Extremely rare California Gold Rush edition of Fremont’s epochal map of the West

From the Surveys of John Charles Fremont / Drawn by Charles Preuss / Lithy. by E. Weber & Co., MAP OF OREGON AND UPPER CALIFORNIA from the surveys of JOHN CHARLES FREMONT and others authorities drawn by Charles Preuss… 1848. Washington, 1848.
Lithograph, 26 3/8”h x 33 1/8”w at neat line, original wash color. Original pocket folder removed but present. Minor discoloration along old folds and, on one panel, from adhesion to pocket folder. Repairs and reinforcements along folds, small areas of neat line in facsimile. Trimmed close on three sides (as issued?), with some loss of neat line at lower left.
$12,500

An extremely rare California Gold Rush edition of the Fremont-PreussMap of Oregon and Upper California, widely regarded as the most important and influential mid 19th-century map of the American West. One of the very rarest of the California Gold Rush maps, not noted by Wheat.

The map was a towering accomplishment, which re-wrote the mapping of the West in a way not achieved since Lewis & Clark. However the map was at the printer when the first notice of the discovery of gold reached Washington, DC in September 1848, so the original edition included just two tiny, last-minute references to “El Dorado or Gold Region” on the American and Plumas Rivers. (Wheat, vol. 3 p. 62, note 1)

A smaller, cut-down edition of the map was issued in a government document in 1849, and for most historians of cartography its story ends there.  However, likely in late 1848, the lithographic stone was revised with significant information relating to the Gold Rush and a very few, specially-colored impressions run off. The specific intent of its creation is unclear, but the changes are most interesting. Further, the rarity of this Gold Rush edition is so great that it has only been remarked on by Streeter and perhaps the Eberstadts, while being omitted for example from Wheat’s bibliography of the subject.

Overview of the Fremont-Preuss map
As noted by Carl Wheat,

“in the history of the American West, the year 1848 is signalized by three events above all others, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill…the formal close of the Mexican War… which brought the cession of California and New Mexico… and the creation of the Territory of Oregon… All three events figure in the characteristic maps produced during the year, and particularly the cartographic monument of 1848, the magnificent ‘Map of Oregon and Upper California’” (Wheat,Transmississippi West,vol. 3 p. 49)

The map was originally published to accompany Fremont’s Geographical Memoir upon Upper California. 

“The map and Geographical Memoirhave a two-fold importance in history, first as contributions to geographical knowledge in the year 1848, and second as historic documents concerning Fremont’s notable 3rd expedition… [The map] is a wonderfully graphic report on where the expedition of 1845-46 went and what it saw… As a contribution to cartographical knowledge, the case for the map was well put by Fremont himself: ‘The map has been constructed expressly to exhibit the two countries of Oregon and the Alta California together. It is believed to be the most correct that has appeared of either of them; and it is certainly the only one that shows the structure and configuration of the interior of Upper California’” (Wheat, Transmississippi West,vol. 3 p. 56)

Paul Cohen describes the map as follows:

“This important and beautifully drawn map became the model for many of the later gold region maps. The California portion is based on Fremont’s map of 1845, but the legend ‘El Dorado or Gold Rush Region’ has been added along the ‘Rio d. l. Plumas’ (Feather River), and the ‘R. d. l. Americanos’ (American River), which is shown flowing out of ‘Lake Bonpland’ (Tahoe). The map covers the territory from the boundary of the ‘British Possessions’ on the north to the Mexican border on the south, and from the Pacific Ocean on the west to Fort Laramie and the “Great Plains” on the east (Wheat). [B]y far the most accurate map of the Far West up to the time of its publication. The rapidly changing political character of the West is not neglected on the map. 1848 was a milestone year for establishing United States territories and boundaries, and the recognition of these most recent developments make the map an up-to-date document. ‘Oregon Territory’ established by Congress on August 14, 1848, is clearly delineated, as are the boundaries with Mexico laid out by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Missouri Territory is also indicated, as was, for the first time on a published map, the presence of the Mormons in the Great Basin.” (Cohen, Mapping the West, p. 152)

The Gold Rush edition of Fremont’s map
This extremely rare, almost-unknown California Gold Rush edition of Fremont’s map was likely hurried into print soon after the September 1848 first edition. The most obvious changes include the addition of the phrase “Gold Region” along the western foothills of the Sierra Nevadas; the use of much additional color, in particular the outlining of the Gold Region in yellow wash; the addition of the names “Texas” and “Mexico” in heavy lettering and “L. California” in northern Baja; and the introduction of an inset map at upper right “showing the various routes from New York to San Francisco.”

The map includes its own pocket folder with the title “Fremont’s Map California, &c” on the front board, so it was clearly separately issued, presumably on a very limited basis—whether for presentation to officials, commercial sale, or perhaps both, is not clear. The only other example of the map examined has the same letterpress title on the covers, although the cloth covers are a different color.

This Gold Rush edition of the Fremont map is extremely rare, though in fairness the identical title and date on the first edition raise the possibility that some examples have been missed by cataloguers. I am aware of but two examples in private collections[1]and another at the New York Public Library.

Provenance and references
Eberstadt, Catalog 158: California Delineated, #111 (noting the addition of the “Gold Region” in California, but not the other changes). From thence to “Book Lady Jane” (New Jersey), William Reese Company (with their markings on in pencil on verso) and Barry Ruderman Antique Maps.

Streeter (vol. IV #2524) is the only bibliographer to pick up on this Gold Rush edition.The vastly more common first edition is described in Cohen, Mapping the West, p. 152-153 (illus.); Howes, U.S.-Iana,#F366; Schwartz & Ehrenberg, Mapping of America, pl. 171; Wagner-Camp, The Plains and the Rockies, #150;[ Wheat, Maps of the California Gold Region, #40; and Wheat, Transmississippi West, #559 (vol. 3 pp. 55-62).