Dorothy Sloan -- Books


October 26, 2007

“Deserves most careful attention in any study of the spread of ideas by the printed pages”-Karpinski

4. [ATLAS]. MITCHELL, S[amuel] Augustus. [cover title (issued without title)] Revised Edition. Mitchell’s School Atlas. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Company. Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1839, by S. Augustus Mitchell, in the clerk’s office of the district court of Connecticut [lower cover] The Maps Comprising Mitchell’s School Atlas, Drawn and Engraved to Illustrate Mitchell’s School Geography.... [map list]. Philadelphia, n.d. (1844). [6, text, tables, statistics] pp., 14 leaves of hand-colored maps (lithographic transfer from engraved plates), some double, maps numbered 1 to 18 (including insets), most maps dated 1839 (Map Nos. 12 and 13 dated 1840; Map No. 6 dated 1844), maps attributed to James Hamilton Young and Wellington Williams. Small folio (34 x 25 cm), original dark green sheep over tan pictorial lithograph boards. Spine rubbed with a few small voids and splits, boards darkened and rubbed, light waterstaining to upper board, endpapers browned, maps very fine except for light offsetting to a few maps. Overall a very good copy of a fragile publication.

            First revised edition of Mitchell’s School Atlas, the original edition having been first published in 1839 (Phillips, Atlases 6085), with many editions and revisions following. Rumsey (523) cites the very rare first edition, noting that it has the date 1839 in roman numerals on the upper cover, sixteen numbered maps on twelve pages, and that all maps are engraved, rather than lithographed as in the present atlas. American Imprints 1840-4699. Karpinski, Maps of Famous Cartographers Depicting North America, #415 (citing the Michigan map) & p. 329: “In view of the fact of compulsory public education practically through out America the widest circulation of any published maps is doubtless attained by those maps appearing in the text-books used in the public schools. In large measure the books were destroyed by the pupils in use. The somewhat ephemeral character of these publications accounts also for their rapid disappearance.... Doubtless the two authors whose works enjoyed the largest continued use and the widest circulation were the school atlases and geographies of S. Augustus Mitchell and those of James Monteith.... These school text-books deserve most careful attention in any study of the spread of ideas by the printed pages. The school atlas or geography has been the one book almost certain to be found in every home where there is a child of school age. Doubtless in the early days when citizens of the Eastern States were considering migration to the Middle West these works were the ones most frequently consulted.” See also Jeffrey C. Patton, Nineteenth Century Images of the World for American School Children <>.

            Texas is shown on Map Nos. 3, 4, and 5, the greatest detail being on Map No. 4, Map of the United States and Texas Engraved to Illustrate Mitchell’s School and Family Geography (1839; Day, Maps of Texas, pp. 29). As might well be expected, the western border follows the Rio Grande to an area north of Taos where the Arkansas River, which forms the northern part of the Panhandle, intersects the western boundary in the vicinity of Long’s Peak. Several of the popular Texas legends are reiterated on this map, such as “Mustang Desert” in the south and “Herds of Buffaloes and Wild Horses” in the area of the Staked Plains. Also shown are other urban legends, such as “Great American Desert,” extending from the Texas Panhandle north to the Platte River. Ralph C. Morris notes this map as a popular source for that legend (p. 190, “The Notion of a Great American Desert East of the Rockies” in The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, September 1926).

            Mitchell constantly revised his maps, adding new discoveries and places as they became known. The Texas map, for example, issued in 1839, shows Austin, which had been founded that year. Being a former instructor, he rarely misses a teaching moment. For example, Map No. 6, which depicts New England, has several ships shown in the Atlantic, one of which is the “Mayflower with the Pilgrims December 1620.” Others are “Whale Ship from New Bedford to the Pacific,” “Packet Ship,” and “Steam Ship from London to New York.” Map No. 7, which shows the Middle States, has a tiny figure of the “Steam Ship Great Western from New York to Bristol.” Finally, Map No. 18 of Oceanica shows a “Sandwich Vessel going to China” and “A Missionary Ship,” the presence of the latter reinforced by a series of single and double asterisks indicating the degree of Christian conversion of the various Pacific Islands, including Hawaii.

            Mitchell (1792-1868) began life as a teacher, but quickly became dissatisfied with the quality of geographical material in use at the time and decided to devote himself to creating better geographical works, which he did for the rest of his life. At the time he began his publishing career, the country was rapidly pushing West, and demand for his various publications and maps was nearly insatiable. In addition to the present school atlas, which would have been a fundamental type of publication for a man with Mitchell’s interests, he also published works of more general interest, such as his tourist maps and reference and distance maps. He also seized upon events in Texas and the West to issue several maps of Oregon, California, and the Republic of Texas. Many of his school geographies and maps were being published into the twentieth century, long after Mitchell was dead. As J. Monroe Thorington, writing in DAB, remarks: “He remains an outstanding figure in the development of American geography; he placed his subject accurately and popularly before students of the day, and met the demand for maps with all the resources at his command.”

            For other separately issued sheet maps and pocket maps by Mitchell, see under [MAP] in this catalogue. ($250-500)

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Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2007