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Maps by John Melish

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John Melish was the first American publisher to issue exclusively cartographic and geographic items. Born in Scotland and involved in the textile industry, Melish visited the United States several times beginning in 1806, finally deciding to settle here in 1811. Melish had made many notes on his travels about the country and in 1812 he published Travels in the United States of America, which included his first maps and which started him on his cartographic career. Melish came to dominate the industry in this country, and had a huge impact on all subsequent American mapping. It is Melish who brought American cartography up to world standards, and his maps clearly bespeak the quality of his work.

Melish United States
John Melish. "United States of America." From Carey & Lea's A Complete Historical, Chronological, and Geographical American Atlas. Philadelphia: H.C. Carey & I. Lea, 1822. 17 x 21. Engraving by Benjamin Tanner. Full, original hand coloring. Some trimming to right margin and chipping in top right corner; expertly conserved and filled. Otherwise, very good condition.

In 1822, Henry Charles Carey and Isaac Lea published their A Complete Historical, Chronological, and Geographical American Atlas. This volume was based on Emmanuel Las Cases' Atlas Historique of 1803, with updated maps and text modified by Carey, a political economist. He considered himself an American foil to John Stuart Mill and the London economists who were proclaimers of "the gloomy science" influenced by Ricardo and Malthus. Instead of preaching overpopulation and degeneration of the human species, Carey illustrated the nations of the western hemisphere through maps that showed an expanding region with ample promise of developing into lands of great new opportunity and growth. The sheets from this atlas, which cover North America, Central America, South America and the West Indies, are comprised of an engraved map surrounded by text documenting the history, climate, population and so forth of the area depicted. The atlas is particularly known for its excellent early maps of the states and territories of the United States. This map of the United States and its territories as a whole served as the initial and index map, depicting the nation extending from the Atlantic seaboard to the Rocky Mountains. It is a later edition of the map issued in the Lavoisne atlas of 1821. $1,400

William E. Morris after John Melish. "Map of Pennsylvania, Constructed from the County Surveys authorized by the State; and other original Documents. Revised And Improved Under the supervision of Wm. E. Morris, Civil Engineer." Philadelphia: R.L. Barnes, [1848]-1849. Copyright, R.L. Barnes 1848. 50 x 74. Engraving by Edward Yeager. Original hand color. Conserved and mounted on new linen backing. Very good condition.

In 1816, the Pennsylvania State legislature passed a law to produce an official state map, and this project was given to the supervision of Philadelphia mapmaker John Melish. Melish called for each county to produce a standardized map, which he would then use to compile a full state map. He worked for six years on this map, which was finally produced in 1822, with revised editions issued in 1824, 1826, and 1832. As each of these maps was produced, one could see the internal growth and development of the state, with new roads and canals, settlements and other features making their appearance with each new issue. By the 1830s, however, it became clear that the tremendous growth of the state demanded an updated and revised version of this official state map. Civil Engineer William E. Morris was authorized to gather updated information from each county, and he proceeded to 'revise and improve' Melish's map, with the new engravings done by Philadelphia craftsman Edward Yeager. The map was copyrighted and first issued in 1848 and this example was issued a year later with some updating. The size of this map and its myriad public uses determined that the map would be issued in the format of a wall map. Its sheets were joined, mounted on canvas, and varnished so that it could be hung in public plates throughout the state. Added along the bottom of the map are several tables of information. These include: "Anthracite Coal Trade of Pennsylvania," "Public Works of Pennsylvania," "Approximate Estimate of Bituminous Coal Mined in 1847," and "Statistical Table Shewing The Prominent Features of each County." It map is a superb picture of Pennsylvania at mid-century and it is the last of the great engraved maps of the state. $6,500

Small regional maps by John Melish.

Beginning with his Travels through the United States, Melish included small, regional in many of his publications. These first-hand maps focused on cities, towns, or transportation hubs and included topography and information on local settlements and roads. The maps were regularly updated with each publication and they provide some of the best local maps of early nineteenth century America.

From Travels Through The United States of America, in the years 1806 & 1807, and 1809, 1810, & 1811. Philadelphia: J. Melish, 1812. Engravings. Ca. 6 1/2 x 4 /18. Very good condition.

Melish's first publication. He noted in the preface "as I have always considered books of travels to be very defective when unaccompanied by maps, I have spared no labour, nor expence [sic], to have a good set of maps to illustrate this work." These were Melish's first maps and obviously he was inspired by the process of making them, for this was the beginning of his cartographic career.

From Travels through the United States, in the years 1806 & 1807, and 1809, 1810 & 1811. London and Dublin: Melish, Cowie and Cumming, 1818. Engravings. Ca 6 1/2 x 4. Very good condition.

Unlike the larger folding maps (cf. above), the smaller maps that appeared in the British edition of Melish's Travels appear to have been re-engraved in London.

From A Military and Topographical Atlas of the United States. Philadelphia: J. Melish, 1813-1815 . Engravings by Henry S. Tanner. Original outline hand color. With folds as issued. Very good condition, except as noted.

The success of his Travels prompted Melish to issue, in 1813, a general map on the "Seat of the War [of 1812]." This map was commercially very successful, so Melish then produced a number of other maps of regions involved in the War, issuing them in a Military and Topographical Atlas. Two years later he issued an updated edition of the Atlas, with the addition of some new maps of new areas of the conflict.

From A Geographical Description of the United States, with the contiguous British and Spanish Possessions. Philadelphia, 1822. Ca. 6 1/2 x 4. Engraving. Very good condition.

Beginning in 1816, Melish issued his Geographical Description, which contained extensive information about the entire United States and surrounding regions. In 1822, Melish issued a considerably expanded edition, which included 12 of his small, regional maps

Regional maps after John Melish Philadelphia, [1822]. Ca. 5 1/2 x 3. Engraving. Very good condition.

A series of regional maps similar to those in A Geographical Description of the United States but slightly smaller. These were likely issued around 1822, perhaps shortly after Melish's death that year.


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