First Issue of Tanner’s 1836 Atlas, with Important Maps on the Transmississippi West, Texas, and Mexico

Jedediah Smith’s Explorations in North America Shown

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

13. [ATLAS]. TANNER, H[enry] S[chenck]. A New Universal Atlas Containing Maps of the Various Empires, Kingdoms, States and Republics of the World. With a Special Map of Each of the United States, Plans of Cities &c. Comprehended in Seventy Sheets and Forming a Series of One Hundred and Seventeen Maps, Plans and Sections, By H.S. Tanner. Philadelphia Published By The Author. 1836. Philadelphia, 1836. [8, engraved pictorial title with illustration of First Landing of Columbus in the New World..., author’s notice, table of contents, index], [4, ads] pp., 68 copper-engraved maps on heavy quality paper, plus the rivers and mountains chart, all with original hand coloring by state and region. Folio (40.3 x 33 cm), modern three-quarter tan leather over contemporary boards, original title label retained on backstrip. Binding rubbed. Scattered minor foxing on a few maps, otherwise a bright, clean, and complete copy. Old accession number blotted out in ink at bottom of three preliminary leaves.

     First edition. Phillips, Atlases 774. Rumsey 977 (a variant; see below). Thomson, Check List of Publications on American Railroads before 1841 #1494. For close to a quarter-century Tanner’s atlas was the predominant mid-nineteenth century American atlas and the mother of a series of atlases published from 1836 until at least 1862. The atlas was published by Tanner in 1836, 1839, and 1842, then annually by Carey & Hart from 1843 through 1845, by S.A. Mitchell from 1846 through 1849, by Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co. from 1850 through 1854, by Cowperthwait, DeSilver & Butler in 1855, by Charles DeSilver from 1855 through at least 1858, and finally by Cushings & Bailey from 1858 through at least 1859. Because of lower than expected sales of Tanner’s New American Atlas, in 1832 Tanner distributed copies of a proposal for publishing by subscription A New and Elegant Universal Atlas. Its scope was much more comprehensive than that of the New American Atlas, as was stated in the printed Proposal (a copy of which is bound into this copy). The Atlas was originally issued in parts, and then was offered as a single volume beginning in 1836. This volume included several maps not distributed in the parts, such as the maps of Oceania, Palestine, and the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. The copy here is the true first edition—with most of the maps dated 1833 (twenty-two dated 1833, six dated 1834, two dated 1835, seven dated 1836, thirty-two ([virtually all of the non-U.S. maps] undated). Rumsey (976) lists a later edition of this atlas—also dated 1836 on title page, but with most maps dated 1836. Actually, remnants of some of the blue wrappers of the fifteen individual original parts are visible in the gutter on at least fourteen maps bound into this copy. This and the presence of the “List of Maps, Charts & Geographical Works” and the “Proposals for Publishing by Subscription” sheets bound in at end of this atlas (absent in Rumsey 977) suggest that this copy has been assembled from the parts and then bound by a subscriber, while Rumsey’s atlas was assembled after all the maps were published and bound in Tanner’s shop later.

     The map of North America is noted by Wheat because it documents many of the places explored by Jedediah Smith, intrepid trailblazer, hunter, cartographer, and explorer of the Rocky Mountains, the West Coast, and the Southwest. The map that Smith prepared in 1830-1831 (no longer extant) has been called “a landmark in mapping of the American West” (Carl Hays, David E. Jackson, in LeRoy R. Hafen, editor, The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West, Glendale: Clark, 1956-1972, Vol. 9, p. 224). Smith’s discoveries were highly significant in opening the American West to expansion by settlers and cattlemen. Wheat comments in Mapping the Transmississippi West, Vol. II, pp. 152-153, illustrated opposite p. 153, entry 422):

There is some question whether Tanner or Gallatin should be accorded the palm for being the first to make Jedediah Smith known to his countrymen. This Tanner map was republished at least to 1845, but since the Tanner “Mexico” of 1834 retained the earlier forms and since no map of this type with date earlier than 1836 has been discovered, Gallatin and Tanner must both be given the prize. It is unfortunate that Warren was ignorant of this map. It was originally brought to my attention by Charles M. Camp.

See also Wheat, pp. 152-154 for a long discussion of the differences and similarities of Gallatin’s and Tanner’s use of the discoveries by Jedediah Smith in his explorations. Among the locations appearing on Tanner’s map of North America that were not in Gallatin was Jackson Lake, (quoting Wheat):

The particular superiority [Tanner] has over Gallatin and all previous maps is it shows the unnamed southern fork of the Snake to head in “Snow L.,” which is, I believe, the first correct representation of Jackson Lake on any published map (the Lewis and Clark error about the source of the Big Horn is here cleared up.... Tanner does show some Tule Lakes in the San Joaquin Valley, which Gallatin does not. Tanner definitely names the north and south branches of the Platte.... Unlike Gallatin, Tanner shows Longs Peak, and uses the name James Peak for Pikes Peak..... If Tanner’s map is puzzling because we cannot be certain of its source, Gallatin’s is equally so. They are both worthy of equal honor, and through these maps the basic information of the great explorer became available.

     One of issue points for the present atlas is the configuration of Texas on Tanner’s 1836 map of North America. Here Texas is still shown as part of Mexico, and in the second issue (also published in 1836), Texas has been colored to indicate it as its own country, including an outsized Panhandle and part of New Mexico. This first issue locates “San Felipe de Austin” in Coahuila & Texas, whereas in the 1836 second issue, the name has been changed to “San Felipe.” Both issues reflect Tanner’s association Stephen F. Austin and his great map of Texas (see herein), of which Tanner was the publisher. On the map of Mexico & Guatimala, Texas is shown in the same conformation as Tanner’s North America, although more place names are assigned and “Austin’s Colony” is shown across a wide swath of the Gulf Coast and into the interior, locating “San Felipe de Austin.” As would be expected, Tanner’s map of Mexico & Guatimala provides more detail on the Transmississippi West and Upper California than in his map of North America.

     Undoubtedly, there are many other interesting aspects that could be explored on the other maps in this atlas. Complete copies of Tanner’s atlases are becoming rare.

     Ristow (American Maps and Mapmakers) devotes Chapter 13 to Tanner (pp. 191-206), and his Chapter 12 on John Melish (pp. 179-190) includes material on Tanner’s early association with Melish:

The two decades between 1820 and 1840 have been called the “Golden Age of American Cartography.” During these years commercial map publishing, based upon copper-plate engraving, reached its zenith. A principal contributor to the golden age and one of the most productive and successful cartographic publishers of the period was Henry Schenck Tanner.... Tanner’s early association with Melish profoundly influenced him to devote his career exclusively to map publishing.... During his career, Tanner did much to strengthen the foundations of U.S. commercial cartography and contributed much to America’s golden age of map publishing. In 1935, W.L.G. Joerg observed that although Tanner was “a commercial map maker, he was truly a scientific geographer. He produced for his time, the outstanding map representations of the territory of the United States based on critical study of the source material.


Sold. Hammer: $4,000.00; Price Realized: $4,900.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

DSRB Home | e-mail: