2010/11 Winter Catalogue, William R. Talbot Fine Art, Antique Maps & Prints Home



James Wyld. “Map of North America Exhibiting the Recent Discoveries, Geographical and Nautical; Drawn chiefly from the Authorities of M. De Humboldt, Lieutt. Pike, Messrs. Lewis and Clarke, Sir Alexr. MacKenzie, Mr. Hearne, Coll. Bouchette, Captns. Vancouver, Ross, Parry & Franklin, & Back also describing the Boundary Lines between the Territories of Great Britain, The United States, and the Mexican and Central States” (London: Charing Cross East, 1861 [1823]). Steel engraving with vivid original outline hand color. Dissected and laid on linen with North America on six folding panels and Mexico and Central America on a seventh panel, in original red buckram slip case. Overall size: 78 3/4 x 69." Six North America panels: 21 x 34 1/2" each. Mexico and Central America panel: 15 3/4 x 34 3/8." Very minor spotting and soiling. Slip case worn and soiled, but fully intact with publisher’s label. Overall, fine condition.


James Wyld’s impressive and richly detailed case map of North America is a true collector's item—uncommon in its large-scale “pocket-book” format and historically fascinating as a composite of cartographic data on the Transmississippi West assembled over the course of forty years. The title of the main map indicates a compilation of the most important early surveyors of the West as sources: Humboldt, Pike, Lewis and Clark, Mackenzie, Vancouver, Ross, and Back. As data accumulated from a succession of geographical explorations and surveys of the vast unknown territory of the West, both James Wyld senior (d. 1836) and his son incorporated new information into each succeeding edition of the map, from its initial publication in 1823. The result here is a visual composite history of westward expansion in a single cartographic document, replete with the most recent discoveries of the pre-Civil War period and interesting retrogressive inaccuracies.

Wyld’s 1861 edition of North America is most remarkable for its depiction of the rapidly evolving American West. Transmississippi geography is updated to the beginning of the enormous transition of Rocky Mountain political boundaries that would occur throughout the 1860s. Arizona Territory is cut off horizontally from New Mexico, a configuration proposed in 1860 and dismissed by 1862. Utah is divided into two parts, showing the newly created Nevada Territory. Likewise, new divisions for Kansas and Colorado appear. Although Dakota Territory would not be officially divided until 1889, the map shows a separate South Dakota. Northern Dakota here is labeled “Chippewa,” for the Ojibwa tribe who inhabited the region, and appears as an extension of what would become Montana, Wyoming and Idaho—all still part of Missouri Territory at the time. Oregon and Washington Territory are each named, and their eastern boundaries accurately encompass the area that would become Idaho in 1863. Alaska features prominently, shown as the Russian Possessions that Seward would shrewdly acquire in 1867 for two cents an acre.

Other areas of the map contain surprisingly retrogressive elements. Although Indian Territory had been formalized in 1846, and that area (minus the panhandle) is shown on the map, Wyld neither names the territory nor records the presence of Indian reservations. While the boundaries of Texas were set by the Compromise of 1850, it is here shown in the form that predates its statehood in 1845. Further, Wyld retains the old designation of the Mexican intendancy of San Luis Potos’ for eastern Texas and shows the western boundary of the state extending beyond the Pecos River. The Texas inaccuracies suggest uncorrected vestiges of Humboldt’s 1811 Map of Spain, one of Wyld’s earliest sources.

The historically successive quality of Wyld’s map is consistent with the pocket-book genre, a format that represents one of the most interesting developments in cartographic publishing. Providing a welcome alternative to the cumbersome bound atlas, the new format offered portability and the leeway to produce maps on a much larger scale and with greater detail. Because such maps were intended for practical use, they were revised more frequently than their atlas counterparts—hence the numerous editions of North America. The map offered here is likely from its ninth edition, having been preceeded by both six and seven panel imprintures with varying titles. Phillips and Rumsey record the 1823 first edition, while Stevens and Tree list a another four editions between 1824 and 1856. In addition, Wheat records a 1825 edition, and the McMaster University Library in Ontario holds an example dated 1846. The present example, dated 1860 on the upper right panel (possibly an eighth edition), has an added lower panel that covers Mexico and Central America bearing the publisher’s imprint and a date of 1861.

The monumental size of the map enabled Wyld to incorporate a wealth of details, including topographical features, Indian pueblos, forts, fossil beds, railroads, boundary treaty dates, Indian camps, and immigration routes, such as the “Course of the Hunters and Settlers Going to Oregon.” Especially interesting are annotations incorporated from explorers’ notes and maps, as for example a note posted at a bend in the Yellowstone River: “Here Capt. Clark made canoes to descend the River.” Overall, this is a superb and exceptionally well-preserved map documenting many explorations of the American West.

Refs.: Phillips, Maps, p. 599 (1823 ed.); Potter, Antique Maps, p. 180; Rumsey, no. 4087.001 (1823), no. 5474.000 (1875); Stevens & Tree, “Comparative Cartography,” Tooley, The Mapping of America, no. 63 (1824, 1827–28; 1838, 1851–56 eds.); Wheat, Transmississippi West, no. 366 (1825 ed.), p. 89n.

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