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Antique Maps By John Speed

[ British Counties | Rest of the World ]

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John Speed (1552-1629) was one of the most famous British mapmakers of the seventeenth century, and indeed perhaps the most popular of all with map collectors around the world. Historically he is noted for placing England into the mainstream of map publishing which had been dominated by the Dutch since the late sixteenth century. Speed began by issuing maps of Great Britain as early as 1611 in his famous Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, that contained maps of the entire British Isles, their kingdoms, and the counties of those kingdoms. Beginning in 1627, this was then accompanied by A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World with maps of the world, its regions and its countries. Although Speed used many Dutch geographers and engravers such as Jodocus Hondius and Abraham Goos in his works, and he did copy many Dutch maps, his work is important in establishing a thereafter thriving British cartographic industry.


British County maps

Speed is best known for his important Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, which has been called the supreme achievement in British map-making. Speed spent over 15 years assembling the information for this atlas, which was first issued in 1611 by John Sudbury and George Humble. It is one of the most influential atlases of the British Isles ever published. The atlas contains maps of the entire British Isles, the individual nations, and separate maps for the counties. These maps were primarily based on the work of Christopher Saxton and John Norden, but Speed updated information where possible and he added new cartographic features such as town plans and indications of the hundreds, making his maps the most detailed and up-to-date of their time. Not only are the maps historically fascinating, but Speed also improved the decorative features of the maps, which were all finely engraved by Jodocus Hondius. Speed's maps are some of the most appealing cartographic images ever produced. He included intricate calligraphy, coats-of-arms, town plans, small profiles of important buildings, vignettes of battles, fancy compass roses, figures of local inhabitants, cherubs, and many other attractive features. Speed's British maps were immediately popular and remained so well into the eighteenth century, with this atlas going through many editions.

Maps from Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. London, 1611+. All with attractive hand color, except as noted. Engravings by Jodocus Hondius. All ca. 15 x 20. With narrow margins as issued and some tears at edges, expertly repaired. Otherwise, very good condition, except as noted.

After John Speed. "Wilt shire." From John Speed's England Wales Scotland and Ireland Described. London: George Humble, 1632(?). Engraving. Ca. 3 1/2 x 5. Very good condition.

About 1605-1610, Pieter van den Keere (Petrus Kaerius) issued a collection of 44 maps of parts of the British Isles, probably intended for an atlas covering the entire isles. The counties of England and Wales were after the maps of Christopher Saxton (issued in 1579), those of Ireland were after the work of Abraham Ortelius, and those of Scotland after B. Boazio. Within a few years, John Speed issued his famous folio atlas of the British Isles and soon thereafter the van den Keere plates were in the hands of Speed's publisher, George Humble. Humble had new plates engraved for the sections of the British Isles missing from the original group, had the titles changed to English, and then in 1627 issued the new set of maps as a miniature version to accompany the second edition of the folio Speed atlas. This "miniature Speed" atlas was probably issued again in conjunction with the 1632 Speed folio, and it is from that edition that this charming map came. It shows the county of Wiltshire based on John Speed's rendering. A wonderful and early image. $65
GoGo to page with other maps from the "Speed miniature atlas."


Rest of the World

In 1627, just two years before his death, Speed added a supplement to his British Theatre containing maps of the rest of the world. This section, entitled A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World, included maps of the entire world, the continents and of many individual countries. These maps continued with the highly decorative nature of Speed's work, many having panels of figures along the sides, city plans, elaborate cartouches and other beautiful features. The combined parts made this the first world atlas produced by an Englishman.

Speed America
John Speed. "America..." London: Thomas Bassett & Richard Chiswell, 1676. 15 1/2 x 20 1/5. Engraving by Abraham Goos. Hand coloring. Very good condition.

A nicely colored version of Speed's map of the Americas, issued in the 1676 edition of his atlas. This map of the western hemisphere is the most famous of Speed's maps, with views of eight cities in the Americas, as well as ten depictions of natives from the various regions, including the northern, middle and southern parts of the eastern coast of North America. These superb decorative and historical vignettes provide a perfect frame for Speed's interesting cartographic rendering of the Americas. Considerable detail is shown in South and Central America and the eastern parts of North America, including indications of the Chesapeake, Delaware and Hudson Bays. It is for its depiction of California as an island, however, that this map is particularly famous, for this is the first atlas map upon which this misconception appeared and Speed's depiction of the island was thus a major contributing factor in the longevity of this notorious myth. The final flourishes of the map are the myriad small etched ships, sea monsters and flying fish shown in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. $8,500


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