BRITISH MAP ENGRAVERS : HIDDEN STORIES

BRITISH MAP ENGRAVERS

BRITISH MAP ENGRAVERS

By Laurence Worms & Ashley Baynton-Williams

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BRITISH MAP ENGRAVERS : HIDDEN STORIES

Primarily intended to be the ultimate guide to the identification of British antique maps and their makers, with tabulations of thousands of dates and addresses. The text is dense, but hidden away among the 1,600 or so entries are some remarkable personal stories. Bankruptcy was common enough in the map-trade, so it is not surprising that this was the fate of about 125 of the people listed. Among the sad stories is that of John Henry Banks, who made the extraordinary and much reproduced Balloon View of London in 1851 – declared bankrupt at least four times and twice imprisoned for debt as he trailed his wife and numerous children all over London from address to address seeking solvency. Or that of Thomas Jefferys, the eighteenth-century Geographer to the King, and the leading London mapmaker of his time, who left just £20 and his debts to his wife and children.

Over fifty of the people listed spent time in prison, mainly for debt, but others for their politics. The great seventeenth-century mapmaker, John Seller, was found guilty of high treason in 1662 and sentenced to a grisly execution, but somehow survived to end up as Hydrographer to the King. Another royal appointee, William Wynne Ryland, Engraver to the King, was not so fortunate. He was hanged at Tyburn for forgery on 29 Aug 1783 for having counterfeited two bills of exchange.

Map engravers’ skills in lettering and decoration meant that they were often employed to engrave banknotes. Garnet Terry became chief engraver to the Bank of England and frequently appeared as an expert witness in forgery trials, but others found themselves on the wrong side of the courtroom. Joseph Bye and Benjamin Smith were sentenced to death for uttering forged notes in 1817. Their previously untold story, discovered by the book’s authors, includes their capture during the Napoleonic Wars by a French privateer in 1810 when en route to take up work in Lisbon, imprisonment in France for four years, and a desperate time working as journeymen in Edinburgh.

The map engraver William Robert Gardner was a more successful criminal. “The Times” reported in 1829 that “extensive forgeries had lately been detected”. Gardner, aged about forty and of “a very prepossessing exterior and agreeable manners”, had maintained an opulent lifestyle, but was now thought to have fled the country with perhaps £10,000 obtained with forged bills. He had left home with an eight-year-old son, and last sighted at London Docks seeking passage to New York. His wife and three other children were left behind, claiming to know nothing. He was never heard of again.

The lives are not wholly limited to the British Isles and entries also include people like Francis Dewing, apprenticed in London in 1703, who emigrated to North America and produced the earliest known American sea-chart in Boston in 1717. More remarkable still was the Scot, John Carmichael, deaf and dumb from birth, who emigrated to Sydney in 1825 and became a successful engraver and important publisher – today remembered as the first recorded person to use sign-language in Australia. Nor are the entries exclusively British – also included are the numerous Huguenot and other refugees who came to England in search of religious liberty, men like John Rocque, who made one of the greatest of all London maps in 1746.

The role of women is a little known part of the map-trade. Lives uncovered for the first time are those of Elizabeth Cushee, the eighteenth-century globemaker, previously unidentified and known only as E. Cushee, as well as the previously unrecorded Mary Darling, printseller of Great Newport Street, Harriet Standidge, the nineteenth-century printer, and many more.

The biographies are illustrated with portraits and trade-cards, advertising ephemera, etc, many examples previously unpublished. An additional feature of the book is the selection of master-apprentice charts showing the development of the craft across the centuries – one spectacular example showing a direct and unbroken line of master-apprentice descent from William Rogers, greatest English engraver of Elizabethan times, to James Wyld, Geographer to Queen Victoria – a continuity of training and skill extending over three-hundred years.

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