Mostly Mexico from Plaza Books
- by Michael Stillman
Mostly Mexico from Plaza Books
Plaza Books has issued their List 38 Mostly Mexico. That it is, perhaps overwhelmingly so. However, it also should be noted that books are either very old, or pertain to older times, when today's American Southwest, from Texas to California, was part of Mexico. Those who collect the American West will find much of interest from before the days of cowboys (but not of Indians). You could cross the border without worrying about Border Patrol agents then, but the Indians might get you if they distrusted your intentions. Here are a few items from Plaza's latest selection.
We start with a rare manuscript, one of a few copies made by the Italian student of ancient Mexican history Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci in 1738. However, it was a copy of a document far older. The original was written by Alonso Zorita in the 16th century. Zorita was a Spanish judge, sent to New Spain to organize its legal system from 1556-1566. Zorita was also a humanitarian, much like the better known Friar de las Casas. Both were appalled by the treatment of the land's natives. When Zorita returned to Spain, he wrote about the abuses and suggested ending the taxation of the Indians and their virtual enslavement. Whether the King ever read his report is unknown. It was filed and ignored. In time, it made its way back to a collection in Mexico. That leads us to Boturini. He traveled to Mexico in 1736 and compiled what was then the greatest collection of Indian artifacts. He also copied ancient writings, along with having a few copies made of Zorita's manuscript. Item 37 is one of those rare copies, entitled Breve Relacion de los Senores de la Nueva Espana. Zorita's account was not printed at this time. It would not be until the 19th century that a printed copy was made, first an incomplete version translated to French, and finally in Spanish from a Boturini copy in 1891. Plaza was able to track down two other copies of the Boturini manuscript, in libraries in New York and Paris. The original apparently is lost. Priced at $19,500.
Next up we have a map that was published by Chapman and Hall in 1842 on behalf of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge of London in 1842. The Society was formed in 1826 to produce educational material for working and middle class people. At that time, such material was generally limited to those of means. The Society made its works, which included many maps, available for a price average folks could afford. It continued its work until closing down in 1848. Item 9 is a copy of their map of Central America II. Including Texas, California and the Northern States of Mexico. The timing is significant because the area was very much in flux then, and the borders and names used likely reflect some of their British preferences. Texas is shown as a republic, with the borders reflecting the Texans' dreams. The Rio Grande is not only Texas' southern border, but continues up through today's New Mexico past Santa Fe and Taos, effectively giving half of today's New Mexico to Texas. Texans actually invaded this area the year prior to the publication of this map in an attempt to seize it from Mexico but were quickly defeated. The mapmaker has completely forgotten New Mexico, with Texas bordering on California to the west. California is recognized as part of Mexico. To its north is Columbia where Oregon should be. At the time, the area was claimed by both the U.S. and Britain, and the choice of "Columbia" indicates which side the English mapmaker was on. That dispute would be resolved by treaty in 1846 with today's Oregon and Washington going to the U.S., the area to their north (British Columbia) to the British. $750.
King Sebastian of Portugal was a good and well-liked leader, but in 1578, he made a fatal mistake. He chose to invade Morocco on behalf of Christendom. Morocco wasn't ripe for conversion. Though he fought bravely, Sebastian was overwhelmed. His troops lost, and the young King, just 24 years old, was slain on the battlefield, his body unrecognizable. The result was that the Portuguese people dreamed he was still alive and would one day return to rescue their land. That, in turn, led to pretenders. Item 1 is the anonymously written Historia de Gabriel de Espinosa, pastelero en Madrigal, que fingió ser el rey Don Sebastián de Portugal; y assimismo la de fray Miguel de los Santos, en el año de 1595, published in 1785. It is the story of Gabriel de Espinosa, a not-so humble pastry chef, who with the assistance of Friar Miguel de los Santos, pretended to be the missing king. The whole story seems absurd today, but many were convinced, including a distant cousin of Portuguese and Spanish royalty who fell in love with Espinosa. He didn't look anything like Sebastian and was too old, but people wanted to believe their King had returned, so many justified the belief on such ludicrous grounds as he walked like a king or possessed better linen than an ordinary baker. In time, the fraud caught up with them and Espinosa and Santos were executed in 1595. $450.
We conclude with Old Mexico 1892. This is a photo album produced by Mayo & Weed. Charles Mayo and J. E. Reed were Chicago photographers who were sent on assignment by Grafton's Tours, also of Chicago. In this instance they were sent to Mexico, though Grafton also sent them to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to take photographs. They took photographs in Mexico City and other locales around the country. They would then compile albums containing various numbers of pictures, depending on the price charged for the album. This album contains 185 photographs. Item 23. $13,500.