Colton’s Huge U.S. Wall Map Updated to Show the Gadsden Purchase

“With the Gadsden Purchase, the outlines of the continental United States had been drawn and the first phase of the great imperialistic struggle for the West had been completed” (Goetzmann)

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265. [MAP]. COLTON, J[oseph] H[utchins].Colton’s Map of the United States of America, the British Provinces, Mexico, and the West Indies, Showing the Country from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Published by J.H. Colton & Co. No. 172 William St. New York 1856 [mapseller’s pasteover] & C.C. Portland, Maine. [below neat line at lower left] Entered according to Act of Congress, February in the Year 1853 by Joseph H. Colton in the Clerks Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.[insets, clockwise from upper left]: [1] Hawaiian Group of Sandwich Islands; [2] Map of Newfoundland; [3] The Southeastern Part of the West Indies; [4] Map of Central America; [two tables]: [1] Statistics of the United States; [2] Table of Distances; [numerous vignettes, including ships, flora and fauna, buffalo hunting in Nebraska Territory, stone idol near Central America, volcano, Natives, overland party in covered wagons in Western U.S., etc.]. New York, 1856. Lithograph map on 4 joined sheets, original full hand coloring with post-Gadsden Purchase border (“United States and Mexico according to the Treaty of 1854”), elaborate botanical border with morning glories and ivy surrounding entire map, mounted on original linen, varnished, beige selvedges, original black rollers; border to border: 131 x 146 cm; overall sheet size: 134 x 151.5 cm. A few light cracks (no losses), upper left moderately waterstained (mostly affecting Hawaiian Islands), margins slightly tattered where separating from rollers (not affecting image), varnish slightly yellowed (as usual), but overall a very good copy in original condition, with no misguided restoration. OCLC locates one copy (Los Angeles Public library, sectioned and mounted on four sheets). According to the The American Catalogue of Books: or English Guide to American Literature... (London: Sampson, Low, 1856), this map could be obtained in London for 21 shillings.

     Various dates for the first printing of this classic American map have been suggested by Wheat, Ristow, and others. The map is often confused with the two issues of a smaller map of similar name that came out in 1849 with focus on the California Gold Fields and the words “Gold Region” in the subtitle. Rumsey’s suggested date of 1850 for the first edition of this much larger and more geographically inclusive version seems most likely (Rumsey 3443.002). Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, p. 318:

Although most Colton maps are of individual states or groups of states, the company also compiled a number of maps of the United States.... An extremely popular publication was Colton’s Map of the United States of America, the British Possessions, Mexico and the West Indies, Showing the Country from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean [with] revised editions dated as late as 1884.

See: Streeter Sale 3888 (citing 1853 edition; see Streeter Sale 3873 & 3874 for sorting out the two considerably smaller and less inclusive 1849 editions of the predecessor map with focus on the California Gold Region). Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West, Vol. III, p. 154, #747 (1852): “An atavistic though beautifully done performance. Many towns are listed in the Gold Region, and several in Utah”; & p. 161 & #776 (1853): “Incorporates some of the latest information, including the new geography given to the world of cartography by the Stansbury maps of 1852.” Wheat, Maps of the California Gold Region #216 (1852); #255 (1854): “Large and important map decorated with engravings of wild beasts, natives, ships, covered wagon party, etc. The California portion is based largely on Frémont’s maps, showing Frémont’s routes and Lawson’s cut-off. In the gold region a number of towns are shown, from ‘Onion’ on the north to Mariposa on the south. Mt. Shasta is still labeled ‘My. Tsashtl.’ ‘Mt. Bernardino’ appears to the south, near a town (San Bernardino) labeled ‘Mormons’”; see also Addenda #21.

     Martin & Martin (citing 1854 edition), p. 40: “A lavish and influential wall map of North America on which he portrayed all of the recent explorations”; Color Plate XIV, p. 59; Plate 43, p. 148; text on p. 149:

The Compromise of 1850 fixed the geographical shape of Texas in the United States. Its settlement, though, continued for some time. Although the early settlers in Texas were predominantly from the South, steady immigration and a diverse economy meant that Texas had much in common with the other emerging states and territories in the new American West. The discovery of gold in California, which coincided with the peace treaty with Mexico, lured explorers, settlers, scientists, and the military farther west; the prospects for a transcontinental railroad further encouraged the traffic west. All of this interest in going west opened up new markets and new demands in the cartographic centers of the East.

In New York, the firm of J.H. Colton emerged as a leading supplier for those demands. He published a major, enlarged map of the United States showing most of the continent, reissued it in 1853 incorporating new information on the American West, and issued it again in 1854. Although it does not depict the boundary changes resulting from the Gadsden Purchase, the map was up-to-date in most of its information and was one of the most influential of that period. Colton’s rendering and details in Texas were based largely on those of De Cordova’s map of Texas [see Item 271 herein].

The vignettes on the map provide an interesting visual compliment to the information disseminated in the document itself, adding a distinctive American flavor to the nineteenth century map trade.

     The present map is larger than its smaller ancestors, and updated, as one would expect of the Colton firm. The 1849 maps emphasized the discovery of gold in California, which conveniently occurred January 24, 1848, but which was not announced by President Polk until December 5, 1848. The focus of Colton’s much enlarged map was the United States’ acquisition of the huge territory transferred from Mexico to the United States upon ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (July 4, 1848). Following that resounding event, U.S. territory underwent a sea change of expansion at warp speed. The primary change to this updated 1856 edition of the map is the alteration to the U.S.-Mexico border to reflect yet another U.S. acquisition, the Gadsden Purchase (June 8, 1854; see Item 153 herein). In the present map, the contiguous borders of the lower forty-eight states were finally set, with subsequent acquisitions (e.g., Hawaiian Islands and Alaska) outside these borders. “With the Gadsden Purchase, the outlines of the continental United States had been drawn and the first phase of the great imperialistic struggle for the West had been completed” (Goetzmann).

     Colton’s U.S. map continued to evolve with the ever-changing political boundaries within the United States, as vast areas of virgin real estate became territories, and then morphed into various states. The longevity of Colton’s 1850 U.S. map is noted by Rumsey (3443.002), discussing a large-format 1884 U.S. map by Colton, remarking that it was a reformatted version of Colton’s original map of 1850. Rumsey refers to Colton’s 1850 map and its progeny as the Colton “standard” U.S. map. In the present map there is as yet no hint of Arizona or Nevada; Nebraska and Washington take in a good deal of the Far West; the borders of Kansas and Indian Territory do not quite match with the toponyms. Texas is fairly set in stone, after all its multifarious permutations over the centuries, and even New Mexico has been separated from the Lone Star state’s Texas-sized ambitions.


Sold. Hammer: $1,200.00; Price Realized: $1,470.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts


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