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Mail Coach Era Road Maps

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Very few maps prior to 1650 showed roads, and it wasn't until about a hundred years later that it became common for roads to be depicted cartographically. Part of this was due to fact that roads were generally very poor and most people did not have the opportunity nor the desire to travel. Beginning in the seventeenth century, governments realized that an improved road system would help with economic development, governmental administration, and would enable a reliable postal system. While roads remained relatively primitive into the eighteenth century, by the middle of the seventeenth century improvements allowed for the use of wheeled coaches and wagons, which led to the development of coach service between towns. These coaches were primarily provided by the public mail service which was designed to carry letters, packages and people. Indeed, until the nineteenth century most passenger coach travel was monopolized by postal carriers.

Post road systems were developed throughout Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This led to an increase in travel by foot, horseback or in passenger coaches, which in turn led to a demand for information on routes and stopping places. At first this was met by bound itineraries and road books, but it was soon realized that road maps were more convenient and could provide more information. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the great improvement of roads, including hard surfaces and the development of much improved carriages, meant that there was a significant increase in road traffic, which resulted in the so-called "mail coach era," which lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century when railroads became the primary mode of transportation.

Increased road traffic between about 1780 and 1850 spurred the production of more and better quality road maps. Regular road maps depicted a road network placed upon a detailed topographical background. One specialized type of map which appeared in the eighteenth century consisted of highly detailed "post road maps." These were maps showing incredible detail of the postal roads, stations (or "stages"), and the distances between them, as well as services available on the postal routes. To be useful, most of these road maps were of relatively large size, and because of their intended use for travelers, they were usually formatted so that they could be folded for carrying in a pouch and pocket. This was done by dissecting the maps into sections, where were then backed on linen with gaps between the sections so that they folded easily. Though many road were issued in the mail coach era, their hard use meant that they had a high rate of attrition and so few survive today.

Much of the above comes from two excellent articles on this topic by Werner Elias. "Road Maps for Europe's Early Post Routes 1630-1780" in Map Collector, No. 16, pp. 30ff. (1981), and "Maps and Road Books of Europe's Mail Coach Era 1780-1850" in Map Collector, No. 20, pp. 24ff. (1982).

M. Phillips. "The Grand Southern Tour Of England, including a principal part of the East, West, & Inland Counties." London: Jon. Hebner, 1821. Separately issued, folding map: dissected into 48 sections and mounted on linen. 39 1/2 x 70. Engraving by Jon. Hebner. Full, original hand color. Some minor wear, but overall very good condition. With original slip case.

A large scale map of the southern part of England, showing each town, village, church, hall, country home, woods, city, ancient sites, and all the roads crisscrossing this rich and varied landscape. Extending from the southern coast to as far north as Cambridge and Stratford, and from Ramsgate to the mouth of the Severn, the map covers the most prosperous parts of England with enough detail to have been a map that a traveler could easily have used to journey. $525

Charles Smith. "Smith's New Map of England and Wales with Part of Scotland." London: C. Smith, 1827. Separately issued, folding map: dissected into 42 sections and mounted onto linen. 44 3/4 x 27. Engraving. Original hand color. Some slight surface smudging. Very good condition. In original paper slip case with circular label. Some wear and separations at edges of case, but generally very good.

A very large and detailed transportation map by Charles Smith, "Engraver and Map Seller Extraordinary to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales." The focus of this map is best explained by the subtitle: "Including the Turnpike, and principal Cross Roads. the Course of the Rivers & Navigable Canals; The Cities, Market Towns, and most considerable Villages: pointing out the distances from London to every principal Town: likewise the distance from one Market Town to another." $525

Robert Seaton. "New Map of England & Wales." London: J. & C. Walker, c. 1830. Separately issued map: dissected into 40 sections and mounted on linen. 48 7/8 x 37 1/2. Lithograph. Original hand color. Buckram end papers with buckram slipcase. Scattered light spots; else, very good condition. With stipple engraved and etched vignette portraits and views in margins.

An attractive, crisply detailed map of England Wales at the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Though the extensive railroad and postal road systems illustrate a forward-thinking economy, the portrait vignettes surrounding the map demonstrate a proud national heritage of artists, philosophers, scientists, and military leaders. On the eve of Queen Victoria's reign, Great Britain was a nation of growth, prosperity, and international stature. A growing empire abroad and an industrial revolution at home combined to produce a proud nation that would reach its zenith during the nineteenth century. As hydrographer to the king, Robert Seaton skillfully communicates his nation's status with this elegant and precise map. $575

"New Post Map Of Central Europe." London: James Gardner, [1827]-additions to 1835. Separately issued, folding map: dissected into 25 sections and mounted on linen. 25 x 38 1/4. Engraving. Original hand color. Very good condition. With original flapped traveling case.

An excellent postal map of Central Europe, best described by its extended title as "Exhibiting the Great and Secondary Routes with the various Stations where Relays obtained showing also the Distance Between Each, According to the Measure Used In The Respective Countries. The whole forming a Complete Posting Companion for the Continental Tourist." The area depicted extends from Prussia to Switzerland, and includes eastern France and western Hungary and Russia. Three smaller maps are included along with the main map. A small "Route of the Simplon" is given at the top, and along the two sides are "Route from Turin & Milan to Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples and the South of Italy," and "A Plan of the Rhine from Dusseldorf to Cologne, Bonn, Coblentz, and Mayence." $550

James Wyld. "Wyld's, Road Director, Through England and Wales." London: J. Wyld, 1837-40. Separately issued, folding map: dissected into 18 sections and mounted on linen. 24 1/4 x 20 1/4. Engraving. Original hand color. Very good condition. With original, labeled slip case.

A handsome and very detailed "Road Director" map of England and Wale by leading British cartographer James Wyld, "Geographer to the Queen." This is map, as stated in the subtitle, "A View, and Comprehensive Display of the Roads and Distances from Town to Town and of each Remarkable Place from London." Roads throughout the England, Wales, southern Scotland and the northwest tip of Ireland are highlighted. Major roads are shown in black and secondary roads with a double line. Distances are given by the roads and towns are neatly labeled. Also shown are railroads. Intended as a practical map, this document would have made it relatively easy for the traveler in England at the beginning of the Victorian age. $425

James Gilbert. "Gilbert's New Map of England & Wales, drawn from the best authorities." London: Collins, 1849. Separately issued, folding map: dissected into 24 sections and mounted on linen. 32 x 25 3/4. Steel engraving. Original hand color. Slightly browned, but very good condition. Folding into original cloth case. Case rubbed.

A very detailed transportation map of England as the Industrial Revolution went into high gear. Roads, railroads, and steamship lines are shown in abundance. An unusual feature is a "Comparative Chart of the Navigation of the Principal Rivers" which shows the length to which one can pilot a boat. $375

George F. Cruchley. "Cruchley's Travelling Railway Map of Scotland." London: George F. Cruchley, ca. 1860. Separately issued folding map: dissected into 30 sections and mounted on linen. With original buckram cover. 20 1/4 x 24 5/8. Engraving. Original hand color. Very good condition. With insets, "Orkney Isles" and "Shetland Isles."

Another of Cruchley's fine folding road maps. With this map, Cruchley distills that development into a legible map for travelers who would visit Scotland. In addition to railways (both completed and under construction), steam lines are marked as an important means of travel, distances of routes between towns are noted. Despite the plethora of detail, Cruchley's information is very clearly presented, with crisp engraving and concise labels. The map is also very decorative, with each county highlighted in a contrasting pastel shade and the title cartouche neatly occupying the top right corner. Clean, elegant, and informative, this is a fine a cartographic statement of the state of Scotland in the middle of the nineteenth century. $425


More separately issued maps:
[ Saddlebag maps | 19th century travel maps ]
[ Wall maps | Working marine charts | Political case maps ]

Other map pages: [ Locations | Map themes & related | Cartographers ]

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