1842 Wilkes Map of the World on Mercator Projection w/ Isothermal Lines

Chart of the World Shewing the tracks of the U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1838, 39, 40, 41 and 42. - Main View

1842 Wilkes Map of the World on Mercator Projection w/ Isothermal Lines


The first world map to show any significant portion of the Antarctic Coast.


Chart of the World Shewing the tracks of the U.S. Exploring Expedition in 1838, 39, 40, 41 and 42.
  1842 (dated)     23.5 x 34 in (59.69 x 86.36 cm)     1 : 100000000


This important and extraordinary production is Commodore Wilkes's 1840 U.S. exploring expedition map of the World. Presented on a Mercator Projection, this chart covers the globe from the high arctic to the Antarctic Coast. The map is color coded to represent isothermal lines, with variances in shading representing 5 degrees of temperature difference. In addition, Wilkes also shows currents and winds. Wilkes intended this map to present a general overview of the accomplishments of the U.S. Exploring Expedition (1838 - 1842).
U. S. Exploring Expedition (1838 - 1842)
Dotted tracks identify the U.S. Ex. Ex.'s six ships, the Vincennes, the Peacock, the Porpoise, the Oregon, and the Relief. The U.S. Ex. Ex. was, according to American historian William Michael Mathes,
The United States equivalent to the voyages of James Cook, Jean François Galaup de Lapérouse, Alejandro Malaspina, and Ivan Fedorovich Kruzenshtern for England, France, Spain, and Russia, and the maritime equivalent of Lewis and Clark.
Despite being largely unrecognized in its day, mostly due to Wilkes' own abrasive personality, but also because of political maneuvering in Washington, the U.S. Ex. Ex. was among the longest and most successful voyages of discovery ever undertaken.
Antarctica Interest
This map is of exceptional importance to Antarctica collectors, being the first World map to depict any significant portion of the Antarctic coast and one of two maps used by Wilkes to definitively prove Antarctica's continental nature. Among the many great achievements of the U.S. exploring expedition, and Wilkes specifically, the surveying of the Antarctic coast now known as Wilkes Land, stands out as the most significant. The chart covers that portions of Antarctica now known as Wilkes Land, located due south of New Zealand and Australia (ghosted in at the top of this chart), roughly from Cape Hordern (100°31' e) to Point Alden (142°02' e). Five profile charts in the upper left quadrant offer views of the Antarctic shoreline.
Race with Ross
Wilkes and the U.S. Ex. Ex. were not alone in their pursuit of Antarctica. Almost at the same time, both the French and British had lunched better equipped and more experienced expeditions to seek the southern continent. The British expedition, which was slightly behind, was led by James Clark Ross, an already famous Arctic explorer. The French expedition was led by Jules Sebastien Cesar Dumont d'Urville, a master naval commander, and arrived around the same time as Wilkes. These two expeditions briefly sighted one another but did not make contact. The conditions under which this 1500 mile stretch of icy shore were surveyed were, to put it mildly, horrendous to the point of impossible. Observers in Sydney, noting the ill prepared and inexperienced expedition considered it, in the words of one, 'doomed to be frozen to death.' Compared to the European vessels, most specifically Ross's, which were retro fit for polar conditions, the U.S. ex. ex. ships were ill prepared for unavoidable collisions with ice bergs. Nonetheless, Wilkes accomplished the near impossible, and managed to do so without losing a single ship. This mapping of Wilkes land and the establishing of Antarctica as a continent is Wilkes' most lasting contribution to science and is commemorated on his tombstone: 'he discovered the Ant-arctic continent .'
Publication History and Census
This map was prepared by Charles Wilkes and engraved by Sherman and Smith. Despite being dated 1842, and copyrighted in 1844, it was first published by Lea and Blanchard of Philadelphia to illustrate the atlas volume of the 1845 first edition of Wilkes's official U. S. ex. ex. report.

Collectors will note that most of the maps from Wilkes' official report of the U.S. exploring expedition were issued in small and large formats. This is the large format edition and is exceptionally scarce. The full run consisted of only 150 presentation copes and 100 official copies. Twenty-five of these are known to have been lost in a fire, leaving only 225 possible examples.


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