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ARCHIVED - Codex canadensis

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About the Manuscript

How did this document wind up at its current home, the Gilcrease Museum? We know nothing of its history prior to 1930 when the Maurice Chamonal bookstore went to great expense to publish a facsimile entitled Les Raretés des Indes, with a foreword by Baron Marc de Villiers in which he attributed the work to Charles Bécart de Granville. It has never belonged to the royal, imperial or national libraries, despite the arms found on the beautiful, and likely recent, morocco binding. The document was purchased by Thomas Gilcrease (1890-1962), a rather fascinating individual.

At the turn of the century, the American government offered Gilcrease 65 hectares (160 acres) near Tulsa because of his Aboriginal ancestry -- his mother was Creek. The land turned out to be one of the most productive oil fields in Oklahoma. In 1922, he founded the Gilcrease Oil Company and made a fortune. Interested in his Aboriginal heritage and in the history of the American West in general, Gilcrease amassed objects that would form the archival collection of the Gilcrease Museum in 1954. When the price of oil dropped, Gilcrease ran into financial difficulty and offered his museum to the city of Tulsa the following year. As an aside, Gilcrease's second wife, Norma Smallwood, was the first Oklahoma citizen to become Miss America in 1926.

But let's get back to the Codex canadensis. It appeared for the first time in the sales catalogues of Librairie Georges Andrieux in 1934 and was purchased that same year in a sale at the Hôtel Drouot by an unknown speculator who sold it again in 1949, when Thomas Gilcrease bought it in London at Henry Stevens, Son and Stiles. The manuscript has been in the museum's collection since it was founded and is one of its oldest documents.

François-Marc Gagnon
Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art
Concordia University, Montréal