Carl Wheat’s massive treatise is an essential reference for anyone with more than a passing interest in the American West. It is a history as much as a carto-bibliography and this breathes life into adventures that the mapping implies. The Spanish come from the south; then the French from the east; next the English from the north; finally the Americans flood in to populate a continental region. Clearly, it is a Eurocentric approach, for the untold story is of Native Americans who certainly must have had magnificent maps of the mind which, as Wheat suggests, may have been given an ephemeral physical presence with available materials.
The narrative places 1302 maps in the context of each volume’s period or theme, with frequent interspersion of the illustrations, many of which fold out. Then comes the “Bibliocartography” with the author, verbatim title, size, source, and additional remarks. Finally, there is an alphabetical index of mapmakers, with a grand listing in the final volume. One could ask for little more, other than a title index.
The pages are reproduced in black and white facsimile, but without the rubric, occasional map coloring and the luxurious wide margins of the original designed by the Grabhorn Press. When placed beside the original, the shortcomings in the reproduction of half-tone illustrations are apparent. They appear murky and the eye struggles with the finer lettering and details. This problem is much less pronounced with line art which is almost as sharp as the original.
If the reader is not familiar with the Grabhorn edition, he will be overjoyed with this one. The good news is that Carl Wheat’s overwhelming opus magnus is available with few compromises at less than 20% of the “street price” of the original. The bad news is that it may not last long because “This reprint is strictly limited 350 copies.” While this may satisfy the market for a spell, demand is likely to reemerge soon, for the West is a subject that will continue to spark the imagination, curiosity and pride of Americans for generations to come.
Jon K. Rosenthal, 1995
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