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Blueback coasting chart of California—1849


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316.     [MAP]. IMRAY, James. Chart of the Coast of California from San Blas to San Francisco Drawn chiefly from the Spanish Surveys, the Charts of Vancouver &c. the whole much improved by recent observations made by English and French Naval Officers. London, Published by James Imray. Chart and Nautical Book Publisher, 102 Minories, 1849. London, 1849 [6 inset harbor charts and 8 land profiles; see list below]. Engraved large-scale blueback chart on two sheets of high quality paper, mounted (as issued) on strong, rich blue manila paper, cloth selvages, original cloth string ties. Neat line to neat line: 65.8 x 145.5 cm. Contemporary black ink note on verso: “Coast of California $5.” Save for some occasional very mild surface soiling and two soft vertical creases, this chart is in remarkably fine condition. This is a format that seldom survives due to intended use, and when found, condition is often a problem, showing evidence of having been used at sea. The desirability of bluebacks is enhanced by their great scarcity.

Insets (from top left, clockwise):

Harbour of San Francisco By Captn. F.W. Beechey R.N. F.R.S. 17.3 x 20.6 cm.

Bay of Monterey By M. de Tessen of the French Navy. 13.3 x 15.1 cm.

Guaymas by M. de Fisquet of the French Navy. 13.3 x 21 cm.

Magdalen Bay By M. de Tessen of the French Navy. 13.3 x 20.6 cm.

Mazatlan By Captn. F.W. Beechey R.N. F.R.S. 13.3 x 18.5 cm.

Entrance of San Francisco Harbour. Pentagonal shape, approximately 15.2 x 25.3 cm.


Farallones. S. 60º. W. from the Fort 25 miles.

Making San Francisco from the Southward.

The Entrance to San Francisco E. N.E. ¾ E. The Fort in one with Yerba Buena Isld. leads over the Bar in 4 fms. No ship should cross it further North on account of the rolling swell.

View of the North end of Guadaloupe the North Point bearing S. 46º E. distant 5 miles.

View of the Alijos Rocks, the largest rock bearing N. 60º. W. distant 1½ miles.

View of the Entrance to Guaymas. Cape Haro bearing N. 26º. E. by Compass.

The Bay of Magdalen, the land on the northern side of the entrance bearing N. 30º. W. distant 13-¼ miles.

View taken in approaching Monterey, Cape Pinos bearing E. 6º. S. distant 12½ miles.

     This visually striking and rare historical artifact from the California Gold Rush era is a working blueback chart depicting the California coast from Cape Corrientes in Mexico northward to Trinidad Bay, California. Two of the land profiles depict approaches to San Francisco, and another is for Monterey. During the first half of the nineteenth century, as the popularity of the sea atlas declined, the rolled blueback chart, issued by private British publishers, became one of the standard navigational aids to merchant seamen. Although published privately, their cartographic and hydrographic information was obtained from official sources, primarily that of the British Admiralty.

     The large blueback chart was intended to be consulted at sea, mounted on tough blue paper, and rolled for ease of storage and spreading out on the charting table. Such blueback charts are especially scarce because of their ephemeral use span, since once obsolete, it was dangerous not to destroy a superseded sea chart. Thus, most working charts did not survive beyond the publication of the next edition. The makers of blueback charts were amongst the great cartographers of their day, constantly updating and improving their maps. Furthermore, the precarious environment in which sea charts were utilized made them especially vulnerable to damage and loss. They were tools of the sea trade, meant to be used and discarded. This private chart would have been sold to British sea merchants and others plying the Pacific Coast, including the international rush of gold-seekers in 1849.

     This chart is as fine as any of the California coast for the Gold Rush era, regardless of format, because it was published and sold in London by James Imray (1803-1870), who owned and operated a “Navigation Warehouse & Naval Academy.” The firm of James Imray & Son was the foremost publisher of these charts, and the present chart is an outstanding example of the firm’s exceptionally fine craftsmanship. Imray originally was in the stationery and account book publishing business. In 1836 he joined with Michael Blachford, a sea chart publisher based in London. The partnership flourished and soon began to compete with the larger firm of Norie and Wilson. In 1846 Imray bought out Blachford, taking over as sole proprietor. The firm, later led by descendents, is active today.

     See: Susanna Fisher, The Makers of the Blueback Charts (UK: Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson Ltd, 2001) [Ms. Fisher notes that “The earliest printed use of the term ‘bluebacks’ found is in ‘The Mercantile Marine Magazine’, 1865”]. Derek Howse & Michael Sanderson, The Sea Chart (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973).


Sold. Hammer: $4,000.00; Price Realized: $4,800.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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