4to., (10 x 7 4/8 inches). Large folding engraved plan of Mexico City, 2 folding engraved plates of natural history specimens, and a folding diagram of the transit of Venus, folding letterpress table (some marginal staining not affecting the text or images). Modern vellum over paste-board, yapp edges, morocco lettering-piece on the spine, antique; preserved in a modern blue morocco backed slipcase and chemise.
Provenance: early ownership inscription of Giuseppe Maggiotti at the head of the title-page and foot of the last leaf; with the bookplate of James S. Copley in the chemise, his sale, Sotheby's New York "Magnificent American, Historical Documents", 10th May 2011, lot 1059.
First edition of one of the earliest scientific expeditions to California. Chappe d'Auteroche, an 18th-century astronomer saw the twice-a-century transit of Venus across the sun as an invaluable opportunity for scientists to make simultaneous observations from different parts of the earth. By timing the transit and comparing notes calculations could be made about the earth's distance from the sun. "Four men, one French, two Spanish and one Mexican, observed the event from points near the tip of the California peninsula and meticulously recorded their findings. Three of these early field scientists had barely arrived after exhausting voyages, found a typhus plague raging at their landfall and were infected and ill during critical days of their work. Two died as an immediate result, but not before making their contributions to this amazing, worldwide, multinational project. ... From the viewpoint of regional history, the whole affair seems more a colorful sidelight than an integral part of rapidly-changing California in the pivotal year of 1769. Of the scientists, only the Mexican, Velázquez de León, had any local impact. He refined existing knowledge of Antigua California's latitude and longitude, attempted to improve its mining industry, and made reports on its economic potential that were influential in shaping decision of viceroys and councils for several years" (San Diego History Center online). "A thrilling account of a race against time to reach Lower California before the transit of Venus occurred. After nerve-racking delays, which began in Spain, and narrow escapes from disaster, the goal was reached late in May. Two days after the transit was observed a malignant fever spread through the little group and Chappe d'Auteroche [1728-1769], who nursed the sick and dying, took it himself and died on the first of August. Mr. Cowan is quite incorrect in his note on this book, saying 'this celestial phenomenon was visible only upon the coast of California.' It was in fact visible throughout the western hemisphere and expeditions to observe it were sent to numerous stations. Also Spain not only knew of the expedition, but in the end co-operated in every way to make it a success." (Streeter Sale 2443).
From the distinguished library of James S. Copley, purchased from Zeitlin & ver Brugge : "While institutional in scope and significance, the manuscripts and books in the Library clearly reflect the discernment of a passionate collector and equally passionate patriot. The birth, survival, and expansion of the United States is brilliantly documented in the writings of the men and women who founded and protected our nation. It would be wrong to think of the Copley Library as exclusively American, however. As a reader and a newspaperman, Mr. Copley had wide and eclectic interests, which also provided themes for the collection. Letters and manuscripts from authors, scientists, and musicians as diverse as Charlotte Brontë, Albert Einstein, and Tchaikovsky also found a place in the Library" (David Redden, Sotheby's).Barrett 508. Cowan I, p. 46. Cowan II, p. 114. Hill 278. Howell 50, California 40. Howes C299. Mathes, California Colonial Bibliography 61. Palau 67059. Sabin 12003. Streeter Sale 2443. Wagner, Spanish Southwest 158.