SPEED, John (1552-1629). Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. County Map of Cornwall. London: John Sudbury & George Humble, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches, full margins showing the plate mark, two very small (1/4 inch) tears on bottom margin an inch either side of the crease line). An appealing uncolored engraved map of Cornwall, stretching the border with Devon in the east to Lands End, England's most westerly point. Engraved by Jodocus Hondius in Amsterdam in 1610, this is one of the most famous and decorative of all English county maps. Because of Cornwall's long and thin dimensions, Hondius had a great deal of sea area to use, which he filled with an inset view of Launceston, a large title cartouche with the Royal Arms, four local antiquities, eight coats of arms and several galleons and sea-monsters.The map was printed as part of Speeds revered atlas, 'Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine'.
The map was part of the earliest English attempt at producing an atlas on a grand scale as part of 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain', the work for which Speed is best known. This celebrated Atlas contained the first set of county maps consistently attempting to show the boundaries of territorial divisions and the first truly comprehensive set of English town plans-a notable contribution to British topography. After 15 years assembling the Atlas it was published to immediate success: three new editions and issues appeared during Speed's lifetime and the work remained popular into the eighteenth century. Indeed the maps of this Atlas remain one of the most popular with map collectors around the world.
John Speed was born in the Cheshire village of Farndon and from his youth pursued his father's profession of tailoring. He later moved to London to continue this trade, though Speed's real passions lay elsewhere, namely in the fields of antiquity and cartography. He joined the Society of Antiquaries where his enthusiasm soon attracted the attention of notables such as William Camden and Sir Fulke Greville. In 1596 Greville provided Speed with a full time allowance to write a 'Historie of Great Britaine'. It was during this project that Speed decided to add a cartographic supplement to the work and it was from this that his famous atlas, 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine', was born.
The individual maps are the best known and among the most sought-after of all county maps. The map of Cornwall was particularly desirable as shown by the fact it was one of the few county maps selected to be printed as individual sheets as well as part of Atlas. The maps themselves were derived from the best and most up- to-date sources available. We are unaware of any 1676 edition of this map in original color. When it was published it would have been studied by nobles and officials without colour and we feel this same experience is strongly preferable to other maps with more recent colouring. This map is a key piece in the history of one of England's most famous counties and is very desirable indeed.
Description prepared for Arader Galleries by Jack Rogers (Eton College, Oxford University Geography Undergraduate)