Monday, December 28, 2009

The Great Unknown - Maps and 2010

Cataloguing this map of the North American continent makes me ponder the fine points of life and journeys as we move into a new year.  While often the appeal of maps is in enabling us to chart our physical journeys and to provide a sense of secure boundaries as we head out in life or the world, for me this map, from a little over 200 years ago, encapsulates the exact opposite: the fascination of the unknown.  The map shows the North American continent at the end of the 18th century, with a wide empty expanse stretching from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast.  That "empty space" allows the imagination free rein and a sense of wonder of what the passing years have brought.  I wish you a safe and stimulating journey into that yet unwritten New Year of 2010...
A General Map of North America. From the best Authorities.
No date. Ca. late 1790s.
Engraved map with outline handcolor, 7 1/2 x 9 inches on sheet size 8 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches, centerfold as issued. Very good clean condition.
This map is a striking depiction of the North American continent on the eve of the great Western explorations by the United States. The United States occupies the eastern seaboard, with a wide mostly empty expanse to the west. New Mexico and Louisiana are marked as areas to the west of the Mississippi in the south. The western coast of the North American continent is well delineated following the Third Voyage of Captain Cook in the late 1770s and subsequent British and American expeditions. The Columbia River to "Pt. Vancouver" is marked, following Robert Gray's navigation of the river in 1792. Teguayo is marked in what is now the Salt Lake region, but otherwise the west is depicted as a blank canvas. Looking at this map which dates to the end of the 1700s, one can certainly feel the imperative to western expansion that drove Thomas Jefferson to send Meriwether Lewis and his expedition to explore this vast area after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The map is possibly from William Guthrie's "A New Geographical, Historical and Commercial Grammar" (cirac 1795). $ 165.00