There are, of course, numerous examples of maps whose publication history far outlived their accuracy from either a physical or political geographic perspective. One of the best examples from North Carolina is the 1833 MacRae-Brazier map.
Note: Analogous to the Star Wars movies, we’re starting in the middle of the story. We’ll eventually circle around to Episode I, the story of the original MacRae-Brazier map. The fact that I’m starting in the middle of the story is what prompted the post title; this mid 19th century commercial cartographic competition did not involve light sabres or other weaponry. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post…
After 1833, the engraved copper plates for the MacRae-Brazier map lay dormant in Philadelphia for almost 20 years, although ownership likely changed at least twice in that interval. Henry S. Tanner’s firm engraved the plates, and they presumably were still in his possession until Wednesday, October 5th, 1842. On that date, at 10 a.m., there was an auction of Mr. Tanner’s entire stock, including “upwards of five hundred and fifty copper plates”, maps, books, and atlases, and all copyrights for the same.(1) Whoever purchased the plates for the MacRae-Brazier map apparently did nothing with them until consigning them for sale at auction on March 19, 1852. This auction offered the following description:
LARGE MAP OF NORTH CAROLINA.
The plates of a Map of North Carolina, engraved on cop- per, seven feet in length by two in width. Cost to engrave $1500.(2)
This was a very timely auction for Philadelphia publisher and engraver, Wellington Williams, the presumed purchaser of the plates. Just two months after the auction, three North Carolinians, Calvin Wiley, William Cooke, and Samuel Pearce, announced their intent to publish a new map of the State. In 1854, using the MacRae-Brazier plates, Wellington Williams beat the North Carolinians to the market with A new map of the state of North Carolina : constructed from actual surveys, authentic public documents and private contributions. The subtitle concludes, Published under the patronage of the legislature. Well, yes, it was… over twenty years earlier! The engraved title for the 1833 map, including acknowledgement of the Legislature’s patronage, was not changed in 1854.
Williams did delete the publisher, cartographer, and engraver imprints below the title, and he added his own imprint below the neat line. A more appropriate title would have been, A slightly revised map... Williams’s revision to the plates was primarily one of addition. He added several counties that had been created since publication of the 1833 map, and he also added plank roads and railroads. However, he did not remove outdated or inaccurate information from the map. On the contrary, he contributed additional inaccuracies, including one example described previously on this blog. Another example, shown below, is the erroneous course of the NC Central Railroad curving towards Chapel Hill in Orange County. Its real course was several miles to the northeast, adjacent to Prattsburg.
The scarcity of surviving copies would suggest that Williams’s map was not a commercial success. Despite the absence of direct evidence, Williams apparently did sell copies of his map in North Carolina. This can be inferred from comments made by Cooke in an advertisement for their still unfinished map:
The map will soon be put into the hands of the engraver, and before many months be published by Cooke & Pearce, co-partners in the enterprise… It is important that it should be generally known that it will be thus issued, as another map purporting to be the one advertised by the forementioned parties, has been sold in some parts of the State already, to the great detriment of their interests, and the deception of the public.(3)
Williams re-published his “deceptive” North Carolina wall map in 1855 with a dated paste down below the title: This 1855 map is otherwise unchanged from the 1854 issue. Thus far, only one surviving copy of each has been located: 1854 in the Library of Congress, and 1855 in the British Library. Keep watch, map enthusiasts. The next sequel in this story, to be posted this summer, pertains to a most peculiar map.
CORRECTION 6/24/2014: Another copy of the 1854 map has been located, thanks to the power of Google. The Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, has an incomplete copy. Despite the missing chunk from the western part of the State, this is an exciting find because it is a different state (earlier?) than the copy held by the LoC. A detailed analysis is pending, but the Huntington Library has confirmed that the railroad under construction extending southeast from Raleigh on the Library of Congress copy is absent on the Huntington Library copy.
(1) The Pennsylvanian, September 24, 1842.
(2) Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 1852.
(3) Fayetteville Observer, September 25, 1854 (reprinted from the Raleigh Weekly Post).
Sequels to this post are available: