4 volumes. Text: 2 volumes, large 4to. (11 1/2 x 9 3/4 in.; 291 x 248 mm); Tab. Atlas of plates: oblong folio (17 x 23 3/4 in.; 432 x 603 mm); Vig. Atlas of plates: oblong small folio (11 1/2 x 17 in.; 292 x 432 mm). BINDING: Expertly bound to style in half dark blue morocco over blue patterned paper covered boards, spine gilt, speckled edges.
Text with some occasional and faint spotting, generally not affecting images, plates with a few expert marginal repairs, a few stray instances of spotting, generally not affecting plates.
Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied's famed narrative of his trip to the United States and up the Missouri River in 1833-34, with its magnificent atlas of views and scenes of Indian life by Karl Bodmer, is justly celebrated as the greatest illustrated American travel narrative and the most important depiction of American Indians in the frontier era. The journey took place at a time when the unspoiled, mythic West of the exploration and fur trade era was still vibrant, though on the verge of being shattered by the expansion of the United States. Bodmer's engravings of the Indians encountered on the upper Missouri are among the most iconic and celebrated images of the American West. No other images of American Indians even come close to these in accuracy, detail and execution. Less well known, but equally deserving of praise, are Bodmer's depictions of American landscapes, beginning with New York harbor, and including scenes along the way to the stark cliffs of the upper Missouri.
Once home, Maximilian and Bodmer embarked on the arduous task of preparing the printed account of the expedition. Bodmer was put in charge of creating the atlas, beginning with hiring the most skilled engravers, and encompassing every aspect of the difficult process of transforming his original field work into highly finished aquatint engravings. This ultimately took five years and cost a staggering sum of money (eventually bankrupting the enterprise).
As the original prospectus explains, the work was issued by subscription with the plates in five formats. Available were: uncolored on regular French paper; uncolored on India paper (i.e. "chinesisches papier"); on regular paper with 20 plates hand colored [as the present set]; on India paper with 20 plates hand colored; and the truly rare issue on "Imperial velin papier" with all plates printed in color and hand-colored. Copies with the correct original color as in the present set are now uncommon, with uncolored examples having been "improved" with modern coloring or sets of mixed plates being most often offered for sale. The work remains the first truly accurate depictions of the Plains Indians to reach the general public.