The Cartographical Beginnings of Manifest Destiny

Very Fresh Copy With Original Brilliant Hand Coloring

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327. [MAP]. MELISH, John (publisher). Map of the United States with the Contiguous British & Spanish Possessions Compiled from the Latest & Best Authorities by John Melish Engraved by J. Vallance & H.S. Tanner. Entered According to Act of Congress the of June 1816. Published by John Melish Philadelphia.[inset map lower right] West Indies. [inset table lower center] Statistical Table of the Several Countries Exhibited on the Map. Philadelphia: John Melish, 1816. Copper-engraved map on six sheets, original full and outline coloring by state or territory, illustration of the U.S. national symbol of eagle and shield above title, neat line to neat line: 89 x 146 cm; overall (including selvage): 91 x 149.5 cm; sectioned and mounted on contemporary cartographical linen (40 sections), folded to a height of 23 cm, original pale bluish grey silk selvages (stitching totally intact), original tan and blue marbled paper backing on verso of two sections (upper left and right). Other than discoloration of linen backing, the map is very fine and fresh with only a touch of barely noticeable light foxing to a few sections, with exceptionally brilliant coloring, small unobtrusive library blindstamp on a lower panel. In very worn and split original pull-off covers (24.4 x 15.8 cm), contemporary dark green roan over tan and blue marbled boards, gilt lettering and ruling on spine, remains of paper label on spine, contemporary paper label on upper cover with printed year “1816,” later white label on left upper cover, old library call number at bottom of spine. With the map is the following book:

MELISH, John. A Geographical Description of the United States, with the Contiguous British and Spanish Possessions, Intended as an accompaniment to Melish’s Map of these Countries. By John Melish.Third Edition. Philadelphia: Published by the Author, 1818. [1-3] 4-186 pp., 4 engraved maps (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore). 8vo (20.8 x 13.3 cm), contemporary black roan over marbled boards matching map covers, spine with gilt lettering and bands. Old black tape repairs to spine. Very worn. Hinges split, free endpaper torn out, intermittent staining, uniform moderate to heavy foxing throughout. Fair condition only. On title is J. Campbell’s ink ownership inscription dated Dec. 9th, 1818, with notation “price with map $10.00” with similar name and date in pencil on title. Below Campbell’s inscriptions on title is the pencil ownership note of C. McLeod (repeated on front free endpaper, where it is dated 1857).Old book plate and blindstamps for Sondley Library. American Imprints (1818) 44791. Howes M490: “Issued to accompany Melish’s Map of the United States, which was sold separately and accompanied none of the editions. This large map (35” x 57”) was the first presenting the entire country, from coast to coast and the first to show South Pass.”

     First edition, Ristow’s fifth state: “Towns of Cadiz and Cambridge appear for the first time in Ohio. ‘Frankfort’ is renamed ‘Washington.’ ‘Charleston’ replaces the letters ‘C.H.’ in western Virginia (present West Virginia). Newly added place names in western Virginia are Great Falls, Salt Works, and Coal R. Olympian Springs is added in eastern Kentucky. A trail is added from G. Kenhawa in western Virginia to Mt. Sterling, just west of Olympian Springs. In southwestern Pennsylvania ‘N. Geneva’ is deleted and re-engraved near Union. The road between Steubenville and Zanesville in Ohio is relocated. The mileage numeral 35 is deleted, and the numerals 19, 42, 10, and 25 are introduced.” The first state of the map (1816), is the unique proof copy deposited in the Library of Congress for copyright purposes. Many editions and states followed, as late as 1823, supposedly done in no more than one hundred issues each. Later editions extended as far south as 16°N. (from 22° 50’N.), to include the Yucatan peninsula, the remaining portion of Cuba, and the islands of Jamaica, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, etc.

     Ristow, “John Melish and his Map of the United States” in The Library of Congress Quarterly Journal of Current Acquisitions (Vol. 19, No. 4, September 1962, pp. 159–178, identifying 24 different states of the map, issued between 1816 and 1823 in six separate editions: “A significant milestone in the history of American commercial cartography.” Note: Ristow’s article was reprinted with updates in 1972, adding an additional state, bringing the total to 25 states of Melish’s map (“John Melish and His Map of the United States” in “À la Carte, Selected Papers on Maps and Atlases”, Library of Congress, Washington, 1972, pp. 162–182).

     The indefatigable Streeter had ten states of the map, plus the prospectus. Streeter Sale 3799: “Melish originally planned to include only the portion of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, but decided to add two sheets, in order to show ‘at a glance the whole extent of the United States territory from sea to sea’ (Melish, Geographical Description, Philadelphia, 1816). One of the most interesting features of this map is the uncertainty with which the northern border is depicted. Two borders are indicated, one by a dotted line extending from the Lake of the Woods to the Gulf of Georgia (Puget Sound), at about 49° 40’ North, the other by a bi-colored line following the parallel to the Assiniboine River, along the Assiniboine, South Saskatchewan and Great Lake Rivers back to the parallel, then west to Puget Sound. The border was not fixed at 49° until 1818. Certain inaccuracies are worthy of mention. Due to locational and proportional inaccuracy in the delineation of Lake Michigan, Chicago is found in the Northwest Territory. The error was not corrected until after 1816... The clarity of printing and the brilliance of the coloration make the Melish maps particularly pleasing; Melish was justly proud of his work.—TWS” (Streeter 3797n). Streeter, Texas 1057 (mentions the 1816 edition in relation to Darby’s map of Louisiana).

     American Imprints (1816) 38221 (unspecified 1816 state). Amon Carter Museum Exhibit, Crossroads of Empire (June 12-July 26, 1981) 29: “The most influential and widely used map on the eve of the Anglo-American settlement in Texas.” Cohen, Mapping the West, pp. 102–104: “This map was [Melish’s] crowning achievement.” Edney, Matthew H., Mapping the Republic: Conflicting Concepts of the Territory and Character of the U.S.A., 1790–1900: “Melish dramatically expanded the geographical frame of the Republic. His initial concept, developed during the War of 1812, was to map the United States as far West as the Rocky Mountains. But he soon realized that it would be much better to extend the map all the way to the Pacific Ocean.... In explaining his map’s significance, Melish foreshadowed the idea of ‘Manifest Destiny.’” Graff 2744. Howes M490. Jackson, Shooting the Sun, Vol. II, pp. 380–381. Martin & Martin 26 (commenting that the map is “of lasting value” because of the “widespread dissemination of new information concerning Texas geography”). Rumsey Map Collection 5168 (citing Ristow’s fourth state): “This map has the distinction of being the first large scale detailed map made in the U.S. that showed the entire country from the Atlantic to the Pacific... Notwithstanding the many issues, the map has become extremely rare.” Rumsey & Punt, Cartographica Extraordinaire (illustrating an 1816 edition on title). Schwartz & Ehrenberg, The Mapping of America, pp. 238–239 & Plate 145: “An exquisite map, it distinguished Melish as the leading American map publisher of the second decade and placed American maps on equal footing with those produced by the prestigious firms in London and Paris. Incorporating data from state and military maps as these became available Melish frequently revised and corrected the plates, limiting each printing to 100 copies.” Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West 322, Vol. II, pp. 62–64: “On John Melish’s celebrated map of 1816, Lewis and Clark were given chief attention in the northwest... Lewis and Clark’s trail is well set forth on this remarkable map and it is clear that the explorer’s route became the highway by which the cosmographers found a way to tie in the north... This was a landmark map, and one that attained great popularity in its several editions.”

     The country’s first publisher devoted solely to cartographical and geographical works, John Melish (1771–1822), in a career that lasted a mere decade, became the most prominent such publisher in the U.S. This large map, originally published in 1816, secured his reputation and won high praise even from Thomas Jefferson. Large maps of the U.S. had been published before Melish’s work, but they generally relied on Arrowsmith as their source and concentrated on the area east of the Mississippi River, the westernmost boundary in the general public’s imagination. This was the first map to show the entire continent and what the U. S. would become in just a few astounding decades of westward expansion. Although it preceded the concept of Manifest Destiny by many years, it is clearly the physical, cartographical embodiment of the idea that would eventually sweep U. S. settlers and control to the Pacific Ocean.

     The map was considered so accurate that it was used in several treaty negotiations to determine boundaries, thereby joining its celebrated cousins published by John Mitchell and John Disturnell. Like those cousins, however, it, too, had its faults and blemishes that led to controversies. Most notably, the map was used to determine the limits between Louisiana and Texas as defined by the Adams-Onis treaty of 1819. One significant error was that Melish misplaced the 90th meridian by about ninety miles, thereby making it impossible to draw the eastern boundary of the Texas Panhandle correctly, an error that led to extended controversy over the years. The boundary of Texas and Louisiana was also shown as the Sabine River, which engendered yet more controversy since the river’s course was poorly understood and therefore badly delineated, despite being shown on Darby’s 1816 Map of the State of Louisiana, which Melish incorporated into his map. Numerous other controversies arose in connection with this map. In raw geographical terms, the Texas coast was not all that accurately depicted. On the other hand, Melish’s map revealed more about the Texas interior than had ever been known before, even predicting the presence of the then non-existent Galveston. Melish’s 1816 map still preceded both Stephen F. Austin’s famous 1830 map of the area and even his 1821 colonization attempts. Thus, it is an important precursor to the map that would fuel Texas emigration and eventual annexation of the area to the U.S.

     Despite whatever faults one may find with Melish’s geography, the map was far superior to anything that had appeared up until that time, not only in scope but also in accuracy. This map shows a feature labeled “Southern Pass,” perhaps a reference to present-day South Pass, Wyoming (Continental Divide), which, if true, would be the earliest such reference on a separately printed map to this feature. The Pass was discovered in 1812 by members of Astor’s expedition, and Melish probably learned of it from verbal information, perhaps even second or third hand. But the memory of it was apparently lost until it was rediscovered in 1824 by Jedediah Smith. As depicted on the map, the location of the Pass is considerably misplaced, and the map would actually have been of little use to someone attempting to locate it on the ground, a situation not unusual with early attempts to delineate the West.

     Melish was known to be a strict seeker of cartographical truth, and all his maps reflect that attitude. Adopting a practice of pulling off no more than one hundred copies of his plate, Melish could constantly update and revise it. Each issue is different, and Melish issued about two dozen of them as he found new and better information to incorporate. Melish readily incorporated the discoveries made by Lewis and Clark, Pike, and Long, thereby giving the U.S. public an integrated view of the Trans-Mississippi West for the first time. Melish probably helped plant the seeds that would germinate several decades later as the Mexican-American War, which saw the U.S. finally fulfill the dream first shown here.

     Melish, a transplanted Scot, moved to Philadelphia after visiting the U. S. on business. Abandoning his former career in the textile business, he turned to publishing and made a lasting impression on the country’s cartographic heritage. Upon his death in 1822, his publishing stock and personal possessions were rapidly sold, and after a few reprintings of some of his items, he passed from the scene entirely to be replaced by Tanner, who, ironically, engraved parts of this map for Melish.


Sold. Hammer: $50,000.00; Price Realized: $61,250.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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