Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2008 Issue

Early Voyages from the William Reese Co.


Early voyages from the William Reese Company.

By Michael Stillman

The latest catalogue from the William Reese Company is entitled Early Voyages from Vespucci to Vancouver. This is not just a catalogue by explorers whose names began with the letter "V." Think of Amerigo Vespucci and George Vancouver chronologically rather than alphabetically. Vespucci sailed to the Americas at the dawn of the 16th century, while Vancouver explored the coast of North America during the late 18th century. This was the era of the great explorations when the far reaches of the globe were "discovered" by Europeans, their mysteries slowly revealed to a public eager to learn. Reese is offering 100 works of importance from a time when much of the world was still "new."

We will start with one of the earliest, and most important works of exploration. The title is Itinerarium Portugallensium e Lusitania in Indium et Indie in Occidentum... by Antonio Montalboddo. This is a second issue of the first Latin edition of the first collection of voyages ever printed. It was published in 1508, a year after the first (Italian) edition (the second edition added a large woodcut map of the world which contains the first depiction of the entire continent of Africa). It includes discoveries in Africa and Asia, such as Vasco da Gama's explorations at the end of the 15th century. However, it may be its reports from America that are of the most interest, as the "New World" had only been discovered 15 years earlier. This work covers Columbus' explorations along with Amerigo's visits to the land which bears his name. This collection proved to be perhaps the most important book ever in terms of disseminating information about the New World to the Old. Item 61. Priced at $275,000.

Item 19 is an account of travels that preceded the era of great sea explorations. Ambrogio Contarini traveled to Persia on behalf of Venice from 1473-1477. Venetian interests were threatened by the Ottomans at the time, and the Persians were also battling the Ottomans. Contarini's mission was to encourage the Persians to continue their battle. He had to follow a circuitous route to reach his destination, up through Poland and Russia before heading south. The direct route, by sea, would have landed him among the Ottomans. His account was first published in 1487. Offered is the third edition from 1543 of Il Viazo del Clarissimo Messer Ambrosio Contarini... $15,000.

Item 23 is the second letter of Hernan Cortes, a first Latin edition from 1524 (the letter was written in 1520). He describes the empire he found in Mexico and what, we now know from hindsight, was his destruction of the culture which then existed. The letter is bound together with Peter Martyr's De Rebus... which provides an account of recently discovered islands in the East Indies. $67,500.

Item 29 is a copy of the Hondius portrait of Sir Francis Drake. Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, both a hero and embarrassment to the Crown. Drake was a privateer, and his attacks of Spanish vessels, both when the two nations were at war but also at peace, gave him this mixed image. This is a second state of the print of this 1583 drawing, probably made during the 18th century. $12,500.

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