New York: Nathaniel Currier, 1851. Large-format stone lithograph, 23.5 x 38 inches. Old folds, with some wear and separation along fold lines, minor soiling, moderate staining, minor edge wear. Good. Item #3627
An extraordinary lithograph illustrating an obscure and unfulfilled engineering project in South America - a proposed mole to be built at Rio de la Plata near Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1851. The mole, or breakwater structure, is essentially a walled railroad extension jutting out about half a mile into the waters of the Rio de la Plata (River Plate), showing a locomotive chugging along towards two switching stations beyond which stand two depot buildings - one on each side of the railroad tracks - and a lighthouse at the terminus of the mole. On the shore of Argentina, several people are shown manning a presidio, flying the Argentine flag. Way out in the distance, two large ships can be seen passing each other. At top left, a circular inset shows an aerial view of the mole protruding from the river mouth, around which the text reads: "Delin por John C. Mitchell Nueva York Enero 1851." At left below the illustration is printed information on the lithograph's scale, which reads: "Escala del Muelle, Horizontal 100, Vertical 20, Pies por Pulgada. Extencion del Muelle 1000 Varras." The imprint at bottom right is the only other text printed on the sheet, and the only portion in English, reading: "Lith. of N. Currier, 152 Nassau St. Cor. of Spruce New York." Nathaniel Currier often produced lithographs as pure job printing, but this is an obscure aspect of his business, and rarely encountered outside a few New York institutions. It is also noteworthy that the work is technically a U.S. Spanish-language imprint.
A short passage from the February 15, 1851 issue of the New York Tribune describes the nature and impetus for the present work, and also reveals why most of the limited text was printed in Spanish: "MOLE at BUENOS AYRES. - We have received a large lithographic design of a mole, to be submitted to the Argentine Government, for erection at Buenos Ayres, the Government, we understand, having contemplated such an undertaking. The plan represents a mole of solid masonry, 1,000 varas (about half a mile) in length, extending diagonally into the river so as to enclose between it and the shore a sheltered place of anchorage. It is to be of solid masonry, with a railroad running its entire length, and a lighthouse at the extremity, where, also, sea steamers will be enabled to touch. Mr. John C. Mitchell of this city is the designer of the plan, which strikes us as fully adapted to the wants of Buenos Ayres."
We were not able to find much information on John C. Mitchell as a New York engineer. A man of the same name is listed as a member of the Ringgold Expedition, which departed the United States in 1853, and later surveyed much of the coastline from Southeast Asia up the Pacific to the Bering Sea. Mitchell is listed as third engineer aboard the brig John Hancock. The Ringgold Expedition became known as the North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition, and resulted in improved knowledge of the western and northern Pacific Ocean as well as the establishment of friendly relations between the United States and several East Asian countries. The talents of an engineer who could produce the current work would certainly have been of value to such an expedition.
The present work is untitled, and was likely part of a larger proposal to the government of Argentina. As a private work, Nathaniel Currier would have had no reason to push for a title to be added. We could locate no evidence that the mole pictured here was ever constructed by the Argentine government, but the design remains nonetheless an awe-inspiring proposition and an engineering marvel. No records of any kind could be found in OCLC or larger searches of databases and government records for this project or for any other printed works related to John C. Mitchell or the construction of a mole at Rio de la Plata in 1851.