Monday, January 28, 2019

Giovanni Belzoni's images of Egypt

Giovanni Belzoni (1778-1823) was a nearly six foot, seven inch, red-headed Italian whose fascinating life led him to become known as “The Great Belzoni.” As a young man in Rome, studying hydraulics and intending to join a monastic order, Belzoni was driven from the city when it was captured by Napoleon in 1798, moving to the Netherlands where he worked as a barber.


In 1803 he moved to England (supposedly to avoid being thrown into prison), where he became a circus strongman called the “Patagonian Samson.” Part of his act was to carry a dozen men around the stage on a metal frame.


In 1816, Belzoni traveled to Cairo in order to interest Mohammed Ali Pasha in a hydraulic lifting device that he had invented. This venture proved unsuccessful, but Belzoni became fascinated by Egypt. He turned to the British Consul, Henry Salt —-who had known him during his time as a strongman—- for possible employment. Salt, who was facing the problem of getting the head and shoulders of the colossal statue of Ramses II (called the “Younger Memmon”) from Thebes to England, hired Belzoni for this job.


Belzoni was able to complete this task with ingenuity and perseverance. The head weighs over 7 tons and it took Belzoni 17 days and over 100 men to tow it on a wooden sled to the Nile. (The statue is now in the British Museum).


Belzoni continued his “collecting” of Egyptian artifacts and explored many of the important sites in the country. In 1817, he became the first to perform large scale excavations in the Valley of the Kings, discovering a number of tombs, including those of Amenhotep III, Ramses I, and Seti I, the latter often called “Belzoni’s tomb” in honor of his discovery.


He was the first person since ancient times to enter the innermost part of the great pyramid of Khafre at Giza, though at one point he became wedged in a narrow passage, having to be extricated by his helpers.


Belzoni also was the first to excavate the great temples at Abu Simbel, which were buried under 30 feet of sand.


Belzoni made many enemies and stole many artifacts from Egypt (though he was only one of many Europeans doing the same thing). He also did some cringe-worthy things, such as smashing through a wall with sledge hammers, sitting on mummies so they were crushed underneath his weight, and carving his name on ancient monuments. Still, Belzoni’s enthusiasm and energy allowed him to “achieve” much. He approached his explorations with enthusiasm, mounting excavations on a massive scale, and he was highly systematic in his approach. He destroyed much, but was instrumental in awakening Europe to the glories of ancient Egypt.


After returning to England in 1820, Belzoni published his famous Narrative, a work that excited huge interest. In 1822, the atlas of prints to accompany this work was issued, containing many detailed scenes of sites in Egypt


and brilliant renderings of the tomb paintings that Belzoni discovered. Such was the impact of Belzoni’s publicizing of his discoveries that this can be seen as the beginning of the popular fascination with Egypt.


After Egypt, Belzoni continued his explorations in Africa, heading an expedition to Timbuktu in 1823. He caught dysentery there and died at the end of that year.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Drop in prices of antiques since 2000

A number of months ago, Antiques Roadshow broadcast one of their "vintage" shows, this one showing appraisals from Birmingham in 1999. That was from only the third year of the show, the second year in which I appeared as a print and map appraiser. Watching it, the first thing that I noticed was how young everyone looked. A fair number of the appraisers who appeared in this episode are still appraising for ARS and everyone looked so much younger (of course, I haven't aged a bit...)


The second thing I noticed was how about 3/4's of items had current values below (and often well below) the original appraised values. The show initially puts up the original appraised value, and then after a pause (to let you guess which way the value has gone), they post the current appraised value. In the vintage Birmingham show, from almost twenty years ago, only a couple current values were higher than the original values and just a few were the same. By far most of the new values were below the original appraisals. So what does that mean?


This reflects the fact that, as a general rule, antiques have gone down in value since the turn of the millennium. Part of that is because in the last decade of the twentieth century, prices for antiques were quite strong. Antique shows were going strong, decorators were keen on using antiques in homes and even offices, and there were lots of established and new collectors seeking out the best antiques of all sorts.


In general, it was for the "top end" antiques that prices were steadily going up, the "low end" rising a bit, but really not that much. The advent of Antiques Roadshow reflected the popularity of antiques at the time and also helped to sustain the rise in interest and prices. Of course, in general the appraisals which were shown on ARS were for "top end" items, so combining that with high prices of the time means that the appraisals reflected the booming antiques market.


Then, of course, along came 2008 and the great economic crash. Many parts of the American economy were hurt by this, including antiques. In most cases, the purchase of an antique is a luxury or discretionary purchase, and this was the type of purchase that was most hurt after 2008. Auction and retail sales in antiques slowed dramatically. Auction prices dropped quickly, but this did not lead to an immediate drop in retail prices. Many dealers tried to hang on to the "old" pricing structure, though they were certainly much more amenable to giving a discount. Over time, however, it did definitely lead to a lowering of many prices in the antiques world. I would say that by about 2010-12, a pricing structure for antiques had become pretty standard.


In the last few years, in some areas of the antiques market, there has been some rise in prices, though we certainly have not reached the hey-day of 1999. People are much more likely to spend their discretionary dollars on things like antiques, so we have come out of the really dark days of 2008-2010. The market, though, is quite different. Few prices are reaching new heights, and some areas of antiques which used to be "hot" are no longer so.


I think probably the biggest reason for that is the lack of serious collectors. Back when the Birmingham appraisals were filmed, there were lots of collectors--some long-term, some new collectors--seeking out the best items in many areas of antiques. In my field, collectors of the best natural history prints, prints of Native Americans, Currier & Ives lithographs, and maps were steadily driving prices to new heights. The economic disaster of 2008 knocked most of these collectors out of the market, and frankly, few have come back in even a decade later.


Why is that? I suspect that some of it was that the most of the long-term collectors were not that young, and after they stopped collecting in 2008, they just never had the enthusiasm to restart. It is one thing to gear up for collecting when one is 30 or 40, but another thing when one is 60-70. Adding to the problem is the fact that there just are not that many young collectors entering the market. Whether that is a product of changing interior design styles, a lack of appreciation of "things," or just lack of education about antiques, everyone in the antiques world will tell you that there are not many millennials or other young people purchasing antiques.


Do I think prices will come back? I think eventually for the best of all types of antiques. Antiques are wonderful artifacts of our past which still can play a relevant role in our lives, even if just as furniture, decoration or whatever. If one looks at the prices for a really well-made antique compared to a mass produced modern equivalent, the antiques are often better value just as objects. When one factors in their history and scarcity, they have a huge appeal. Markets do tend to go up and down and I think the antiques market will go back up. How soon, I wish I knew. The continued popularity of Antiques Roadshow, however, is a hopeful sign.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The format is the message

One thing that map dealers and map collectors learn early on is that the format in which a map was published has a great deal to do with its historic significance and its monetary value. A very rare example of a hugely important map of the American West is a nice example of this truism.


In 1843, in response to the great American migration to Oregon and the American West, the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers sent out John C. Frémont to survey and map what would soon come to be known as the Oregon Trail up to the South Pass. Two years later, Frémont was sent out again, at the instigation of Senator Thomas Hart Benton (Frémont’s father-in-law) to further explore the western part of the country, following the Oregon Trail all the way to the Pacific Ocean. On his return, Frémont passed to the south of the Great Basin, establishing for the first time the basic outline of the vast region which would become, in just a few years, the western part of the United States.


In 1845, Frémont was sent out again, in part because of the tensions between the U.S. and Mexico which would lead to armed conflict the following year. Frémont arrived in California just when local ferment led to an American rebellion which soon became part of the wider Mexican War. Frémont was appointed the first Governor of California, but soon became embroiled in a conflict with the military commander of California, General Stephen W. Kearny. This led to Frémont being sent back east under arrest and to his eventual court-martial and dismissal from the army.


Despite the personal failure of this 1845-46 expedition, the 1848 publication of a journal of Frémont’s explorations, entitled Geographical Memoir upon Upper California, was well received, and the map it included, “Map of Oregon and Upper California,” which Charles Preuss produced based on Frémont’s surveys, is a cartographic landmark, one of the most important maps of the American West. It depicts the entire west from the Colorado foothills to the California coast, and from the new Mexican border to the northern border of Oregon. Drawing on an earlier Frémont/Preuss map of the region from 1845, as well as other authorities, this map is corrected and filled in considerably, making it by far the best map of the region to date.


As Frémont himself wrote in his Geographical Memoir, “The map has been constructed expressly to exhibit the two countries of Oregon and the Alta California together. [These territories officially became part of the United States between 1846 and 1848.] It is believed to be the most correct that has appear of either of them...” The importance of this map is indicated by the fact that Carl Wheat gave more space to the description of this map than to any other in his seminal Mapping the Trans-Mississippi West.


The Frémont/Preuss map was probably issued in September, 1848, just after information about the discovery of gold in California reached the east coast. This was reflected in two very small legends on the map, “El Dorado or Gold Region,” placed along the South Fork of the American River and on the upper part of the Rio d.l. Plumas (Feather River), both flowing out of the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Though inconspicuous, these legends makes the Frémont/Preuss map the first general circulation map to include any mention of the California gold discovery of 1848.


As the news spread of this discovery, through President Polk’s announcement on December 5th and then all the subsequent newspaper articles and private publications, there was an immediate demand for information on the gold strike, especially for maps which prospective prospectors could take with them. Many publishers rushed maps to the market, many containing spotty or completely erroneous details, but the maps which had any accuracy were mostly based on the Frémonth/Preuss map, which was without questions the best map of California available at that time.


The same demand led to an 1849 reissue of Frémont’s Geographical Memoir, with its maps, as well as a reduced version of the “Map of Oregon and Upper California,” which focused on California, eliminating Oregon Territory and the Rockies.


What has not previously been reported is that there was the reissue of the full-size “Map of Oregon and Upper California” specifically designed for those planning to head to the “Gold Regions” of California. Rather than being a map that was issued in a report, this was produced as a separately issued pocket map.


The convenience of having maps that folded into a small size had been obvious ever since maps became items that were sold to the general public. For those wanting to take a map with them when they traveled, these maps could be easily carried in a pocket or bag. In the nineteenth century, these maps were printed onto banknote paper, which is tough yet thin, so it could be folded without as much wear. The maps were folded into covers and were usually brightly colored to make them easier to read when on the road. For those heading to the California gold fields, the need for such a map would be clear.


Thus, a pocket map edition of the Frémont/Preuss map was issued, probably either right at the end of 1848, or in early 1849 (the date on the map states 1848, but that is from the original title, which the map contains). The covers of the map are entitled "Fremont's Map California. &c." It was printed from the same stone as the original edition, but with a number of changes made, besides the obvious format change.


First, typically of pocket maps, this map was much more brightly and extensively colored than the original issue. Secondly, two additions were made to make the map more useful to the California gold seeker. A large legend, “Gold Regions” is placed along the foothills of the Sierra Mountains, colored with gold highlighting.


Then inserted into the upper right corner is a map “showing the various routes from New York to San Francisco.”


It isn’t clear who published the map, but given the use of the original stone Frémont may very well have been involved in its production—perhaps hoping to cash in on his explorations after their rather unpleasant ending. An extensive search has turned up only two copies of this version of the map, and while all pocket maps from the 19th century have a high attrition rate, this would seem to indicate that this map did not sell as well as the publisher would have hoped. This scarcity, and its historical significance, make it perhaps as desirable a map of related to the California Gold Rush as any. A true nugget from the California Gold Rush.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Early Baseball prints

The widely told story that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in 1839 has been debunked for some time. The first known mention of baseball is in a children’s book from the late eighteenth century. A small illustration of three boys playing is accompanied by a poem:


Base-Ball
The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy


The first known organized baseball game took place in 1846, by within about a decade a formal set of rules had developed. By the late 1850s, some baseball wood cut prints appeared in the illustrated newspapers of the day. The development of the wood cut for use in newspapers allowed for the publication of images of many aspects of American history and social life which didn’t warrant the production of more elaborate. This image is from the July 24, 1858 issue of New York Clipper.



About the same time, a number of baseball images began to appear as music sheets, including this beautiful colored cover for “Live Oak Polka,” which was printed by Endicott & Co.


By 1860, the game was well-known enough to be used by Currier & Ives in a political print related to the Presidential election. In their "The National Game. Three 'Outs' and One 'Run.' Abraham Winning the Ball," the four candidates are holding baseball bats and are dressed in baseball uniforms, with their belts giving the names of their “teams.” Lincoln stands on “Home Base,” indicating he is likely to win.


Image from collection of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art


Baseball was popular enough that Union troops played it during the Civil War, helping spread the game around the country, including to the South as the Union prisoners played the game when they could. This print is stated as being as based on a drawing by Acting Major Otto Boetticher “from nature,” indicating he was perhaps a prisoner or at least a visitor. The camp looks quite clean and the players and spectators look quite relaxed.


By the end of the war, Charles Peverelly wrote:

The game of Base Ball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the out-door sports of the United States. (Book of American Pastimes, 1866)


The popularity of the game inspired Currier & Ives, “America’s Printmakers,” to decide to produce one of their top quality, expensive, large-folio prints. “American National Game of Base Ball: Grand Match for Championship at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, N.J.” A notice in an 1860 edition of New York Sunday Mercury reported, concerning a game between the Excelsior and the Atlantic teams for the championship, that:


Messrs. Currier & Ives, the well-known print publishers, had a corps of artists on the ground last Thursday, taking elaborate sketches of the immense field, and of the players. They propose publishing a handsome colored lithograph, which will present an accurate view of the interesting scene.


Likely because of the war, Currier & Ives didn't produce the print until 1866, when they revisited the idea, using some of the 1860 sketches as well as later photographs, to produced this terrific print. [An excellent analysis of the print and the game it was meant to represent can be found on the “Our Game” blog.


More baseball prints followed and I think my favorites are those which continued to appear in the illustrated newspapers, such as “Thrown Out on Second” published in Harper’s Weekly, September 10, 1887. These prints were drawn first hand by some of the newspaper’s many reporters, and they wonderfully capture this part of American life with graphic immediacy.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Price ranges within series of prints

About two centuries ago, Thomas McKenney, the head of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, began to commission portraits of Native Americans both when they visited Washington D.C. and from artists “in the field.” McKenney realized that the “progress” of American culture threatened to wipe out the Indian cultures and he felt it was important to document the individuals and their culture for posterity.


When he left office in 1830, McKenney decided to try to produce a portfolio of lithographs based on the paintings he had gather for the government. He borrowed the paintings, had copies made, and then arranged for the production of the images as hand colored lithographs. After many years of battling poverty, politicians and printers, a portfolio, History of the Indian Tribes of North America, was published with 117 portraits and three scenes (actually 118 portrait prints were produced, but one was never included in the portfolio).


The portraits were all based on life paintings, showing many of the Native America chief from around the country, as well as some lesser individuals and women. These paintings provided an incredibly important documentation of Americans from the period, showing not only their faces, but also their dress and accouterments. Although McKenney was acutely aware that he was preserving a chapter in history, he could not have known that had he not undertaken this project, no record at all would remain, for in 1865, a fire at the Smithsonian destroyed almost all the original paintings from which the lithographs were drawn.


In any case, the prints from McKenney's portfolio all share the same history, they have the same relevance to our past, they are all the same size, and they were done by the same printers and lithographers. However, they sell for a wide range of prices. The most expensive prints in this series sell for over $3,000, whereas there are a number that are generally priced at $300 or less. We had a client in the shop the other day, and he was quite puzzled why there was such a range of prices (of course, he liked the more expensive ones and wanted them to be priced closer to the cost of the less expensive ones).



Thus it seemed that a blog explaining why there was such a variation in prices for the prints within one series would be useful, for this type of variation occurs with lots of different series of prints, not just the McKenney portraits. It happens with most natural history prints, and probably the extreme example are the first edition, Audubon bird prints. Some of the prints from that series sell for over $100,000, which others sell for just a few thousand dollars!


The bottom line is that there is often a variation in prices within a single series of prints based purely on desirability of the prints with the public. The prints in one series tend to have equal, general historic value and quality of production, but that doesn’t mean that the public has equal interest in all of them. Sometimes there is a variation in the specific historic import of a particular print (for instance, in general prints of extinct birds sell for more than the ones of birds which are still around today), sometimes there can be prints which have a particular appeal to the public (for instance, prints of dogs and cats tend to be more popular than prints of aardvarks and mice), but the most common reason is appearance.


Within most series, some of the prints are just more visually attractive than others. It can be size (the larger birds from the Audubon series sell for more than the smaller birds), it can be color (a print of a Cardinal will sell for more than a Wren), or it can just be the prettiness of one image compared to the other.


When a print dealer sets prices for the individual prints within a series, he/she will line them up in order of what he/she thinks how their appeal compares to the others. The print market will generally set the value range of a series (so, for instance, first edition Mark Catesby prints will sell for a range between about $7,000 and $700) and each dealer will then assign his/her prints to a place within that range. It is interesting that different dealers will assign different prices to prints depending on their reading of the market, though the ranges for most dealers will be consistent.


This, of course, makes total market sense as the more desirable prints can be sold for more, while one sometimes has to really cut prices on some of the less desirable prints in order to sell them at all. Typically, despite what can be a very large variation in prices, it is the more expensive prints which tend to sell more quickly than the less expensive ones. An interestingly phenomenon is that as dealers get different groups of prints from one series over time, they will sell the more expensive prints, while the lower end tend not to sell, resulting in many dealers have few of the “better” prints, but often multiple copies of the “lesser” prints.



So, how does this play out for the McKenney prints... The most important factor in desirability is the print's appearance. Some of the Indians are spectacular, with strong colors and fierce aspects, while others look like they are refugees from an immigrant camp. Looking at the two prints above, it is not hard to see which would sell for more, and would still be easier to sell at that higher price.



There are two other aspects to the visual premium besides just appearance. There are a few prints in the McKenney series which show full figured Indians, while most are just bust portraits. Being a full figure adds a price premium. Then there is the premium for having regalia or accessories which are of interest. There is only one of the figures with the archetypal full feathered headdress, only one figure with the classic bow & arrow, and a few with interesting weapons, robes or necklaces. All of these are worth more than they would have been without those accouterments.



Two other factors in the valuation of McKenney portraits relate to the history of the particular individual depicted. Some tribes are more desirable than others, for various reasons; there are only two portraits of the romantic Pawnee tribe, the Seminoles and Creeks remain of great interest in the American southeast, and the Iroquois appeal to many in the mid-Atlantic region. Other tribes have much more passed into the historical shadows, such as the Chippewa.



More important is who the individual is, for there are a number of portraits of Native Americans who are of particular interest or importance in American history. Portraits of Pocahontas, Red Jacket, McIntosh, and Black Hawk sell for more because of who they show, not particularly because of their appearance.



So at the top of the price list, one would find a magnificent portrait of a full-figured chief of great importance; that is Osceola. At the other end of the range you will find a rather pathetic portrait of an emaciated chief from a tribe which excites little interest about whom no one knows very much; that is Waemboeshkaa. These prints share a history and quality of production, but it is really not surprising that the one is worth over ten times the other. If you look at our listing of McKenney folio prints in price order, one can see all these factors played out; one might disagree on our particular ranking, but it should make sense.


Friday, May 11, 2018

A Cartographic War

On May 15, 1756, Britain declared war on France, opening the Seven Years War, the American part of which was called the French & Indian War. Though that was the official start of the French & Indian War, fighting had actually been going on for almost two years before that between the French and British in America. Beginning even earlier, however, was a cartographic war which was very much a prelude to the “hot” war that followed.

By the late seventeenth century, the French colonies in America consisted of two main parts. New France, or Canada, bordering the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, and La Louisiane, considered by France to include the entire Mississippi River basin. The British lands in America at that time consisted of a series of colonies along the Atlantic coast, with a number of the original charters stating that they ran “from sea to sea,” though in practical terms they were limited to lands east of the Appalachian Mountains.

It wasn’t long before the British colonies began to look to expand. Their population was growing rapidly; for instance, it grew from about 250,000 in 1700 to over 1 million by 1750. The French were naturally concerned about British expansion. They had a relatively small population (only about 50,000 Europeans in 1750), and they saw British expansion as creating competition to their fur trapping and Indian trade.

This led to a series of Wars: King Williams War (1689-97), Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), and King George’s War (1744-1748). Despite all this fighting, the treaties which ended those wars did not resolve the problems between the French & British in North America.

The Treaty of Utrecht ended Queen Anne’s War in 1713. By its terms, the French ceded to the British the lands around Hudson’s Bay, the island of Newfoundland, and Acadia, which the British called Nova Scotia. The problem with the treaty, though, was that the exact definitions of the regions mentioned were ambiguous, with a boundary commission supposed to adjudicate the exact borders. The commission didn’t meet until 1720, and then never really got anywhere.

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended King George’s War in 1748. By that treaty, North America was supposed to return to the situation ante bellum. However, what that situation was, was no clearer then than it had been at the end of the previous war.


Naturally, French and British mapmakers tended to reflect their nation’s outlook on the issues related to North America, and this led to what has been called a “cartographic war.” This notion is well known among map dealers and collectors, the idea being that the maps for each side made claims promoting their colonies while diminishing the other country’s colonies. The idea is that each side was ‘flying the flag’; reflecting national pride. However, the cartographic war was much more than this and the story is worth examining closely.
Maps were one of the few ways European powers could establish their claims to territory. In the wilderness of North America, with relatively few settlements at the edges of the territories, the location of a border was often not marked in any way in the physical world. A line drawn on the map might be the only physical manifestation of a border. Sometimes, maps created the territories more so than any action on the ground.

Borders depicted on maps could have a reality beyond simply a line drawn on paper. Printed maps have an aura of legitimacy. If a feature is “on the map” the tendency is usually to accept it as real. If a particular border line was not questioned, then this could be taken as de facto evidence of its acceptance. Also, treaties often referred back to previous political situations, and what was shown on maps was sometimes the only way that this could be determined.

Besides their reifying power concerning borders, maps also had a considerable influence on public opinion. For instance, they could stir up the public if citizens thought another country was taking away their land, stiffening their resolve to resist any diminishing of the territory as shown on a map. The public’s attitude could in turn influence the government, so maps did sometimes have an effect on government decisions.

For all these reasons, the cartographic war which raged in the first part of the eighteenth century is best seen as a non-military, but still significant part of the conflict between France and Great Britain.


The first map in the cartographic war was this one by British cartographer Herman Moll. It was issued just two years after the Treaty of Utrecht as a statement of the British view of her colonies as determined by that treaty.

In the north it shows the British colonies as extending all the way north to the St. Lawrence River and up to the Great Lakes as far as Lake Erie. The colony of Carolina, which has its own inset, is shown extending south to just a bit above St. Augustine.

This British volley was answered just three years later by French cartographer, Guillaume Delisle.

Delisle moved the British border well south and east of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. He also claimed that Carolina was named after Charles IX of France and settled originally by the French, in effect claiming that region for France as well.
This map provoked considerable consternation in Great Britain. Because Delisle was the Premier Géographe du Roi, that is geographer to the King, his maps were regarded as semi-official, reflecting the views of the French government.


The publication of Delisle’s map provoked Herman Moll to issue a new map of North America to highlight the “Incroachments” shown on Delisle’s map, as a warning to the British of what the French were doing. A note on the map explained that
“All within the Blew Colour of this map, shews what is Claim’d by France...According to a French Map published at Paris with the French King’s Privelege. The Yellow Colour what they allow ye English.” Moll concluded that “any body may see how much they [that is the French] would Incroach &c.”


The New York officials were particularly upset about the French cartographic claims, as much of the land they considered to fall within their jurisdiction was usurped in Delisle’s map. Governor William Burnet wrote to the Board of Trade that “I observe in the last Mapp published at Paris with Privilege du Roy par M. de Lisle in 1718...that they are making encroachments on the King[‘s] territories...”
Many of the British claims around the Great Lakes were based on their long standing relationship with the Iroquois, especially concerning the treaties which they believed gave them the rights to the Iroquois lands. This British position was reinforced by a clause in the Treaty of Utrecht which stated that the Iroquois were British subjects. In 1724, Cadwallader Colden, the Lieutenant Governor of the colony, issued the map above to show how the region around the Great Lakes belonged to New York through their treaties with the Five Nations.

The British government felt the need for better maps, so it ordered the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, more commonly called the Board of Trade, to send a circular letter on this point to the Governors of the various colonies. The Board was the primary policy-making and administrative agency for the British colonies and in 1719 it sent the following instructions:
“It being necessary for H.M. Service and for the benefit of the Plantations, that the limits or boundaries of the British Colonies on the Continent of America, should be distinctly known and marked out, more particularly so far as they may border on the settlements made by the French or any Foreign Nations, we desire you to send us, as soon as possibly can, the best informations [sic] you can get upon your Government, together with a chart or map, and the best accounts and vouchers you can obtain to support the same....”


David Rumsey Map Collection

This resulted in a number of new maps being sent to the Board from the colonies. As the maps arrived in London, an assistant clerk to the Board, Henry Popple, compiled a general map of the “British Empire in America” with the Board’s “approbation.” As he stated on the map
“great care has been taken by comparing all the maps, charts, and observations that could be found, especially the authentick records and actual surveys transmitted to their Lordships by ye governors of the British Plantations and others to correct ye many errors committed in former maps.”

Issued in 1733, Popple’s production was a huge and detailed map which represented the best British mapping of the continent to date. The Board of Trade initially seemed impressed, writing to the Lords of Treasury that
“Mr. Henry Popple having with great care and Diligence drawn a Map of the British Empire in America, which, from the assistance he has had, from the best Charts and actual Surveys, is rendered infinitely more complete than any other now extant.”

Not only was the map detailed and based on the “best Charts and actual Surveys,” but it exhibited an expanded view of British holdings in America compared to Delisle and Moll. Nova Scotia is depicted as extending north all the way to the St. Lawrence River, and New York and Pennsylvania are shown reaching to the Great Lakes, while North and South Carolina are clearly depicted as British colonies.

However, British critics soon appeared. Popple was criticized for relying too much on French maps for his sources and for not taking a strong enough position relative to the extent of the British colonies. For instance, though New York and Pennsylvania reach the Great Lakes, Fort Niagara, on the eastern side of the Niagara River, is shown as part of French Canada. In 1738, Cadwallader Colden, clearly referring to the Popple map, wrote that “The English maps are such servile copies of the French that they mark out the boundaries between the English and French with the same disadvantage to the English as the French do.”


In the 1720s and 30s, the main area of conflict between the French and British in North America concerned the region north of New England and south of the St. Lawrence River. By the Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, the French had ceded “all of Nova Scotia or Acadia, in its entirety, conformable to its ancient borders.” The British understood “Nova Scotia” as encompassing the entire region up to the St. Lawrence, today’s New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, whereas the French understood it as applying only to the Nova Scotia peninsula.
In 1740, political tensions in Europe led to the War of Austrian Succession, between Austria and France allied with Prussia. Great Britain was drawn into the war as an ally of Austria, declaring war on France in 1744. The war between France and Britain almost immediately led to armed conflict in the northern parts of America, what is called King George’s War. Various raids and battles occurred, with the only major event being the British capture of the fortified French port of Louisbourg. This war ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1747, which essentially restored the situation in North America ante bellum, a situation which, as I have said, was ambiguous and contentious.

Like with the Treaty of Utrecht, the new agreement called for an Anglo-French commission to meet and determine the borders of the regions referred to in the treaty. Beginning in 1750, commissioners met in Paris to negotiate on these matters. By that time, two main areas of conflict had developed. One was the old issue of what meant by “all of Nova Scotia or Acadia according to its ancient borders.” The other concerned the Ohio River Valley.

The French well knew that the British colonies were wealthier and more populous than their own, and they were afraid that the British would expand westward into the regions they depended on for their fur trapping and Indian trading. In 1749, Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville led a French expedition down the Ohio River, leaving engraved plates along the way expressing French claims for the Ohio River.

Meanwhile, the British were starting to focus on their own claims to the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, based on the original charters. A number of groups were formed to pursue British settlement and development across of the mountains, and these were granted large tracts of land by British colonial governments. Obviously, French and British interests conflicted in the Ohio River Valley.


Library of Congress

This map by British map publisher Robert Sayer shows, from the British perspective, “The Limits of His Majestys several Provinces...here laid as they at present exercise their Jurisdictions.”

The British colonies are shown encompassing all the lands south of the St. Lawrence, and extending all the way to the Mississippi. To make sure the point was clear, Sayer added a note that said:
“The French have streched [sic] their Louisiana on both sides the Mississipi [sic], which is another instance of their Incroachment, for they have no just claim to any part of the Country lying Eastward of that River.”

The French and British border commissioners, trying to determine what were the “ancient borders” referred to in the treaty, naturally looked at maps published previously as part of the negotiations. However, they could find no consistency nor clear answer, as the maps, both those made by the French and by the British, were unclear and showed contradictory information.


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The Acadian boundary dispute was the most important part of the negotiations for both the French and the British commissioners, for it was seen as the key to the sea routes to and from North America and the economic wealth from the nearby fisheries. Thus French and British mapmakers paid special attention to the details in the mapping of the region. One of the leading French mapmakers, Didier Robert du Vaugondy issued a map of Canada in 1753 which made no mention at all of “Nova Scotia” and showed Acadia as referring to a just a small strip along the bottom edge of the peninsula.
This map caused quite a stir in Great Britain, for not only was Vaugondy’s map dedicated to the French secretary of state, but he advertised that his map was based on reports communicated to him from the Ministry of War, implying it represented official French policy. As what the designation “Acadia” referred was just the point then being negotiated by the Boundary Commissioners, Vaugondy had to provide a retraction stating that his map did not reflect an official government position.


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Vaugondy’s map, naturally, provoked a British response with this map by Bradock Mead, which shows Nova Scotia as extending from the peninsula all the way to the St. Lawrence River. Mead was very clear in his attitude to the French maps that claimed otherwise, writing in a 1754 pamphlet, “[France’s] geographers and historians have been influenced to prostitute their pens in the most shameful manner, to serve the injurious cause.”
Interestingly, the Popple map, which had been made specifically to support the British position in North America, actually caused the British negotiators problems two decades later with their claims to the Ohio River Valley. The French commissioners pointed out that Popple did not show the British colonies extending beyond the Appalachians, and that since Popple stated on the map that he “undertook this Map with ye approbation” of the Board of Trade, this implied that it reflected the official British position at the time.

The British had to reply that while the Board “might very well [have approved] of such an Undertaking,” Popple’s map was “framed according to his own particular Notions; he published it upon his own single Authority; the Board of Trade at the Time gave it no extraordinary Sanction... it has ever been thought in Great Britain to be a very incorrect Map, and has never in any Negociation between the two Crowns been appealed to by Great Britain as being correct, or a Map of any Authority.”

In any case, the Boundary Commission negotiations continued through 1753, but no progress was made and soon the commissioners were recalled. Negotiations didn’t stop, however, but changed their nature. The Boundary Commissioners had been tasked with determining what was meant by the terms of the existing treaties, but now there was direct negotiations between British and French officials to work on a new geopolitical agreement with newly determined borders. The discussions continued to focus on the Acadia question and the trans-Appalachian region, with various proposals being put forth, including the possibility of having a neutral ground in between the French and British colonies, with rights to free access by traders of both nations.

The Boundary Commissioners had used old maps to try to determine existing borders, but in the new negotiations, the British officials wanted accurate maps upon which to establish new boundaries. The problem was that with the discrediting of Popple’s map, they did not have any really good British-made maps of North America. Consequently, in 1749, the Earl of Halifax, the president of the Board of Trade, commissioned a prominent Virginia-born physician, John Mitchell, to compile a map of North America using the Board of Trade’s archives. Mitchell produced a manuscript draft in 1750, but this was seen to be inadequate. Thus the Board sent out another directive to the governors of the American colonies for them to have better maps made and sent to London. As the new maps came in to the Board from the colonies, Mitchell was given access to them.


Newberry Library

The result was that in February 1755, Mitchell’s huge “Map of the British and French Dominions in North America” was published. Mitchell not only used the latest information, but he based the political borders on the original Royal charters and patents, showing the colonies as extending well beyond the Appalachians, and indeed beyond the Mississippi to the edge of the map. In the northeast he showed British lands as not only reaching up to St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, but also to lands north of Lakes Ontario and Erie.
It is interesting to note that the Earl of Hardwicke, the British Lord Chancellor, who was in charge of the negotiations then going on with the French, was very concerned about the publication of the map. He wrote:
“I fear very inconvenient Consequences from it, for it carries the Limits of the British Colonies as far, or farther than any other, which I have seen. If it should out just at this juncture with...the Sanction of the Board of Trade, it may fill people’s heads with so strong an opinion of our strict Rights, as may tend to obstruct an Accommodation, if attainable, ...& make what may be necessary to be done to avoid the fatal Evil of a War, the Subject of great Clamour.”

This is actually just what the Board of Trade intended. The Earl of Halifax, the President of the Board, was a hawk in terms of British rights in North America and he specifically wanted the Mitchell map to be released so as to pressure His Majesty’s Government not to concede too much to the French.
That the Mitchell map had an impact on the British public is clear, for reduced versions of the map were published in at least four different British “gentleman’s magazines” within the year.
Illustrated monthly magazines first appeared in London in 1731. These magazines, with such names as Gentleman’s Magazine and London Magazine, contained poetry, prose, and articles on events, fashions, personalities, and other items of the day that might be of interest to the British gentleman. Illustrated by wood and copper engravings, the magazines included many maps, often related to current events.

Naturally, the tensions with the French generated a good number of maps, some appearing as early as the 1740s but then a large number by 1755, when at least 18 magazine maps related to the conflict in North America were issued.

These maps not only informed readers on the events taking place over the oceans, but they also helped to sway public opinion. The many copies of Mitchell’s map in the British magazines, and of course the extraordinary original eight-sheet Mitchell map itself, had a considerable effect on the British public, stiffening their attitude towards any sort of compromise with the French. Not surprisingly, the British government began to take a harder line and very soon the negotiations with the French were broken off.


Click here to see maps of the French & Indian War

While these negotiations had been going on—-to no avail-—events in North America were progressing on their own towards war. Fighting in western Pennsylvania, combined with increased public fervor concerning the French “Incroachments,” as well as concerns elsewhere in the British empire, led to the inevitable declaration of war on May 15, 1756.