One of the Rarest Texas Bird's-Eye Views.
Superb large format bird's-eye view of Galveston, Texas, in 1885, during its heyday as the most important and populous city in Texas.
The view was made by perhaps the greatest 19th-century American viewmaker, Augustus Koch, who was particularly active in the American West. Koch's views are generally quite rare, but this one is particularly so; it is known in only two examples (see Rarity section below).
The view depicts Galveston as the bustling port that it was at the end of the 19th century. It was an ideal entrepot between Texas and the rest of the world, given its location on Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Dozens of ships are depicted lining the wharves of and plying the Bay.
A total of 18 vignette illustrations of important buildings are shown at the top of the view. At the bottom is a key including 61 landmarks and points of interest.
The whole presentation gives the sense of a city that was poised to enter the 20th century as the richest in Texas. However it was not to be so; the infamous Hurricane of 1900 decimated the city, resulting in the largest loss of life to a natural disaster in American history, a tragic record that stands to this day. Other factors conspired against Galveston's resurgence in the 20th century, namely its confined city limits (bordered as it is by water on all sides), which put it in stark contrast to other Texas cities which could expand almost without interruption.
Koch's Galveston is quite rare, with only two copies noted by Reps (Views and Viewmakers 3973), at the Amon Carter and Rosenberg Library, Galveston.
The Amon Carter example is somewhat profusely illustrated online, leading to a sense that it is not as rare as it actually is; there are no copies in OCLC (the only listing is for a Library of Congress reproduction of the Amon Carter image.)
Augustus Koch (1840-?) was one of the most prolific American engravers of Birds Eye Views working outside of the major publishing centers. Koch initially served in the Union Army during the Civil War as a clerk and draughtsman in the Engineers Office in St. Louis. Although his English was poor, he was later commissioned as an officer and assigned to one of the Black regiments serving in Mississippi where he drew maps for the advancing Union forces. By 1865 he is thought to have contracted malaria and at 25, was discharged from the army.
By 1868, Koch had become an itinerant Bird's Eye View engraver. His earliest dated views are of Cedar Falls, Vinton, and Waterloo, Iowa. At that point his career seemed to take off and in rapid succession, maps by Koch were produced in every section of the country. In 1870 he produced 5 maps in Utah, Wyoming and California. In all, Koch produced over 100 views, including over 20 Texas Views, during a career of 30 years. His last recorded view was produced in Montana in 1898.
Reps notes that while Koch engraved fewer views than some of his contemporaries, "no American viewmaker traveled more widely in search of subjects. . . "