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Rare Variant of One of the Most Important 1849 Overland Guide Maps to the Gold Regions of California.

Seminal map of the overland routes to the Gold Regions of California, published by Colton in 1849.

This map was issued separately as a pocket map and broadside (this example) and was also used to illustrate a rare German pamphlet entitled Californiien und sein verhatlnisse… by Fr. Osswald, in Leipzig, and Fayette Robinson's, California and its Gold Regions…, both issued in 1849.

Colton's map is regarded as one of the most popular and influential of all 49er overland guide maps. The map shows overland routes to the Gold Regions in Blue and the Gold Regions in Gold, with an inset of the regions. Interestingly, there are Gold Regions noted in Southern California as well.

An important map of the U.S. Main Routes, the Oregon Trail, routes of various explorers, and a "direct" route via the Smoky Hill Fork, Bent's Fort, Salt Lake, and almost directly west to the gold region. Includes two insets at left: (1) a Map of the Gold Region, (2) California and Pyramid Lake, Upper California. Discovered by Captain Fremont 1844, one inset at right: From New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn, and a table of distances.

Streeter referred to the map as " one of the rarest California Gold Rush maps."

The present example of the map is a rare early variant edition of the map. The two most notable differences are:

  • There is only a single route to the Gold Regions crossing below Salt Lake to San Francisco (rather than a series of 3 alternate routes)
  • In the inset, the words "Quick Silver" below San Francisco Bay is in a single line (rather than Quicksilver Mines)

This first edition is very rare on the market, this being only the second example we have seen in over 20 years.

Condition Description
Very minor foxing.
Wheat, Mapping Transmississipi West 591; Maps of Calif. Gold Region 70. Streeter 2534, 2595.
Joseph Hutchins Colton Biography

G. W. & C. B. Colton was a prominent family firm of mapmakers who were leaders in the American map trade in the nineteenth century. Its founder, Joseph Hutchins Colton (1800-1893), was a Massachusetts native. Colton did not start in the map trade; rather, he worked in a general store from 1816 to 1829 and then as a night clerk at the United States Post Office in Hartford, Connecticut. By 1830, he was in New York City, where he set up his publishing business a year later.

The first printed item with his imprint is dated 1833, a reprint of S. Stiles & Company’s edition of David Burr’s map of the state of New York. He also printed John Disturnell’s map of New York City in 1833. Colton’s next cartographic venture was in 1835, when he acquired the rights to John Farmer’s seminal maps of Michigan and Wisconsin. Another early and important Colton work is his Topographical Map of the City and County of New York and the Adjacent Country (1836). In 1839, Colton began issuing the Western Tourist and Emigrant’s Guide, which was originally issued by J. Calvin Smith.

During this first decade, Colton did not have a resident map engraver; he relied upon copyrights purchased from other map makers, most often S. Stiles & Company, and later Stiles, Sherman & Smith. Smith was a charter member of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, as was John Disturnell. This connection would bear fruit for Colton during the early period in his career, helping him to acquire the rights to several important maps. By 1850, the Colton firm was one of the primary publishers of guidebooks and immigrant and railroad maps, known for the high-quality steel plate engravings with decorative borders and hand watercolors.

In 1846, Colton published Colton’s Map of the United States of America, British Possessions . . . his first venture into the wall map business. This work would be issued until 1884 and was the first of several successful wall maps issued by the firm, including collaborative works with D.G. Johnson. From the 1840s to 1855, the firm focused on the production of railroad maps. Later, it published a number of Civil War maps.

In 1855, Colton finally issued his first atlas, Colton’s Atlas of the World, issued in two volumes in 1855 and 1856. In 1857 the work was reduced to a single volume under the title of Colton’s General Atlas, which was published in largely the same format until 1888. It is in this work that George Woolworth (G. W.) Colton’s name appears for the first time.

Born in 1827 and lacking formal training as a mapmaker, G. W. joined his father’s business and would later help it to thrive. His brother Charles B. (C. B.) Colton would also join the firm. Beginning in 1859, the General Atlas gives credit to Johnson & Browning, a credit which disappears after 1860, when Johnson & Browning launched their own atlas venture, Johnson’s New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas, which bears Colton’s name as the publisher in the 1860 and 1861 editions.

J.H. Colton also published a number of smaller atlases and school geographies, including his Atlas of America (1854-56), his Illustrated Cabinet Atlas (1859), Colton’s Condensed Cabinet Atlas of Descriptive Geography (1864) and Colton’s Quarto Atlas of the World (1865). From 1850 to the early 1890s, the firm also published several school atlases and pocket maps. The firm continued until the late 1890s, when it merged with a competitor and then ceased to trade under the name Colton.