The Only Contemporary Colorplate Book Relating to Cook’s Voyages
125. WEBBER, John. Views in the South Seas, from Drawings by the Late James [sic] Webber, Draftsman on Board the Resolution, Captain James Cooke [sic], from the Year 1776 to 1780. With Letter-Press, Descriptive of the Various Scenery, &c. These Plates Form a New Series, and Are of the Same Size as those Engraved for Captain Cooke’s [sic] Last Voyage. The Drawings Are in the Possession of the Board of Admiralty. London: Boydell and Co., & W. Bulmer and Co., 1808. 8 leaves, -2 pp., 2 leaves, -2 pp., 4 leaves (title & 15 leaves of letterpress text, most of which are printed only on verso), 16 hand-colored aquatint plates (ships, views, scenes, Natives, in locales, including Tahiti, Kamchatka, New Zealand, Macao, Tonga, off the coast of Alaska); horizontal images measure approximately 29 x 42 cm; vertical images measure approximately 36.5 x 27 cm. Folio, contemporary three-quarter brown morocco over terracotta, tan, and blue marbled boards, spine decorated and lettered in gilt. Binding slightly scuffed and rubbed and with a few stains, missing small piece (approximately 5 cm) at lower spine, joints starting at extremities, front and back free endpapers wrinkled and with light chipping and staining at top margin. Some minor offsetting from text to a few plates (fortunately, the tissue guards have served their original purpose well, and the majority of offsetting affects only the tissue guards). Overall the aquatints are fine and fresh. This is an excellent, unrestored copy with beautiful full color. Preserved in a green cloth clamshell case with gilt-lettered black morocco spine label.
Watermark dates vary from copy to copy. All known copies apparently have the same title page dated 1808 with the plates all dated 1809 in their imprints. The watermarks in both the letterpress leaves and the plates, however, vary considerably. Beddie reports copies with all the plates watermarked 1819 and another in which some plates are watermarked 1820. That report seems similar to the copy owned by Abbey, wherein the letterpress is watermarked either “J Whatman” or “C Wilmott” and dated 1819 or 1820. Such variations are reported by others, such as Forbes. Except for what are minor variations, the plate titles and imprints here agree with those as given in Abbey. Plate numbers are taken from the explanatory text, where they are given in Roman numerals. In this copy, the actual plates are either unnumbered or numbered in Arabic at upper right above image. Plates with Arabic numbers are 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, and 16. All tissue guards in this copy are watermarked: 1 WJ 1824.
Frontispiece [i. e., Plate II], Boats of the Friendly Islands. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.73A.b.
[Plate I], View in Queen Charlotte’s Sound, New Zealand. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.21A.b.
[Plate III], A Sailing Canoe of Otaheite. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.133A.b.
[Plate IV], Plate 4 The Plantain Tree in the Island of Cracatoa. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.414A.b.
[Plate V]: Plate 5 A View in Oheitepeha Bay, in the Island of Otaheite. Watermark: None. Joppien & Smith 3.92A.b.
[Plate VI], Plate 6 Waheiadooa, Chief of Oheitepeha, Lying in State. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.95A.b.
[Plate VII], Plate 7 View of Harbour of Taloo, in the Island of Eimeo. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.138A.b.
[Plate VIII], Plate 8 A Toopapaoo of a Chief, with a Priest Making His Offering to the Morai, in Huoheine. Watermark: None. Joppien & Smith 3.146A.b.
[Plate IX], Plate 9 The Resolution Beating Through the Ice, with the Discovery in the Most Eminent Danger in the Distance. Watermark: None. Joppien & Smith 3.276A.b. This view is off the coast of Alaska.
[Plate X], Plate 10 The Narta, or Sledge for Burdens in Kamtchatka NB not Mention’d in Cooks Last Voyage. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.340A.b.
[Plate XII], Plate 12 View in Macao, Including the Residence of Camoens, When He Wrote His Lusiad. Watermark: none. Joppien & Smith 3.372B.b.
[Plate XIII], View in Macao. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.372A.b.
[Plate XIV], Plate 14 A View in the Island of Pulo Condore. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.397A.d.
[Plate XV], View in the Island of Cracatoa. Watermark: J Whatman 1819. Joppien & Smith 3.410A.c.
[Plate XVI], Plate 16 The Fan Palm, in the Island of Cracatoa. Watermark: J Whatman 1820. Joppien & Smith 3.415A.b.
Title leaf. Watermark: C Wilmott 1819.
Text leaf Plate I. Watermark: C Wilmott 1819.
Text leaf Plates II & III (on one sheet). Watermark: J Whatman 1820.
Text leaf Plate IV. Watermark: J Whatman 1820.
Text leaf Plate V. Watermark: J Whatman 1819.
Text leaf Plate VI. Watermark: J Whatman 1820.
Text leaf Plate VII. Watermark: C Wilmott 1819.
Text leaf Plate VIII. Watermark: C Wilmott 1819.
Text leaf Plate IX. Watermark: C Wilmott 1819.
Text leaf Plate X. Watermark: J Whatman 1820.
Text leaf Plate XI. Watermark: J Whatman 1820.
Text leaf Plate XII. Watermark: C Wilmott 1819.
Text leaf Plate XIII. Watermark: J Whatman 1820.
Text leaf Plate XIV. Watermark: C Wilmott 1819.
Text leaf Plate XV. Watermark: C Wilmott 1819.
Text leaf Plate XVI. Watermark: J Whatman 1820.
First edition of the only contemporary colorplate book relating to Cook’s voyages. Abbey 595. Beddie 1872. Davidson, p. 67: “Exceedingly rare... These views should be added to a collection but they are so seldom available that a collector would be fortunate to obtain a copy.” Forbes 397: “This collection contains no images of Hawaii, but it is included here because it is a very beautiful (if late) pictorial publication of Cook’s Third Voyage.” Hill I, p. 611. Hill II:1837. Hocken, p. 35. Holmes 79. Joppien & Smith, Vol. III, pp. 192–196. Kropelien 1341. O’Reilly-Reitman 441 & 10184. Streeter Sale 2414 (plates only). Tooley 501.
The publication history of this book has been the cause of much discussion. Despite the name James on the title page, certainly the person responsible for this work was John Webber, the artist on Cook’s third voyage. During his lifetime, he published between 1788-1792 most of these views taken from his drawings , but since he died in 1793, he had nothing to do with this publication. His original publications were softground views finished in either water color or monochrome wash. (See Beddie 1869-1871 & Streeter Sale 2414.)
Upon Webber’s death in 1793, however, the plates changed hands several times. As discussed by Joppien & Smith (Vol. 3, pp. 195-196), it would appear that the plates had a complicated publication history. Webber’s stock, including the plates re-used here, was apparently acquired by John Boydell, who planned to reissue them and even went so far as to print up a title page dated 1808 and alter the plates with his own imprint dated 1809. Although Joppein & Smith locate copies watermarked “J Whatman 1805,” such leaves seem to be the exception, and they conclude: “...we cannot assume that the Boydell edition was published in either 1808 or 1809.” It seems possible that sheets with early watermarks are merely indications of a false start and that Boydell never finished his projected volume.
More likely, Joppein & Smith believe, is that the Boydell’s stock—including the still unpublished Webber—was purchased after his death by Hurst and Robinson, who “issued the folio edition of the Views c. 1820 (using the title page that had already been printed), without even changing the Boydell pressmark.” James Burney, who accompanied Cook on the third voyage, has been suggested as the editor of the explanatory letterpress leaves, almost all of which are from the official account of the third voyage. He died in 1821.
Webber’s art and technique have been much discussed and generally admired. Almost all the views in the present work are obviously from direct observation. The work was assessed by Hordern House as: “The great colour-plate book of the South Seas” and “the most beautiful English colour-plate book of the Pacific.... The sixteen aquatints, after Webber’s drawings, and engraved by the artist himself, form one of the finest visual statements of the South Seas as a romantic Eden. This collection of magnificent coloured views by the official artist on the third voyage is certainly the most striking publication resulting from Cook’s expeditions” (Parsons Collection 136).
In 1784 Webber’s pictorial records of the third voyage were the first to be publicly displayed, and the Admiralty apparently gave permission for exhibition a month or two before publication of the offical account. Scenes such as the shooting of the walruses (a species previously unknown to English audience) and the chilling terror of ships enclosed in ice off the coast of Alaska captured public imagination and contrasted with the warmth and beauty of the scenes of tropical paradise. Among the finest plates ever made of any scene in the the Pacific Northwest is the spectacular view of Cook’s ship Resolution breaking through the ice fields near Alaska. ($40,000-$60,000)
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