ARROWSMITH, Aaron (1750-1823). Map of America. London: 24 Rathbone Place, 4th September, 1804
Magnificent engraved folding map of America, float-mounted and framed (map size: 50 4/8 x 58 4/8 inches), laid down on linen in 24 sections and trimmed with pale blue silk, with original hand-colour in full, the title top right within a superb elaborate vignette by W. & G. Cooke, featuring the bounty of America, including a moose, squirrels, coconut trees and potatoes, with Arrowsmith's Rathbone Place labels on the verso (one torn with loss, silk trim a bit frayed in places).
Provenance: with the near contemporary ownership inscription of Grace Grindleford in pencil on the verso
First issue of Aaron Arrowsmith's important "Map of America" (1804), published from his Rathbone Place address, and before the recent Louisiana Purchase could be included within the United States. It is one of the rarest and most significant maps Arrowsmith ever produced. The map depicts North and South America and the oceans that stretch between the Sandwich (Hawaii) and Cape Verdes Islands, and draws on a number of sources in order to create his much heralded "Map of America." Building on his earlier map of North America, "A Map Exhibiting all the New Discoveries in the Interior Parts of North America" (1795), Arrowsmith made use of the accounts of Cook, Vancouver, Mears, and La Perouse in order to create his updated 1804 wall chart.
Though Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and Alexander von Humboldt had not yet concluded their own expeditions of the continent, Arrowsmith was, nevertheless, able to incorporate the recent findings of Alexander Mackenzie. In 1789, Mackenzie had been commissioned by the North-West Fur Company of Canada (a rival of the Hudson Bay Company) to explore the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian Arctic. Mackenzie's tour of some 2,990 miles was achieved in the astonishing period of 120 days, from Slave Lake to the Arctic shore and back. Mackenzie's atlas, which was published with the account of Vancouver's Pacific voyages in 1798, provided much of the coastal detail for Arrowsmith's highly accurate depictions of British-controlled western Canada and Russian Alaska.
Though several editions of Arrowsmith's "Map of America" were released between 1804 and 1840, this example, in its earliest state, shows the Rocky Mountains as a single range, the Missouri River extends far north of its true source, the Columbia River is similarly mislocated, and Vancouver Island is shown as part of the mainland. Nevertheless, this map is successful in a number of other ways. South America is represented with incredible accuracy, the missions in upper California are designated and named, and extensive forts situated in the Mississippi Valley are also shown.
One of the first great British cartographers of North America, Arrowsmith introduced a new standard of excellence in mapmaking in the late 18th century and almost single-handedly made London the center for the cartographic trade. Arrowsmith built his great success on this ability to attract both commercial and general viewers through his combination of visual and scientific appeal. The most influential and respected map publisher of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Arrowsmith issued maps that were the result of careful synthesis rather than systematic, scientific inquiry. His role in cartographic production was to gather the best available information from a wide variety of sources, weigh the relative merits of conflicting data, and compile the most accurate depiction possible of an area. Arrowsmith accomplished this synthesis better than any other commercial mapmaker of his day and, as a result, his maps were the most sought after and highly prized on three continents. Goss, The Mapping of North America 70; Rumsey 2286 (1811 issue); Stevens & Tree, "Comparative Cartography" 1a, in Tooley, The Mapping of America ; Tooley Map 110-2; Map Collector's Circle 68.