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2007 Catalog > 13. Nicollet, Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi.


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“Nicollet’s map initiated the scientific mapping of the trans-Mississippi West by the War Department.”
— Seymour Schwartz and Ralph Ehrenberg

13. Joseph N. Nicollet / John C. Frémont / William H. Emory. “Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River from Astronomical and Barometrical Observations Surveys and Information by J. N. Nicollet” (Washington, D.C.: C. B. Graham’s Lithography, 1843). Published in Report Intended to Illustrate a Map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River (H. R. Doc. No. 52, 28th Congress, 2nd sess., 1845). Lithographed folding map in black and white, as issued. 30 x 35 3/4" at neat line. Sheet size: 38 1/2 x 31 1/2". Staining at joint; light scattered foxing; trimmed close at left margin. Overall very good for this scarce and important map.

Price: SOLD.

This stunning large map by the French scientist and topographer Joseph Nicollet is the earliest accurate depiction of the Northern Plains and the Upper Mississippi. According to Rumsey, “the map was years ahead of its time, with its regional concept and sound basis in instrument readings and astronomically determined points.” It is the first map to use mathematical calculations to confirm the true source of the Mississippi. “All of the observations on which it was based,” writes Goetzmann, “those for latitude and longitude in determination of various positions—taken together, were estimated, by Nicollet, to amount to some 90,000 readings.”

Nicollet compiled the data for his map while on an 1839 expedition to the headwaters of the Mississippi with the Corps of Topographical Engineers, the first exploring party sponsored by the newly reorganized agency. His assistant in the enterprise was the young John C. Frémont on his first assignment. Frémont’s work with Nicollet amounted to a complete tutorial in cartography for the young engineer. Thus this map also has the distinction of being Frémont’s earliest published cartographic work.

In 1843, the Senate published the first version of Nicollet’s map to accompany the scientist’s report of his expedition. The House of Representatives issued another copy of the report in 1845, which contained the present 1843 edition of the map produced on a slightly smaller scale and compiled by William H. Emory. Regardless of the edition, the map is an outstanding achievement—“one of the greatest contributions ever made to American geography,” according G. K. Warren, chief of the Topographical Engineers, in 1855.

Refs.: Goetzmann, Army Exploration in the American West, pp. 72–74; Rumsey Collection, no. 2488; Sabin, 55257; Schwartz and Ehrenberg, Mapping of America, pp. 267–269; plate 165; Streeter, vol. III, no. 1808; Wagner-Camp, 98.

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