Wednesday, June 07, 2006


We have some interesting lithographs of the early West up for auction on Ebay this week. These plates are from the 12-volume set "Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean", published by the Government Printing Office between 1855 and 1861. What was this all about? The answer is a single word: Railroads.

In the 1850s everyone agreed that a transcontinental railroad should be built, but the question was where to build it. Political and business rivalries contended to stop any project, or even preparation for the project, for a number of years. Which states would it traverse and, most importantly, where would it start and end? Did the Constitution even allow the Federal Government to be involved in the project? Finally, in 1853-4, Senator Gwin of California got an appropriation into the War Department budget to allow the Secretary of War (Jefferson Davis) to send out surveying parties. The trouble was just beginning...

After the political and sectional dust settled there were four routes to be surveyed- a northern route along the Missouri River, over the northern Rockies and to Puget Sound, along the 47-49th parallels. A middle route, favored by Senator Thomas Hart Benton, following the Kansas River to the Arkansas, through Salt Lake, along the 37-39th parallels. Another route, the 35th parallel route, went from Arkansas through New Mexico and Arizona and across the Mojave Desert. The fourth route, the southern-most and the one favored by Secretary of War Davis, traveled from Texas along the Gila River to San Diego. There were further surveys on the Pacific coast, outlining routes to link San Diego with San Francisco, and San Francisco and the Pacific northwest. Originally the project report was envisioned as taking up three or four volumes.

By the time the final volume was published in 1861 the number of volumes had swelled to twelve and the country had other problems to deal with. The final volumes were an unparalleled survey of the flora, fauna, peoples and landscape of the American West. The books and illustrations provided details not only on the topography of the land, but the scenery, animals, plants and inhabitants. It remains a cornerstone piece of Americana, and a complete set today can cost $10,000.

We have some interesting prints from various volumes in the set. One word of explanation- the prints we are selling (illustrated here) are not actually framed- I've done some computer wizadry to show them as they will look when they are framed. And just so there's money left over for framing, we're starting them at $9.99 each, with no reserve. Click our Ebay auction link in the right-hand sidebar for all our current auctions.

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