3.25 million of debt owed by the Mexican government to US citizens. Mexico recognized the loss of Texas and thereafter cited the Rio Grande as its national border with the United States.”

IMG_2178The Church of La Santissma above is in the center of Mexico City and was erected in 1775, below is the Cathedral of Mexico City, completed in 1667 on the site of an Aztec Temple. This Cathedral houses one of the famous “Christos Negros” or Black Jesus statue and the last time I visited it was still sinking into the lake below it was built upon, although it has survived some serious earth quakes.

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The Mayans have always fascinated me, as has their disappearance from the Yucatan Peninsula, the image below is from the Bureau of American Ethnology and is plate LXII of the Dresden Codex or Mayan Calendar, 1904. It is from the 11th or 12th century Mayan’s of the Yucatan, and was supposedly given to King Charles of Spain by Hernan Cortez, and now resides at the Royal Library in Dresden. We have antique prints of the codex!

IMG_2184Recent discoveries have perhaps solved the mystery of the Mayans abandonment of their greatest cities and temples. There are around 6000 “cinotes” or tunnels and caves under the limestone surface filled with water in the Yucatan. Research and recent discoveries has determined that Mayan cities were arranged around these cinotes as they were the major source of water.  As the water receded in the cinotes, the Mayans, great believers in the underworld, began to conduct sacrifices and rituals in the cinotes.  Archeologist divers have found evidence supporting this and now it is thought that a great drought hit the Mayans much like the drought that hit the Anasazi in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

IMG_2179In our ephemera section I found this old 1950’s American Airline’s add for Mexican Travel, and as with any voyage I thought I would end this week’s blog with a bit of fun. My travels in Mexico and the kindness of Mexicans in my personal and business travel was always the best. My travels into the Sierra Madre took me to sliver mines of Taxco and to La Vista Hermosa, the Hacienda of Cortes. This weeks reading, Cortes, The Great Adventurer and the Fate of the Aztec Nations, Richard Marks, Knopf 1994.  Again I hope you have enjoyed traveling through Mexico with old prints, maps and ephemera!

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Cuba & Columbus in Maps, Prints & Ephemera

Welcome back, this week our focus is on the long punished country of Cuba, and of course Columbus, the master mind of early discovery. In addition to antique maps and prints, we have decided to weave a little ephemera into the mix this week. The engraving above from Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, as it was called, showing African servants (slaves) dancing during the “Kings Day Celebration” in Havana, Cuba, circa 1800s. Dancing continued for a week preceding the sixth of January, a quote from the caption stated, “Its dawn is ushered in by the roar of artillery from the Moro Castle, the negroes pour out of the city gates in crowds to assemble at their dressing places, and the ear is agonized by the sounds from the musical instruments of Africa.” See our Wonderful Cuba Collection!

After more than “fifty two” years of economic and scientific sanctions, refugees, and many other types of human socio-cultural abuse between Cuba and the United States, we have finally opened relations with the small but mighty rich and multi-cultural island country that Columbus came to love.

Did you ever wonder why America is not called Columbia?  Well at the time of discovery and for years after his discovery, Columbus maintained that was in the East Indies. Shortly after his discovery another important explorer, writer and scholar named Amerigo Vespucci, was the first to dispute that Brazil and the West Indies were not the Asian coast or the East Indies, (and he was a better writer than Columbus) so that’s why we are America and not Columbia like the university.


The map above (by Captain Becher 1856) shows some the early explorations of Columbus and perhaps the most important ones after leaving their first landfall in San Salvador. Shown above are the first landings on Cuba.  This map is extremely large and hard to photograph, so I have blown up a few sections. The ships headed around the Columbus Bank, south of the Crooked Island toward Cuba and into the tricky Bahama Channel, as shown below from the same map, an inset of the Crooked or Fragrant Isles. See our Extensive Columbus Collection!

IMG_2152IMG_2162This 1930’s map of Cuba above gives a better perspective of the West Indies and its closeness to Mexico, Dominica, Jamaica and the Bahamas. It is really quite amazing that Columbus was able to navigate many of the treacherous reefs and banks of this area with only wind, sail, compass and skill. During the course of the explorations, he was always in search of gold and used native translators hopping from island to island in its pursuit. The real gold of Cuba and Dominica was tobacco, it brought more riches to Spain than all the Aztec, Inca and Mayan gold, and for many many years after Spanish domination ended in the New World. See our Tobacco Page!

IMG_2161.JPGAbove and below are a few a pieces of ephemera, antique Cuban cigar box labels from the 1930’s. Someday soon again, I hope we will have real legal Cuban cigars in the US. IMG_2159Another Cuban economic success for many years was sugar and sugar plantations, during the rule of Castro and influence of the Russians, Cuban supplied nearly one third of the world’s sugar. Another little piece of ephemera from something called the World’s Work Advertiser-Investments section, shows a bond add below.



Shown above is an old interesting print depicting the charge of the Cuban Calvary; the three Cuban wars of independence against Spain, the last being 1895-1898, interestingly escalated into a Spanish American war.  The Spanish colonial government prevented many Cubans in America with access into the country and the beginning of their expulsion began with a Cigar Makers Guild in Ybor City Tampa. Rough Riders in Cuba!

On the back of the colored map above from the “Gazetteer of the West Indies and Cuba,” is a interesting photo of downtown Havana (1939) shown below, with the new $20,000,000 Capital in contrast to ancient Spanish buildings. This is what Cuba’s Havana looked like before Fidel Castro’s regime took over the country in 1959, a bustling city next to the world’s greatest economy. What might Cuba be today if communism didn’t get in the way?


One of the last paintings of Columbus shown below, (by the artist Ridolfo Ghirlandaio) presents quite a striking and intriguing posture and presence for a man who had seen more and explored more than many men of his day. You can almost see it in his eyes.

IMG_2168Columbus was indeed a genius and he took in nearly all of the knowledge that Europe had about sea faring, navigation and the possibility of a new world to find it. More importantly, Columbus was a great leader, and I can tell you that in my experience at sea, even the strongest of men can turn quickly to tears and despair in times of the unknown. At times during the voyage, Columbus wouldn’t share with his men how far they were from home. Even in the beginning the voyage was threatened with sabotage, and I can’t even believe they survived the doldrums of the Sargasso Sea in sailing ships. I have been there on research vessels powered by diesel engines and could not believe the feeling of being so far out to sea. The stillness of the Sargasso is daunting, the smell is a strange blending of salt, calmness and danger together that deliver a alien feeling of uneasiness. Without amazing leadership skills this voyage of discovery would have been one of loss, misery and despair.

As with any voyage there is an ending, and these days that is not easy as we see a new socio-economic generation applying standards of today to 500 years ago. Columbus was good and bad, as that was the standard of nobility during the times of slavery and discovery for hundreds of years. This week’s recommended reading is Columbus and the Age of Discovery, by Ziv doir Ner, 1991 WGBH Educational Foundation. I hope you have enjoyed this week’s “Voyage into History.”

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