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A book, a bonus, and a good friend

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

History of Wiskonsan, title pageSignature from History of Wiskonsan

Every once in a while the Minnesota Historical Society Library gets in a great book with a little bonus; not only is the text of the book important or interesting but the story of where the book has been is also fascinating. Very few of these back stories get better than the one for a book I picked up at the antiquarian book fair in St. Paul last month.

The book, Donald McLeod’s History of Wiskonsan[sic]: From its First Discovery to the Present Period. Buffalo: 1846, is significant having been published 3 years before Minnesota became a Territory. The volume is quite rare and contains a map that is lacking in many known copies. Its author would later settle in St. Paul, make his living in the book trade, and die here in 1903.

The back story I alluded to is that this particular copy fell into the hands of two miscreants engaged in what would become known as the “Coachman Forgeries.” Eugene “Pinny” Field (son of the respected writer, Eugene Field) and Harry Dayton Sickles attempted, with some success, to increase the value of books they were selling by making them look like they had come from the library of Abraham Lincoln. The scheme was simple enough. In 1931 a story ran in the national news that William P. Brown, Mary Todd Lincoln’s driver during the years after the President’s assassination, was still alive. Field and Sickles got him to autograph period books and maps. Frank Thatcher notarized and attested to the fact that the signature was authentic after which Sickles forged the name of Abraham Lincoln to the items. The resulting book looked as if it had the all important Presidential provenance and the notary’s imprimatur.

Our copy of McLeod has an inscription that reads “This book is from the collection of Abraham Lincoln and was presented to …William P. Brown in 1866 by Mary T. Lincoln.” Like all the “coachman forgeries” it is notarized but in this instance Lincoln’s signature was never forged on the book. It should be stressed that both the seller and the MHS knew the story of these forgeries (documented in the 2001 book Absolutely, Mr. Sickles? Positively, Mr. Field! By William L. Butts) and the price of the book reflected only the interesting story.

The book was purchased with the help of funds given as a memorial to one of the Society’s dearest friends, Floyd Risvold. Floyd was one of the most significant collectors of stamps, manuscripts, books and maps illuminating local and national history. He was a wise friend and mentor to me and his scholarship inspired me. His practicality too; he once told me that if today’s youth collected stamps they would easily be able to pass the state standards for American history. We are the poorer for his passing. As we Irish say, his likes will not be here again.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

Map from History of Wiskonsan

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Delisle globe, 1765

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Map Curator Pat Coleman gives us an introduction to ‘Minnesota on the Map:’ Four Centuries of Maps from the Minnesota Historical Society Collection: an exhibit he has curated that opens on February 28. The exhibit includes 100 maps from the MHS collection of over 22,000. Pat also shares his insights to a recently acquired globe from 1765.

View 3-D version of the Delisle globe

 
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1765

Guillaume Delisle

Globe Terrestre: Revu et Corrige sur les Dernieres Observations et les Meilleurs Carties… Paris: Desnos.

As beautiful and as informational as maps can be, globes literally add a third dimension. They are fabulous artifacts that allow a user to interact with maps in a way that a two dimensional map cannot. Mid 18th -century French globes are considered to be among the finest examples of the art of globe making. This globe, based on the cartographic work of Guillaume Delisle, is interesting in the extreme.

To begin with, Delisle was a cartographic “rock star”. He was born in Paris in 1675, the son of Claude Delisle, a famous geographer and historian. Trained in mathematics and astronomy, Guillaume was perfectly suited to make scientific corrections on earlier Dutch cartography. Delisle made giant leaps forward in mapmaking. For his work he was appointed “Premier Geographe du Roi” in 1718.

This globe is not representative of Delisle’s most accurate cartography, however. There are many inaccuracies on the North American continent alone. Notice the two North West passages, which are clearly based on wishful thinking, and the Mer de l’Ouest, (Sea of the West), is shockingly incorrect. Since Delisle had been dead for 40 years when this globe was made, and since Delisle was know for excluding hearsay on his maps, it seems safe to conclude that his successors- his younger brother, Joseph-Nicholas Delisle and his nephew Philippe Buache – were responsible for the “Mer de l’Ouest,” based on the supposed voyage of an Admiral de Fonte who claimed to have found a river that flowed through North America. Ten years later Cook’s voyage would disprove the existence of both these inaccuracies. California is still attached to the mainland on this globe, but the shape of the Great Lakes are poorly rendered for the time period and the Missouri and Rio Grande (Rio del Norte) have nearly identical headwaters. The Mississippi River takes an exaggerated eastward bend but the location of the head of the river is a fairly accurate guess. All of these strange features add to the fascination of the globe.

There are two cartouches (think of a cartouche as the title page and copyright page of a book) and an advertisement printed on the globe. The main cartouche promises that the globe is “revised and corrected on the latest observations and the best maps” and, of course, is dedicated to the king of France. The other main cartouche mentions “Delisle, the astronomer…” as the cartographer behind this terrestrial globe that was “Monte par l’Auteur” or “mounted” by Desnos the publisher. The globe also shows the routes of the explorers via dotted lines suggesting the inclusion of information gathered from those excursions.

Globes dating from the 18th century are extremely rare, which might lead one to assume that they were not widely used in their day. This is not the case at all. Globes were common educational tools used in classrooms, libraries, and even as navigational instruments on ships. It is their inherent fragility that has led to their scarcity.


Help us preserve and display the Delisle Globe.

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Map of the Sioux Reserve, 1859

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Map of the Sioux ReserveThe Minnesota Historical Society recently acquired a rare and remarkable map of the Sioux Reserve from 1859.

The map was discovered, folded neatly, in one of the state’s original land survey notebooks held by the Society. The land allotted for the Sioux Reserve was surveyed and re-surveyed several times between 1858 and 1860, as treaties trimmed and re-shaped Dakota lands.

The map includes area from approximately present day New Ulm to Granite Falls; it portrays flat prairie, rolling prairie, rivers, creeks, wagon trails and two Indian Agencies. A note on the map reads, “We do hereby notify that the above is a true and correct platte for the true and original notes. Signed C.H. Snow and Henry Sutton. Approved February 24, 1859, W.C. Cullen, Supt. Indian Affairs.”

Townships 109-120 and Ranges 31-45 were surveyed and mapped by Hutton and Snow in likely response to the June 19, 1858 treaty, which limited the Sioux Reservation to land south of the Minnesota River. The treaty declares that land belonging to Dakota Bands “… which lies south or south west wardly [sic] of the Minnesota River, shall constitute a reservation for said bands, and shall be surveyed, and eighty acres thereof, as near as may be in conformity with the public surveys, be allotted…” These Dakota bands were Mendawakanton and Wahpakoota, Sisseton and Wahpeton, but no mention of Indian villages or Indian occupation is noted on the map.

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs