Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mapping your Marriage in the 1850s by Vince Szilagyi

We see maps of all sorts in our line of work, but recently the shop acquired one that had even us shaking our heads in amusement. The map in question is a marvelous and charming 1850 lithograph by Philadelphia printmaker Augustus Kollner which examines and charts one of the most important and difficult areas of the human experience, marriage!

At the top of this map, an appropriately solemn wedding is being conducted in front of a crowd of earnestly praying guests. Beneath this scene lies “The Great Ocean of Love.” This ocean, according to the text on the map, “represents a period of life that all persons are supposed at some time or another to pass. By an examination of the chart voyagers will be enabled to avoid the dangers that beset them, and arrive safely at the haven of felicity."

The aforementioned dangers are graphically illustrated in the map by the numerous islands, bays, straits, gulfs, harbors, rivers and other geographic features which dot the Ocean of Love with names like “The Rocks of Jealousy”, “Mountains of Deceit” and “Divorce Isle”. The left and right sides of the map are filled with text detailing the various locations in the Ocean of Love, and how they are to be traversed safely in order to reach a happy and loving marriage. The dangers presented range from the serious, [“River of Abuse”, “Mountains of Hatred”], to flippant [“Silly Isles”] to memorable [“Hymen’s Light-House”]. Guiding the would-be lovers is a compass rose in the bottom left corner, on which the cardinal directions are Hope, Love, Despair and Hatred.

My personal favorite of the obstacles and descriptions is Port Desire. “Port Desire, From what cause we are unable to explain, is not visible on any of the Charts. Yet it affirmed to by many, that from time immemorial, it has been a place of great resort, by all classes. The tides about the coast are very rapid, so much so, as to rise and fall almost beyond the power of imagination. In running for the harbor, it is necessary to bear up betwixt the rocks of Philosophy and Prudence. After passing them, the traveler may be considered clear of danger, always taking care never to bring too at shallow water.” While Bachelor Fort, is a strong contender, Port Desire neatly encapsulates the unique combination of 1850’s American culture, artwork and humor that make this map so charming.

This print is exceedingly rare, with the only other extant example we could find being a copy at the Library of Congress. However, as seen above, this copy lacks the descriptive text along the left and right of the image. The Library of Congress states that this space was for recording marriages but we disagree. We feel that the blank columns indicate that this version of the map was sent to the Library of Congress before the print was finished as a copyright copy, designed to guarantee Kollner ownership of the image itself. With the copyright secure, Kollner finished the map and began to sell copies with descriptive text in the columns, like the one the shop now holds.

Although this particular map is rare, there are some other matrimonial maps in private collections and in the hands of particular dealers. Matrimonial maps originated in late 18th century in Europe, and became fairly popular in the 19th century in both Europe and the United States. Maps like this were used both as d├ęcor and as a tool to help preserve the virtue of young men and women and help guide them into happy, stable marriages. Using these maps people could avoid obstacles like the “Sands of Inconstancy” and the “Floating Isles of Flattery” and eventually reach the promised land of “Lake Affection” and “Baby Fort”. Some struggles really are timeless.

Matrimonial maps faded in popularity but some examples of 20th century maps do exist. A British collector and antiques dealer named Rod Barron has a wonderful collection of matrimonial maps on his website Thanks to the Library of Congress and to Ella Morton at www.altaobscura.com for putting us on to Mr. Barron’s collection.

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