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First Edition of the "Most Important of all Overland Narratives," and the "Definitive Account of the Most Important Exploration of the North American Continent" (Wagner-Camp)

The expedition, commissioned by Jefferson and funded by Congress in early 1803 (it cost all of 2,500 dollars), was the first exploration officially sponsored by the Federal government. The acquisition of Louisiana Territory, finalized in December of the same year, increased the importance and urgency of the expedition, which set out from St. Louis in May 1804 and covered 8000 miles in the next 2 years, crossing the Rocky Mountains and reaching the mouth of the Columbia River before returning by the same route. The extremely accurate and detailed map, based on Clark's manuscript, was termed by Wheat the "master map of the American West" (quoted in Cohen). The remarkable cartographic achievement, perhaps even more than the written account of the journey, served to impel and motivate the nation's inexorable westward expansion. Publication of Lewis's and Clark's account of the epic expedition was delayed by the appointments of both leaders to official positions in the new Louisiana Territory (Lewis as territorial Governor and Clark as Superintendent of Indian Affairs), and later by Lewis's murder or suicide in 1809. This "most important of all overland narratives" (Grolier) was finally brought to press but a high proportion of the copies issued in this first printing, which is replete with errors, apparently lacked the folding map or were otherwise defective. The work includes a prefatory "Life of Captain Lewis" by President Jefferson.

Condition Description
2 volumes, 8vo. Contemporary (though rebound somewhat later, probably around 1830-40) ½ calf with marbled boards and leather spine labels. Rear board of volume 1 is weak. 6 maps, including the large folding map. The rare large map, not issued in all copies, has been restored and lined with extremely thin archival tissue with very small areas of loss along the second vertical fold supplied in expert facsimile. Spines repaired, hinges rubbed, foxed, marginal dampstaining. Modern cloth box. Ownership signatures in both volumes of Alexander R. Holladay, 2-term (1849-53) congressman from Virginia. The books have been trimmed at the edges as the ownership signatures are truncated at the top. It is likely that this trimming occurred when the book was bound into its current binding, probably around 1840 or so.
Church 1309; Coe p.22 ("must ever remain the basis of a collection of western books"); Cohen Mapping the West 7; Graff 2477; Grolier American 30; Howes L317; PMM 272; Sabin 40828; Streeter sale III:1777; Streeter Americana Beginnings 52; Wagner-Camp-Becker 13.1; Wheat (Transmississippi West) 316.