Monday, February 12, 2018

Maps of the Scramble for Africa

Our friend, Vince Szilagyi, who is a scholar on the history of maps, especially those related to Africa, recently gave an excellent talk to the Rocky Mountain Map Society, The Scramble for Africa: Colonial Africa Explored through Maps and Artwork.


I found this particularly interesting as it made me realize that for maps of Africa, it is those issued after 1850 which are of particular interest. In general, it is much earlier maps which are of the most interest to collectors, with many focusing on the earliest maps of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, though collectors of American maps are very interested in those from the eighteenth century up to shortly after the middle of the nineteenth century. However, for African maps, one is missing much of the most interesting material if one doesn’t look at the maps issued after 1850.

This is because most of the interesting changes on maps occurred after that time. A regular theme of my blogs and other writing is the fact that maps with a direct connection to history--which show changes or new information or contemporary events--are the ones which are the most interesting and valuable. Most of the printed maps that were published up to the twentieth century were issued in either Europe or America, and in terms of the knowledge of Africa and involvement in events in Africa, most of that took place from 1850 on.


Early in the nineteenth century, European or American knowledge of Africa was very limited to coastal areas, northern Africa and the very southern part of the continent. Africa was, for Europeans and Americans, the Dark Continent. Missionaries and explorers began to extend European knowledge beginning in the middle of the century, with new information beginning to appear on maps shortly thereafter.


However, it was in the 1870s that European interest in Africa went beyond exploration and missionary work, to economic and political colonization. It is a startling fact that in 1870, only about 10% of Africa was under European control, but by 1914, almost 90 percent was!


The “scramble for Africa” had begun, with European countries trying to exert their influence and control as fast as they could. Worried that this would lead to war between the European powers, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened what became known as the Berlin Conference, which lasted between November 15, 1884 and February 26, 1885.

With the resulting “General Act of the Berlin Conference,” the European powers basically divided up Africa amongst themselves with no African participation.


The maps of Africa published between 1870 and 1914 document the scramble for Africa and its results in a graphic fashion. Though they are late for most map collectors, these are maps of considerable interest (which, by the way, tend to remain relatively available and inexpensive).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Appreciating (some) religious prints

I have been in the print and map business for three and a half decades, getting into the business because of my love of history and graphic images of that history. Initially, I focused on early maps—-from the age of exploration-—and historical prints showing scenes of events in the past. Even after all these years, I still love this business and enjoy researching, writing and lecturing about old maps and prints and their place or role in history.

One of the things that amazes me is that I still regularly come across new items which I have either not handled before or which I didn’t even know about. This is always an exciting thing and I will spend days researching and writing up a description of the new item both for my enjoyment and for the edification of our clients.

The latter point is a central policy of my business. Ever since I started The Philadelphia Print Shop with Donald H. Cresswell, our company policy has been to present everything for sale with documentation which places the items in their historic context. We believed in 1982, and I still believe today, that understanding the history of an old map or print is essential for its true appreciation.

One of the things that this approach has done is from time to time to allow me to come to appreciate prints which I used to dismiss as uninteresting. This still happens, as was proved just recently with a new group of prints we got in our shop which I was not even going bother to put on our web site. However, I decided I really should put them up on our web site and so I had better do some research and write them up.

The prints in question are religious prints, a type of print most print dealers, including me, usually dismiss pretty much out of hand. The reason for this is not that print dealers have a prejudice against religious prints, but that i) there are more religious prints than any other kind of prints, ii) most religious prints were done in large numbers without a lot of care for quality, and iii) antique religious prints generally have little market value.

Actually, there is, and has long been, a considerable demand for religious prints by the general public. These prints which hang in many homes around the world. However, that demand means that ever since prints have been made, there have been printmakers creating large numbers of prints to meet that demand. The demand, especially today, is generally not for high quality prints, but rather inexpensive prints with a strong impact. Thus most religious prints are not of the best quality, though there were far more top quality religious prints made in the 18th century.

So, all that explains that when we acquired a group of uncolored engravings of scenes from the bible, I was underwhelmed. That changed, however, when I began to research the prints. These prints are from what is called the “Macklin Bible.” This was a project produced by London print and book publisher, Thomas Macklin between 1792 and 1800.

Macklin decided to produce the largest England Bible ever printed, which took almost a decade and cost about 30,000 pounds! Of particular note is that he decided to include 70 large engravings based on paintings commissioned from a number of important artists, including Philippe Jacques de Loutherbrough, Joshua Reynolds and Benjamin West, and engraved by the best English engravers.

Macklin said the publication was to promote "the glory of the English school' of painting and engraving and 'the interest of our HOLY RELIGION." Macklin died on October 25, 1800, before the Bible was completed, but he did manage to see the last of the engravings, which was finished on October 20th, 1800.

Once I read up on this work, I looked again at the prints, and they came alive for me in a way that my initial, cursory look totally missed. While the subjects are all familiar, the images are special, with each of the artists taking a unique and inspired take on the subject selected. The engraving quality is also superb. I must say I was really surprised, but I actually became engaged with a group of religious prints!

The moral of the story is that almost all old prints and maps are “special” in their own way, and that the only way to truly appreciate them is to study their history and try to understand them in their original context.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Election satires

In November, on election day, just a year after one of the most traumatic election days of recent history, I spent a lot of time thinking about the drama and foibles of the election process. This is, of course, nothing new and there have been many prints made over time on this topic. This blog will consider two such prints.

One of the two prints is the second in a series of four plates from a series of images drawn by William Hogarth and inspired by a notorious election for the Parliamentary seat from Oxfordshire in 1754. That election was famous for its corruption and inspired by this Hogarth produced his series, supposed to take place in a fictional town of ‘Guzzledown,” as a lampoon of not only that specific election, but elections in general. The series shows the chaos and corruption surrounding electioneering in eighteenth century England, but with universal relevance to any election.

The first plate in the series, entitled “Election Entertainment,” is a parody of Leonardo's Last Supper, showing a raucous scene of a dinner put on by the Whigs to woo voters with all sorts of debauchery. The candidates are shown at left while various party figures and voters cavort in drunken revelry. Outside the window, a mob of Tories is rioting, one member of which hurled a brick in the window which hit the Election Agent.

The print we will look at more closely is the second in the series, entitled “Canvassing for Votes.” Here the scene is outside “The Royal Oak,” the headquarters of the Tory candidate. The sign for the inn has been partly covered by another sign ridiculing the Whig candidate by showing him as Punch distributing coins to voters. Ironically, the Tory candidate is shown buying trinkets to use to buy the votes of two women on the balcony above. Meanwhile, an undecided voter is shown being cajoled by representatives of the two parties, each of whom is placing coins in the voter’s open palms. Two drunks are shown at left, while in the background a mob is attacking the Whig headquarters located in “The Crown.”
A century after the Oxfordshire election, in 1854, George Caleb Bingham’s engraving of “The County Election” was published. One of the best American painters and printmakers of the nineteenth century, Bingham captured the election experience with as capable a brush as Hogarth’s.

The scenes are remarkably similar in viewpoint and composition, though now showing a scene that is a hundred years later and in America. Bingham drew the scene based on his home town of Arrow Rock, Missouri, and the artist can be seen sitting on the step in the middle of the image. The print, similarly to Hogarth’s, shows a raucous election scene in a small town.

The image includes candidates caucusing right on the steps of the Court House, an already tipsy voter accepting even more cider so that he’ll vote for a particular candidate, and a slumped drunk being carried to the poll to “cast his vote.” All this is similar in feel to Hogarth's print, but Bingham seems to have been of more of a mixed mind about the validity of elections, for other votes are shown seriously arguing and a wide variety of figures from all walks of life (though, of course, no women nor blacks) seems to cast a positive spin on the American election system.

Democracy is clearly flawed, as Hogarth and Bingham show a century apart, and it sometimes produces winners who are not worthy of their positions, but it is still the best system going. We need to remember the problems illustrated by Hogarth and Bingham, but it is our open and honest participation in the process which will overall produce a better society.

Monday, October 16, 2017


It has been a while since I’ve written about mythical geography, so today I’m going to look at a myth which appeared in the mid-sixteenth century and which lasted for about a century and a half, that is, the geographic error of showing a mountain range running east to west across the southern part of today’s United States.

This myth had its origins in the reports of the explorations of Hernando De Soto. De Soto was the governor of Cuba and was given a license by the Spanish King to explore “Florida,” which was the name applied to the essentially unknown land north of Cuba which had been discovered by Ponce de León in 1513. De Soto set sail in May, 1539, landing in today’s Tampa Bay with 600 men. He explored to the north and then west, discovering the Mississippi River in May 1541. De Soto died the following year, with the survivors of his expedition sailing down the Mississippi and then along the coast to Spanish settlements in today’s Mexico.

De Soto had set off to the north from the Gulf until he ran into the Appalachian mountains in the area where today's North and South Carolina and Georgia meet. The expedition then marched in a west-southwest direction, following the foothills and this seems to have led to the conception of a range of mountains running across the continent east to west.

This concept is graphically shown in a map probably drawn about 1544 by the Spanish royal cartographer, Alonzo de Santa Cruz, based on reports by the survivors of the De Soto expedition.

This notion soon made it to the general map publishing world, for instance in a 1562 map by Diego Gutiérrez, though he does seem to just scatter a whole series of mountains in North America under the large royal crest.

The east-west mountain range is even more strongly shown on Gerard Mercator’s important 1569 world map, one of the most influential maps of the sixteenth century, as well as graphically on Cornelis de Jode’s “Americae Pars Borealis” [Northern part of America] from 1593.

This notion of a great east-west mountain range running from Georgia to New Mexico was continued into the middle of the following century, principally by the leading cartographer of the day, Nicolas Sanson.

This map makes graphic one of the most important consequences of this belief, the topographical impossibility of a very large and long river emptying into the Gulf of Mexico from the central part of the continent, even though by the middle of the sixteenth century there had been numerous reports of the size of the Mississippi, beginning with the De Soto expedition. Sanson and other cartographers tried to get around this by having numerous shorter rivers joining together to form a large river near the gulf, but the mythical mountain range prevented mapmakers from showing the very real Mississippi River.

The southern Mississippi River had been discovered by De Soto in 1541, with its northern parts first heard of by the French in the Great Lakes region in the early seventeenth century. In 1673, Jolliet and Marquette sailed as far south as the Arkansas River before turning back, and La Salle also explored the northern part of the Mississippi a few years later. Both parties deduced that the river flowed directly south into the Gulf, though this was not yet proved.

In 1683, a map by Louis Hennepin showed the upper part of the Mississippi with a dotted line extending south. Note that Hennepin does not show any orography in North America, thus neatly side-stepping the issue of the mountain range other maps showed blocking the projected course of the Mississippi.

In 1682, La Salle continued his exploration of the Mississippi, this time sailing all the way down to the river’s mouth at the Gulf of Mexico, proving that the river was long as well as wide. However, for a number of reasons, including the idea that there were mountains running east-west across the continent, the mouth of the Mississippi was placed too far west, as shown on the 1691 Le Clercq map of North America. This became the dominant picture of the Mississippi’s course for the rest of the century.

Not all cartographers followed this, as for instance the Robert Morden maps of 1688 showed the mouth of the Mississippi in the correct location, but note how he has the mountains running right up to the river.

It wasn’t until 1703, with Guillaume Delisle’s “Carte du Mexique et de la Floride,” that the Mississippi was firmly placed in its proper course. Delisle was the leading French cartographer of the day and so he had access to the best material of the French explorers in North America. This map was based on reports from many of those explorers, including survivors of the La Salle expedition.

Delisle shows the Mississippi flowing in essentially its correct course, dealing with the east-west mountain range issue by removing it from the map completely.

He did include that mythical range on his 1718 map of North America, though like Morden, he simply stopped it at the Mississippi. This range made an appearance on a few subsequent maps, but generally the western extend moved further and further east until the cartographic picture of the southern Appalachian mountains matched reality.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Return of the Currier & Ives Buffalo

A few years ago, we posted a blog about how we had discovered the source of some very strange buffalo which appeared in the classic Currier & Ives print, "The Rocky Mountains." Well I just realized that the same buffalo turned up again!

Conningham lists five different versions of the subject of "Noah's Ark" done by Nathaniel Currier or Currier & Ives. Though all are undated, this was likely an early subject for Nathaniel and I would imagine the firm kept some of these prints in stock for most of their existence.

Sometime between 1874 and 1878 (based on the address of the firm), they issued what may have been their last version.

This had a wide variety of animals,

including some very strange looking buffaloes.

This is essentially the same image as appeared in "The Rocky Mountains," which as explained in the earlier blog was based on an illustration in a French natural history from about four decades earlier. This odd looking buffalo first appeared in the print from 1872-74 and obviously the firm like the image, so they reused in a couple years later for a new version of "Noah's Ark." I wonder if it was ever used again?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Musings on Selling Confederate Prints

We have recently acquired a couple of important historical prints with a Confederate theme: a portrait of Robert E. Lee and an image of a Confederate encampment. Both of these are rare, significant images, the type of prints I have always been proud to handle. However, the recent controversy related to the statues of Confederate “heroes” has given me pause to consider just how pleased I should be to be selling such prints.

Personally, I believe that the statues of Confederate figures should be removed from general public display, where they are presented as glorifications of a cause essentially based on the preservation of slavery, and put into places where they would be presented instead as historic artifacts to be understood as part of our history. That is, where they will be objects which we can learn from rather than glory in.

So, how does this belief relate to my shop selling Confederate prints to the general public? After considerable thought, I believe that it is fine to sell the images, even though they do, in their own way, present aspects or individuals of the Confederacy in a positive light.

To decide this, I looked at what I consider to be the main arguments for removing the Confederate statues from prominent public display.

  • The Confederacy was based on the belief of white supremacy, with the aim of maintaining slavery, and this should not be honored by our society or members of our society.
  • The statues are sanitized symbols of a horrible part of our nation’s history and to place them in an honored, public space ignores the evil which the Confederacy embodied.
  • While the Confederacy is a part of our nation’s history and we should not try to “erase history,” the statues are a glorification of this loathsome part of that history, not simply a recognition of its existence.
  • In almost all cases, the statues were created and erected specifically to venerate the Confederacy and to promote its concept of white supremacy. The majority were built not just after the Civil War—when most monuments related to the war were memorials to individuals—but between the 1890s and the 1950s, erected specifically in response to Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement.

So, how do these arguments apply or not apply to prints of the Confederacy? There are many prints which present a negative view of the Confederacy, and these are not at issue. The prints which are at issue are those which present aspects or figures of the Confederacy in a positive light.

Most of these prints have their genesis in the notion of “The Lost Cause of the Confederacy.” This was a conception, which appeared soon after the war, based on a wishful reimagining of the history of the Civil War in order to vindicate the actions of the Confederacy and restore some sense of pride to Southerners. The “Lost Cause” model presented the Confederate cause as a heroic one, where overwhelming odds led to the defeat of a noble South. The war was presented as a struggle to maintain the Southern way of life, which was more Christian and civilized than the greedy Northern life-style.

Part of the “Lost Cause” idea was a denial of the significance and horror of slavery. Slavery was not supposed to be central to the Confederate cause, and it was often presented as a relatively benign institution. The prints issued as part of the “Lost Cause” idea were published not as a reaction against civil rights and equality of the races, but rather an avoidance of those issues totally in an attempt to reestablish a sense of pride in a culture which had suffered abject defeat.

A great example of the “Lost Cause” concept is William D Washington’s image of the “Burial of Latane.” This painting, and the print based on it, show the burial of Captain William Latane, who was killed while on a raid with J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry. In the image of Latane’s burial there is a stark absence of any men; the burial party is composed solely of women, children and “faithful” slaves, celebrating both the devotion of Southern women and their bond with the slaves. This print was issued in 1868 and would have hung in many Southern homes, allowing the population there to retain some sense of pride in their history and culture.

The print of the Confederate encampment by Conrad Wise Chapman had a similar role. Chapman, a sergeant in the Confederate army, made many sketches of his experiences in the war, including one upon which this print was based. It clearly expresses aspects of the “Lost Cause” concept, with the proud Southern soldiers going around with bare feet, while several blacks are shown happily at leisure, even while the soldiers cook or otherwise work, a highly unlikely state of affairs.

One can look at these prints not as glorifications of slavery and white supremacy, as are the statues, but rather as unfortunate attempts at Southern self-respect. The claim has been made that this is the case also for the statues, but that just is not true. A look at the history of their erection makes it clear that the original intent of the statues was to glorify the Confederacy and promote its defense of white supremacy.

However, I do not think that the original intent is the essential difference between the statues and the prints. That, I think, lies instead in the way the present impact of the prints, compared to the present impact of the statues. I do not think that all, or even most, of the citizens in the communities where the statues now stand would endorse white supremacy, but given their history and their prominent locations, where they loom over public spaces, these statues silently yet expressively make a statement that can and is read by members of those communities as an endorsement of that abhorrent position.

The prints, in contrast, are almost exclusively used in a private or an academic setting, where the reasons for their display can be understood benignly, and where there is no similar deleterious public impact like that of the statues. Now I am sure that there were instances where Confederate images were put on display in a court house or other public location, where they were intended to have an impact similar to the statues. If such a situation exists today, for instance with a portrait of a proud General Lee hanging in a court house, I think that is a situation which does mirror that of the statutes and the portrait should be removed.

However, most of the uses of Confederate prints are in private homes, collections, or in museums and libraries, where they do not have a general public impact. If a Confederate statue is placed in a similar setting, for instance if someone has a statue of Lee in a private home, perhaps because an ancestor fought under the general, I would argue that there is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, I think having the statues on display in a historic setting, say in a museum, is important, for it would be a mistake to ignore our history, and it is important to understand our past in all its complexity.

I would like to say that owning Confederate images is ok as long as one’s intent is “pure,” that is, as long as one is not intending to promote the odious aims of the Confederacy, but instead where one is treating the images as artifacts, part of the multifaceted fabric of our history. However, it is an impossible and probably incoherent to try to judge the intent of a buyer (though if I knew that a potential buyer was intending to use a print to promote white supremacy I would not sell it to that person).

In the end, however, I think the original and current use of prints is quite different than the original intent and current effect of the statutes, and I do think that they are important artifact of our past (the statues too are important artifacts of our past, just ones that should not hold places of public honor), so it is ok for our shop to be selling them.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A few "interesting" maps

I love history and I love maps, so naturally I love my job! Just handling the old maps, researching them and chatting with fellow cartophiles makes my career a wonderful one. However, I do get extra enjoyment when I find some fact or bit of information on a map which makes it even more fun than usual. I thought I would share three such stories which I have come across recently.

In February 1844, a fairly obscure magazine, The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, issued a map entitled "The Indian Territory." This was issued as part of an article about the U.S. Government's policy of creating a territory west of the Mississippi where all the Native Americans, including those from the East, would be confined. This small map (which is oriented to the west) illustrates that territory, with the location of each tribe marked out, from the Sioux in the north to the Choctaws in the south.

Though the U.S. government claimed that this policy was for the benefit of the Indians, really it was to get the Native Americans out of any land which might be useful to "Americans" and place the Indians on land which was (at the time) considered to be essentially worthless.

When we got this map the other day, I was surprised and fascinated by the dashed line across the middle of the map labeled "Western habitable limit." What is interesting about that is that a fair bit of the land set aside for the Indian Tribes (including most of the land marked for the Pawnees) is west of that habitable line. This means that not only were the Indians given land that wasn't of use to "Americans," but much of it wasn't even considered habitable!

Looking closely at maps often reveals interesting tidbits. Such is the case on a map issued in the Illustrated London Times on June 1st, 1861. This is just after the beginning of the Civil War, and this map features that event by indicating with its different tints those states which are slave and those which are free states.

1861 was also the year in which three official and one unofficial new U.S. territories were created: Nevada, Dakota, Colorado and Arizona. It appears that the cartographer, Theodor Ettling, received information on these new territories, as all three are depicted. Both Nevada and Dakota are shown properly, and Ettling also shows the territory of Arizona--carved out of the southern part of the Utah Territory, but never recognized by the U.S. government. Colorado is also depicted, but very incorrectly.

Ettling must have heard that a territory of Colorado was being created, but not the reason for this (i.e. Pikes Peak gold rush). He did know of the Rio Colorado located in Texas, so it appears he assumed that is where the new territory would be located. Thus he drew a border around a territory labeled “Colorado” in the southern part of Texas!

The final map which I'll write about today is a map of Central Asia which appeared in the 1804 A New and Elegant General Atlas jointly produced by Aaron Arrowsmith and Samuel Lewis. The American maps were on the whole drawn by Lewis, while the maps of the rest of the world were by Arrowsmith. Aaron Arrowsmith was at the time the leading cartographer in the world, very concerned to make his maps as up-to-date and accurate as possible. He compiled many maps himself, but also used the maps by other cartographers if they were the best source available to him. As a conscientious scientist, Arrowsmith would often note at the bottom of a map when he used someone else's mapping.

I had a good chuckle when I looked at the attribution on this map of Central America, for there Arrowsmith put “From Du Halde, D’Anville Islenieff &c.&c. but Imperfect and inaccurate authorities." I guess even though Arrowsmith didn't think the source was very good, it was the best available to him. Still, I have never seen a map before where the mapmaker labeled it as "imperfect and inaccurate"!