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The Rare First Edition of an Atlas of the Americas
By an Important American Publisher

Atlas/ Americana/ City Mapping. COLTON, G. W. [New York/ Baltimore, 1856]
Colton’s Atlas Of America, Illustrating The Physical And Political Geography Of North And South America And The West India Islands,…. Folio
in original publisher’s binding of brown cloth over boards, with faux black morocco backstrip, title and attractive vignette on front cover in gold, somewhat worn, two gouges in front cover; original binder’s label inside back cover; 63 map sheets; lithographs with original, wash hand coloring; lightly toned, else excellent.


The very rare, first edition of one G. W. Colton’s two American atlases; this edition does not appear in auction or map catalogue records.
One of the primary attractions of this atlas is its urban cartography. In addition to full-page, quite well detailed plans of the major cities of the day—Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore—it also contains half-page or inset plans of smaller or younger cities. Among these are Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Norfolk, Virginia. The atlas’s state maps name individual counties within the states and differentiate them with hand color. The grid produced by the U. S. Ordnance Survey is shown in the areas where it applies. The maps are presented in the usual, attractive Colton style with borders of interlocking strapwork. The atlas also includes maps covering Canada, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Another interesting feature of the atlas is an advertisement page at the end listing and describing the variety of cartographic products offered by the Colton firm. The wide assortment of product is impressive, and in an interesting note at the bottom, the company also offered to create customized maps for individual clients’ specific needs.
George Woolworth Colton published two different atlases under the title of Colton’s American Atlas. The one offered here has the same contents as the first volume of his two-volume Atlas of the World, first published the year before in 1855. Colton’s other American atlas was also first published in 1855 (Rumsey 147) but has different maps than the present one. Ristow suggests that Colton published the American atlas offered here just after the appearance of his world atlas, because the latter, a two-volume work, proved too costly for the market and thus was not selling well. Hence, re-issuing the first volume as a stand-alone work with a new title page was a resourceful way of resuscitating a faltering project. Colton’s maneuver was apparently very successful, as evidenced by a second edition of the atlas in the following year, and as many as five more through 1869. To beef up this atlas, and perhaps to further distinguish it from his world atlas, Colton at some point added text consisting of statistical tables by one Richard Swainson Fisher, M.D. However, most though not all of the six copies of the 1856 first editions of the atlas cited in OCLC, like our copy, do not have the text. One can only conclude that Colton was in considerable haste to release copies of this atlas into the market and was content to supplement it later with the text. Our copy, in a period binding, was clearly issued without the text.

Not in Phillips, Rumsey, Baskes; cf. Ristow, W. American Maps & Mapmakers, pp. 325-26.

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