The Rarely Seen and Very Special Hand-Colored Version of a Work that Had an Immeasurable Effect on the Public Awareness of Pre-Hispanic America


(London: F. Catherwood, 1844). 552 x 444 mm. (21 3/4 x 17 1/2"). 1 p.l. (dedication), 24 pp. FIRST EDITION, LIMITED TO 300 COPIES, THIS COPY ONE OF A SMALL NUMBER OF THE DELUXE ISSUE ON CARD WITH THE PLATES HAND COLORED.

Text in nice cloth-backed plain cream paper wrappers, plates unbound as issued in (the original?) half calf over purple cloth portfolio, cloth ties (the portfolio slightly spotted and chafed). Housed in an especially fine recent red morocco-backed cloth box, spine very elaborately tooled in gilt. With map printed in red and black bound in with the text, chromolithographed title by Owen Jones printed in red, blue, and gold on original card mount within a ruled border, and 26 FINE HAND-COLORED LITHOGRAPHIC TRAVEL PLATES AFTER CATHERWOOD mounted on 25 original card mounts (some of these with very expert repairs just at one edge). Palau 50290; Sabin 11520; Tooley 133 (giving a list of the plates). Not in Abbey. Edges of card mounts with a hint of soiling, a little faint browning, and minor blistering and creasing, otherwise a fine copy of a work very difficult to find in pleasing condition, the fascinating plates--where the value resides--with remarkably fresh and skillfully applied color.

This is an exceedingly rare complete hand-colored issue of Catherwood's illustrations of Pre-Columbian monuments, a work that had an immeasurable effect on the public awareness of pre-Hispanic America. Trained as an architect, Catherwood (1799–1854) became intrigued with archaeology after encountering Piranesi's sketches of Roman ruins. He travelled to Rome to study the art and architecture of the ancient empire, and began making his own sketches of monuments, first in Rome and Sicily, and later in Egypt and the Middle East. After returning to London, Catherwood met American traveller John Lloyd Stephens (1805-52), who shared Catherwood's enthusiasm for these relics of ancient civilization. Stephens persuaded Catherwood--who now had a family to support and few job prospects in England--to come to the United States. After establishing a successful architectural practice in New York, Catherwood began planning travels with Stephens to see what ruins they could find in the Americas. According to DNB, "Rumours of cities lost in the Central American jungles had circulated since the 1820s, when the Spanish colonies won their independence and non-Hispanic European travellers visited the region in increasing numbers. A few tantalizing but incomplete accounts had been published. In September 1839 Catherwood signed a contract with Stephens to illustrate the ruins, with Stephens supplying the written narrative." The men spent 1839-41 exploring the region and produced the very well-received "Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan" in 1841 and "Incidents of Travel in Yucatan" in 1843. The present work was issued by Catherwood the following year. Among the sites depicted here are Copan, Palenque, Uxmal, Las Monjas, Chichen Itza, and Tulum. Catherwood engaged some of the best lithographers in London to transfer his work to stone—Andrew Picken, Henry Warren, William Parrott, John C. Bourne, Thomas Shotter Boys, and George Belton Moore—and reportedly colored the plates for the present deluxe issue with his own hand. These images had impact beyond the usual travel illustrations of faraway countries; they provided proof of ancient civilizations inhabiting the Americas long before Europeans arrived. DNB proclaims that Catherwood's "depictions of Mayan ruins have introduced generations of readers to the culture, first through printed sources and now through the internet, where they circulate more widely than ever. By capturing in these images the magnificence of a bygone world, and by arguing that the monuments were indigenous, contrary to the received opinion of the day, he revitalized Central American archaeology and can be credited, along with Stephens, with having launched it as a field of inquiry." The plates here are impressive enough in their uncolored state, but the fine hand coloring makes for a whole new and compelling book, with a remarkable level of power in the illustrations. Copies of this work with the colored plates and their text are rarely seen at auction; the last complete copy sold at Christie's in 2006 for $120,000 all in (despite chipping and dust-soiling to the plates).

Price: $95,000.00