First Edition, The American Atlas

March 31, 2006
First edition, The American Atlas; or,  A geographical description of the whole continent of America. Wherein are delineated at large, its several regions, countries, states, and islands; and chiefly the British colonies. Folio size, engraved on forty-eight copper plates by Thomas Jefferys and others. Published in London by Robert Sayer and John Bennett, 1775.

First edition, The American Atlas; or, A geographical description of the whole continent of America. Wherein are delineated at large, its several regions, countries, states, and islands; and chiefly the British colonies. Folio size, engraved on forty-eight copper plates by Thomas Jefferys and others. Published in London by Robert Sayer and John Bennett, 1775.

 

The London publisher and map seller Thomas Jefferys (circa 1710-1771) was a leading supplier of maps of all kinds in the years preceding the American Revolution. A businessman with political connections, Jefferys issued maps drawn by military and governmental offices, in addition to those his firm produced. Beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, he published maps of much of the world but was known particularly for his detailed maps of the American colonies.

After Jefferys' death, his successors, Robert Sayer and John Bennett, gathered the most significant of Jefferys' individual maps of the American continent--twenty-two in all--and issued them in 1775 as The American Atlas. Together, the maps formed the most notable atlas of the Americas published in the eighteenth century and the most comprehensive geographic record of North America in the colonial period. Individually, the maps were significant, as well, and many had been used before the publication of the atlas by British soldiers and colonists. Because of their level of detail and description, some of the maps were not superseded until the nineteenth century.

The scale of the original maps was large, a characteristic retained in the atlas; in some cases, the reproduction of a single map covers multiple sheets. Those maps were first printed in pieces and then glued together and folded. The map of the Mississippi River is approximately four feet long, suggesting the essential role navigation played in land development, commerce, and transportation in the colonial era.

The Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library not only has a copy of the 1775 first edition of The American Atlas but also several maps Jefferys published separately before the atlas was compiled.