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Boston Rare Maps

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“How do I know an antique map or print is real?”

Among those new to map collecting, perhaps the most commonly asked question is, “How do I know if this antique map is real?”

(If you are looking to sell what you believe is an antique map please contact us)

Legitimate modern reproductions and facsimiles of antique maps are quite common, but are also easy to recognize: somewhere on the printed image, usually below the border, will be a statement in modern type such as “Reproduced by [such-and-such publishing co.],” followed by a 20th- or 21st-century date.

Fortunately, it is difficult and time consuming to forge an antique map, particularly one printed before the early 1800s. So convincing fakes are few and far between, and you are unlikely to encounter one if buying from a reputable source.

That said, new map collectors should take the time to learn the basic issues involved in detecting reproductions and fakes versus authentic antiques. To that end this article reviews a number of simple features that can help you assess the authenticity of a map. One caveat: few of these tests are on their own conclusive. The process usually involves accumulating a number of pieces of evidence which, when assembled, provide very strong evidence for or against a map’s antiquity and authenticity.

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Rare example of 18th-century color printing, by Gautier D’Agoty

A rare and fascinating thematic map of northeastern North America by a French artist, printer, anatomist and crackpot geologist, remarkable also as an early example of color printing.

A former pupil of Jacob Christoph Le Blon, and a pioneer in color-printing, Jacques Fabien Gautier D’Agoty (1717-1785) improved on the methods of his teacher by developing a technique involving four successive copperplates (instead of three) to print color engravings. After Le Blon’s death in 1741, D’Agoty leveraged his innovation by winning a 30-year monopoly on color printing in France. An enterprising autodidact, D’Agoty sought to demonstrate the value of his method by publishing luxurious illustrated anatomical works including Myologie complète (1746), Anatomie de la tête (1748), and the periodical Observations sur l’histoire naturelle, sur la physique et sur la peinture (1752-1757).

Among other interests Gautier dabbled in geology, publishing his novel theories in parts 14-16 of the Observations sur l’histoire naturelle.There he argued that the sun’s rays occasionally cause “impulses” affecting the central fire of the terrestrial globe, provoking earthquakes and other geological phenomena. To confirm this, he gives examples of earthquakes at Lisbon, Setubal, Lima, Smyrna, and elsewhere. The text is illustrated by four diagrams and maps, all printed in colors by means of Gautier’s distinctive technique. These include a diagram illustrating his theory of solar influence as well as maps of southwestern Europe, northwestern Africa, and the map of northeastern North America offered here. On each map, the letter “R” is used indicate cities destroyed by earthquakes, “A” for those swallowed by the sea, and “T” when the tremor was experienced but failed to cause grievous damage.

Gautier’s map of northeastern North America depicts the continent from Newfoundland west to James Bay and Lake Superior and from Labrador south to North Carolina, though with little pretense at geographic accuracy. “Ts” indicating tremors are found on the eastern shore of James Bay, the shores of Lakes Huron and Superior, the southwest coast of Nova Scotia, and the head of Chesapeake Bay. The English colonies are named and their boundaries vaguely delineated, some cities and towns are located, and numerous native American peoples identified. The map is also of interest as a geopolitical document, as it uses printed color to present an aggressively Francophilic take on British (red) and French (yellow) imperial holdings in North America, with the Great Britain’s American colonies confined east of the Appalachians and along the shore of James Bay. Also of note is the recently-erected Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio, which sparked the French and Indian War.

The map is rare. Neither RareBookHub nor Antique Map Price Recordlist any examples having appeared separately on the antiquarian market. However, it was reissued by Gautier in 1756 in a pamphlet bearing the title CARTES EN COULEUR des lieux sujets aux tremblements de terredans toutes les parties du monde, essentially a reprinting of material from parts 14-16 of Observations sur l’histoire naturelle. I sold an example of the pamphlet in 2015, complete with all maps and diagrams, and know of another on the market at present (July 2018).

In all a rare map of northeastern North America, unusual as an early example of color printing, for its crackpot theoretical underpinnings, and as a little-known specimen of persuasive cartography from the French and Indian War era.

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A fine depiction of Revolutionary-era Boston and Charlestown

An uncommon plan of Boston and Charlestown, side-by-side with a map of the greater Boston area, published during the Revolution to inform British readers hungry for news of the Colonies.

This image was published in the January 1776 Town and Country Magazine, while the British were still besieged in the town. Two months later the Americans would emplace cannon on Dorchester Heights, giving them command of the town and its water approaches. The British were forced to evacuate, being allowed to do so unmolested in return for not setting Boston afire.

The plan of Boston and Charlestown is striking—at the time, Boston was essentially an island linked to the mainland via a narrow causeway. Shown are the streets and some street names; as well as landmarks such as the Common (with the Liberty Tree and the “encampment of the King’s troops”), Long Wharf, and numerous fortifications. To the North is a rather schematic representation of the Charlestown Peninsula, showing Charlestown crowded with buildings though it had in fact been devastated by bombardment during the June 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill.

Complementing the city plan is a map of the greater Boston area based on Jefferys’ Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England. It depicts the region from roughly the Merrimack River in the North, southward to Plymouth and Providence, and westward as far as Holliston, Sudbury &c. Roads are shown, as are towns and town boundaries. This map would have provided British readers with a geographical context for understanding events in and around Boston, which was the main theatre of action during the first year of the Revolution.

With regard to scale, amount of information and quality of engraving, this is the finest geographic depiction of Revolutionary-era Boston issued in a contemporary periodical.

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The first published map of Knoxville, Tennessee

The first published map of Knoxville, Tennessee, produced at a pivotal moment in the city’s history. Unrecorded in the cartographic literature and only the second example located.

Settled in 1786 as White’s Fort, in the early 1790s Knoxville was laid out in four-by-four-block square along the Holston (now the Tennessee) River, renamed after Secretary of War Henry Knox and designated the capital of the Southwest Territory. Following Tennessee’s 1796 accession to the Union it served as the state capital until the General Assembly moved to Nashville in 1812. Knoxville grew steadily but slowly, suffering from its relative isolation and the difficulty of crossing the Appalachians. This began to change rapidly in 1855, when the arrival of the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad catalyzed the city’s rapid growth. From around 2000 in 1850, the population grew to over 5000 a decade later, and the city’s limits expanded northward to include the tracks and rail depots. Knoxville’s location along major rail lines, economic resources and the divided sympathies of East Tennesseans all meant that it was much fought over early in the Civil War, though from September, 1863 on it remained in Union hands.

Knoxville City Engineer Albert Miller Lea probably produced this extremely rare plan to document the arrival of the railroad and the northern expansion of the city. Oriented with north at upper right, the plan reveals the city’s development over time, beginning with the old town between First and Second Creeks (The original plat of 1791-2 was bounded by the river and Locust, Church and Water Streets.) Streets are named and several rail lines delineated, though as of 1855, with the exception of the East Tennessee and Georgia line, most of these were projected rather than operating. A legend at upper right identifies 25 landmarks, primarily houses of worship (including the “Coloured Church” in the east end of town on Flint Hill) and a wide variety of industrial establishments. Several of the latter are clustered along Flint Creek, along with the millraces from which they drew their power. Also of note are the grounds of East Tennessee University, originally chartered in 1794 as Blount College and today the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee.

The plan is extraordinarily rare, and I have been able to locate but a single other example, held by the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection at the Knoxville Public Library.

Albert Miller Lea (1808-1891)
Map maker Albert Miller Lea had a long, varied and peripatetic career, much of it in public service. He briefly reached the very highest levels of government and has been described, rather grandiosely, as “a man who walked with the presidents (Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, and Millard Fillmore), who knew and corresponded with the Confederacy’s leaders (Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee), and who was a personal confidant and relative by marriage of General Sam Houston.” (Block)

Lea was born in 1808 in the vicinity of Knoxville, graduated from East Tennessee University before the age of 20 and then from West Point in 1831, fifth in his class. He had a relatively brief though eventful career in the U.S. Army, among other thing doing time as chief of engineers on the Tennessee River and later leading and exploration of the territory between the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers. After resigning his commission in 1836 he moved to Philadelphia, where he married and published Notes on the Wisconsin Territory (Philadelphia: H.S. Tanner, 1836), which is credited with providing the name “Iowa” for the 29th state.

The book seems to have brought him to some prominence, for over the next ten years he held a series of substantial jobs around the country, including but not limited to Chairman of the Missouri-Iowa Boundary Commission (1837), Chief Engineer of the State of Tennessee (1837-38), Chief Engineer for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (1838-40?), Chief Clerk in the War Department (1841) and even for six weeks in 1841 Acting Secretary of War.

In 1844 Lea returned to Knoxville, where for seven years he taught mathematics at the University. From 1851-56 he served as the city’s Chief Engineer, in which capacity he oversaw the production of the Plan of the City of Knoxville offered here. He moved to Texas in 1857, served the Confederacy as an engineering officer, and later settled in Galveston, where he served as City Engineer from 1866-70. He retired from public life in 1874 and in 1891 died at home in Corsicana, Texas.

In all a rare and important cartographic document from a key moment in the development of modern Knoxville.

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Rare engraving of the 1813 Battle of the Thames

A very rare engraving of the 1813 Battle of the Thames, which effectively ended British power in the Old Northwest, destroyed Tecumseh’s Native American Confederacy, and burnished the reputation of future President William Henry Harrison.

“After the U.S. naval triumph in the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, the British commander at Detroit, Brigadier General Henry A. Procter, found his position untenable and began a hasty retreat across the Ontario peninsula. He was pursued by about 3,500 U.S. troops under Major General William Henry Harrison, who was supported by the U.S. fleet in command of Lake Erie. The forces met near Moraviantown on the Thames River, a few miles east of what is now Thamesville. The British, with about 600 regulars and 1,000 Indian allies under Tecumseh, the Shawnee intertribal leader, were greatly outnumbered and quickly defeated. Many British troops were captured and Tecumseh was killed, destroying his Indian alliance and breaking the Indian power in the Ohio and Indiana territories. After this battle, most of the tribes abandoned their association with the British.

“After destroying Moraviantown, a village of Christian Indians, the U.S. troops returned to Detroit. The U.S. victory helped catapult Harrison into the national limelight and eventually the presidency.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

This dramatic engraving seems to depict a key moment in the battle, a charge by cavalry under the command of Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky against a mixed group of British regulars and their Native American allies. The question is: Which charge? Colonel Johnson’s brother James was also at the battle, and early on he led a successful cavalry assault against Proctor’s left, capturing the majority of the regulars and forcing the remainder (including Proctor himself) to flee. Somewhat later, Colonel Johnson himself led a nearly suicidal charge on Proctor’s right, where Tecumseh and his warriors were positioned, and in that phase of the battle Tecumseh himself was killed, leading Indian resistance to collapse.

Truth be told, elements of both events are present in this engraving. My best guess is that the answer to the “Which charge” question is “neither,” and “both:” The artist, in faraway Connecticut, was likely less interested in historical veracity than in conveying to the viewer a general impression of American victory and the heroism of Colonel Johnson.

Engraver Ralph Rawdon was active for a few years in Cheshire, Connecticut before moving in or around 1816 to Albany, New York. There he did a certain amount of portrait engraving under his own imprint, as well as establishing a “bank-note and general engraving business” (Stauffer, vol. I p. 218) with his brother and one A. Willard. Partners Charles Shelton (1782-1832) and Thomas Kensett (1786-1829) were map and print publishers in Cheshire, probably beginning in 1812-13. They published engravings by Rawdon and Amos Doolittle as well as Kensett’s own work.

The view extremely rare. I am aware of only three impressions held by American institutions (American Antiquarian Society, Brown University, Indiana Historical Society) and but two offered on the antiquarian market in the past century (Sothebys 1973, sale 3523, lot 140; Old Print Shop ca. 2015). The view was pirated, likely in the 1820s, by little-known Ohio engraver Gabriel Miese (1807-?) and is even rarer than the original.

In all, a rare and vivid image of the Battle of the Thames, one of the United States’ few victories on land in the War of 1812.

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Promotional view of Casco Bay published by the Maine Central Railroad

A fine example of this well-known chromolithographic bird’s-eye view of Casco Bay and Portland, Maine, lithographed for the Maine Central Railroad by George H. Walker.

Established through merger in 1862, by the early 20th century the Maine Central Railroad dominated its market, with lines throughout the state and neighboring New Hampshire. It commissioned this lovely bird’s-eye view to build its brand as the “Great Vacation Route to the Nation’s Playground” and demonstrate to well-off Bostonians just how easily they could access the Casco Bay region, Down East Maine and even the White Mountains by means of rail, ferry and steamer connections.

This view appeared in many variant forms, with a range of coloring, adjustments to the steamer routes connecting the islands of Casco Bay, and alterations to the Walker and Maine Central Railroad imprints. As is the case here, the vast majority were printed on thin paper then folded and tipped into card-stock wraps. This example has been removed from its wraps and lined on the back for stability, though the wraps are still present.

George H. Walker & Co. “was the last important lithographic firm to be established in Boston in the nineteenth century” (Pierce and Slautterback). An advertisement in the 1882 Boston Business Directory describes the firm as “publishers and lithographers” doing “engraving in all its branches, map engraving and photo-lithographing.” (Reps) Among other output, Walker issued atlases of Massachusetts and of Essex County, separate maps of Boston and its metropolitan area, and birds-eye views of Boston, Edgartown, Bar Harbor, and Lake Winnipesaukee.

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Map of North America from the Martin Kunz Relief Atlas for the Blind

A rare embossed map of North America designed for education of the blind, from the rare atlas by Martin Kunz.

Martin Kunz (1847-1923) was for nearly forty years Director of the Illzach bei Mühlhausen Institute for the Blind. Under his leadership the institution gained a worldwide reputation, not least because of the distinctive maps, images and even globes turned out by its printing workshop. His chef d’oeuvre seems to have been the Relief-Atlas für Blinde, which in its most complete form consisted of nearly 100 (the figures vary) embossed relief maps lettered in German Braille. According to one source, some 100,000 copies of the Atlas were produced, though today they seem to be very rare, most presumably having been used to pieces.

Offered here is Kunz’ map of North America, with the continental outline, national boundaries, and cities, mountain ranges and river systems all depicted in relief. The use of Braille is limited to the title and the coordinates in the graticule. The lack of place names and the depiction of only the most significant features of the landscape (the Hudson River, for example, is absent) suggest the limited “resolution” of Kunz’ printing technique. On the other hand, he was justly credited with useful educational materials available to the blind at very modest cost.

The printed of embossed maps for use of the blind had been pioneered decades earlier by Samuel Gridley Howe with his Atlas of the United States Printed for the Use of the Blind (Boston, 1837). Indeed some features of the Martin Kunz maps are reminiscent of Howe’s work, including the use of close-spaced horizontal lines to indicate water, the delineation of national boundaries with dotted lines, and the depiction of only major landscape features to accommodate the limited resolution of embossed printing.

As mentioned earlier Kunz’ maps have become rare. A group of 21 maps was offered by Daniel Crouch Rare Books in 2013 for $10,000, but I find none listed in the Antique Map Price Record and none available for sale on ABEBooks.

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Map of “free stuff” on the Internet in 1995

One of the earliest maps of the Internet, providing a curated guide to the “best” free content available on line as of 1995. Designed by legendary technical artist Timothy Edward Downs as a bonus for purchasers of PC Computing magazine.

PC Computing and Timothy Edward Downs
Back in the early nineties PC Magazine, PC World and PC Computing were in a three-way race for subscribers and newsstand sales. PC Computing viewed itself as the edgiest of the three—in retrospect, not dissimilar to Wired—and it ventured well beyond dry technical matter to include thought pieces, feature Penn Gillette as the back-page columnist, and generally “talk about what was really cool culturally.” (Timothy Edward Downs, YouTube interview) In 1994 it tried a new marketing tactic, with its designers producing a groundbreaking series of posters providing a graphic introduction to the rapidly-developing world of the Internet. The posters were “folded just like road maps, like you would get from AAA” (Downs) and shrink wrapped along with each copy of the magazine. Ultimately “about 13” such posters were produced over the next two years.

“This was a serial kind of a project, so every month with your new issue you’d get a different way of slicing and dicing places on the Internet…. and you could take this map, open it up, and start going to each of those sites…” (Downs)

Artist Timothy Edward Downs was, and is, a graphic designer, photographer and information technology expert, best known for his illustrated guide How Computers Work, now in its 10th edition. By his own account, he developed an interest in art and electronics at the age of 10. His distinctive, innovative approach to technical illustration later developed out of his frustration with the genre:

“Technical illustration… was all so boring…. at the end I never liked any of the things I did because they were all too perfect. All the angles were right, the perspective was perfect, everything was shaded in a way that was realistic but still very dry and very non-human, and ultimately you were showing what it was but you weren’t saying how it worked….

“As I was starting to draw and starting to work in the industry, I realized that I could draw technical things in a very accurate way, but it didn’t have life, and it didn’t excite, and ultimately it didn’t feel like it was alive and moving…. I wanted to invite people into the information as opposed to just showing them what all the things did.” (Downs)

Downs’ map of “Free Stuff on the Internet”
Offered here is one of the earliest of the PC Computing posters, depicting “Best Free Stuff on the Internet.” Inspired by subway maps and the innovative posters of A.M. Cassandre, artist Timothy Downs applied a spatial hub-and-spoke metaphor to organize free content available on the Internet. Here subway lines are replaced by four color-coded lines representing major content categories—Internet Software (green), Resources (red), Applications & Utilities (purple), and Entertainment & Games (blue). Each line is dotted by circular “stations” representing different subcategories, from which radiate a network of lines and circles depicting hundreds of individual sites.

The map helpfully provides URLs and capsule summaries of content for each site, occasionally with a bit of editorial opinion. Even at this early stage of the Internet’s development the range of free content is striking: from the long-lost Mosaic web browser and WordPerfect add-ons, to “Steve Allen’s Musical Homeboy Page” (“not the real Steve Allen”), to a site dedicated to Star Wars (“one of the most colorful and interesting pages on the web”), to one hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Though presumably printed in large numbers, this map and others issued by PC Computing all seem to be rare on the market. As of August 2018 I find no others listed for sale on line.

In all, a rare and unusual image of the internet in its earliest days of development.

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A striking bird’s-eye view of the White Mountains

A striking bird’s-eye view of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, produced to supply the burgeoning tourist trade of the late 19th century.

By the end of the 19th century the Lakes and White Mountain regions of New Hampshire had become major tourist destinations, with a well-developed network of rail and coach links, hotels and inns, and guide services to support visitors from Boston and beyond. Accompanying and advancing this development was a rich literature and visual iconography revealed in maps and prints.

Offered here is an example of this iconography, a bird’s-eye view of the high peaks of the White Mountains and the surrounding region, bounded east and west by the Carter and Kinsman Ranges, and north and south by Lancaster and the Lakes Region. The unnamed artist has enhanced the dramatic impact of the image by greatly exaggerating the heights of the mountains–Mount Washington in particular—relative to the surrounding landscape.

In addition to the features of the dramatic natural landscape, the view identifies the area’s towns, villages and resorts, and maps the roads and railroads connecting them to one another and to the metropolitan areas of the New England coast. A legend at the base identifies no fewer than 52 locations, primarily peaks (with their elevations given) but also iconic features such as Tuckerman’s Ravine, Crawford Notch and the Old Man of the Mountains.

G.W. Morris was a Portland publisher of books, postcards and other images depicting the many charms of northern New England. Among others, he issued views of Bar Harbor and Peak Island, Maine, both in 1886.

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Rare Confederate-imprint map by Evans and Cogswell

A rare Confederate-imprint map of Virginia and North Carolina, probably issued in the second half of 1864, while Ulysses S. Grant and his massive Army of the Potomac were stymied by Lee at the siege of Petersburg. Printed and published by Evans and Cogswell, recently displaced from Charleston to Columbia, South Carolina by the advance of Sherman’s Army.

This unusual map depicts eastern Virginia, northeastern North Carolina and part of Maryland. Particular emphasis is placed on rivers, roads and in particular railroads, the latter of which are overprinted in red. Concentric circles, also in red, indicate distances from Richmond in ten-mile increments (with the effect, presumably unintended, of making that city appear as the bull’s eye at the center of a target). In the north and west, the Blue Ridge and other ranges flanking the Shenandoah Valley are delineated with rather crude hachuring, reminiscent of the 18th-century “molehill” style of rendering relief.

The map’s title includes the puzzling phrase “From the United States Coast Survey.” Indeed, early in the Civil War it had apparent to the Union leadership that there were few reliable maps of the Southeast available for the use of military leaders. To help close this gap, the Coast Survey was recruited into the war effort and tasked with creating up-to-date maps of the projected theatres of war. By the standards of their time, the resulting maps were superbly detailed, providing commanders with essential data about the natural and human geography of the regions in which they were operating. No doubt some of these were captured by Confederate forces, and it is plausible that Evans and Cogswell would have acquired one or more and issued copies. However, while the present map resembles stylistically some of the war-date Coast Survey maps—though the rendering of relief is notably crude—the geographic content differs substantially from every Coast Survey map I have examined.

Evans and Cogswell
In 1821 one James C. Walker established a printing and stationary firm in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1852 he took on Benjamin F. Evans as a partner, and in 1855 they brought in Harvey Cogswell. After Walker’s death in 1860 the firm continued as Evans & Cogswell and soon became one of the leading printers of the Confederacy. Their most famous project was the South Carolina Ordinance of Succession, but they also printed Confederate currency and bonds, The Soldier’s Prayer Book, and books on tactics and other topics. They also issued a very few maps, including the map of Virginia and Carolina offered here, and, much earlier in the war, maps of the Mid-Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay region and of South Carolina and Georgia.

By good fortune a search of has yielded the following advertisement for the Map of Eastern Virginia and North Carolina:

“We have been favored by Messrs. Evans & Cogswell, of Columbia, the Lithographers and Publishers, with a copy of their map of Eastern Virginia and North Carolina, from the United States Coast Survey.

“This map has been recently prepared, and will be found in a high degree indispensable to those, desirous of tracing out, and following the movements of military operations in the States named. It is marked with concentric circles. Richmond being the common centre, exhibiting the respective distances from the present capitol of the Confederacy. This map is neatly and artistically gotten up, with a highly enameled cover. We take pleasure in commending it to our readers.” (Yorkville [South Carolina] Enquirer, Nov. 9, 1864, p. 2)

Some time in late 1864 Evans and Cogswell had decamped from Charleston to Columbia, as Sherman’s March to the Sea posed a growing threat to the Carolina coast. Alas for them, in early 1865 Sherman turned north through the South Carolina interior and captured Columbia in February, in the course of which their plant was gutted by fire. After passing through bankruptcy, the firm took on C. Irving Walker as a partner and reorganized in 1866 as Walker, Evans and Cogswell. They soon moved back to Charleston, where it operated until the late 20th century.

A substantial cartographic rarity of the Confederacy, remarkable for having been printed so late in the war, at a time of great dislocation and economic hardship.

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