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George Grierson's Irish edition of Herman Moll's celebrated "Beaver Map"

This fascinating monument of Irish printing is George Grierson's edition of Herman Moll's celebrated "Beaver Map".

Moll's edition was first issued in his atlas The World Described (London, 1715) and the present edition was published by George Grierson around 1735 in Dublin. Exceptionally rare, this Dublin edition is a major monument in Irish printing, being one of the first large-format maps printed in Ireland and part of an ambitious project launched by the leading Irish publisher. The fact that the present example is a proof state, makes it all the more extraordinary.

In describing the example of the map offered at the Siebert Sale in 1999 (Lot 143), Ashley Baynton Williams notes:

Although recorded in the standard literature (for example, Cumming The Southeast In Early Maps), I have never seen an example for sale, nor do I recall having heard of one for sale. Cumming, 158F, records only three separate examples, collected by Henry Stevens as part of his work on Moll's World Described

The main map embraces the Atlantic Seaboard of North America from South Carolina up to Labrador and extends inland as far as the eastern ends of Lake Erie and Lake Huron. Politically, the map is intended to showcase Britain's North American colonies but with expansive boundaries commensurate with Herman Moll's strong British bias.

Geographically, the map reflects the conventional British cartography of the era. The Chesapeake Bay is noticeably well formed, based on Augustine Hermann's excellent map of 1673, while the areas further to the north take on a vaguely familiar but less accurate form, indicative of the fact that no excellent surveys had yet been conducted of these colonies. Curiously, New England is shown to be exaggeratedly narrowed, especially evident in Massachusetts. The St. Lawrence River and 'Frontenac Lake' (Lake Ontario) and 'Eerie Lake' (Lake Erie) take on a rudimentary form, as the British then had only very limited interest in these regions.

In the upper right corner, is a very interesting early description of the postal system in America. This relates to the fact that the map depicts the contemporary century postal routes in the colonies and is frequently called the first American postal map. Further down, is a note of the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). This treaty was made following Britain's victory over France during the War of the Spanish Succession. Accordingly, France ceded control of Newfoundland and peninsular Nova Scotia to Britain, although France retained certain fishing rights along Newfoundland's Grand Banks. Interestingly, the map indicates that British colonies of 'New Scotland' (Nova Scotia) and New York extend all the way up to the south bank of the St. Lawrence River when, in reality, the entire St. Lawrence Valley was then under French control. Moreover, Virginia extends up to the shores of Lake Erie, well within France's domains.

The large inset in the lower center, entitled 'Map of the Improved Parts of Carolina', is based on John Crisp's magnificent A Compleat Description of the Province of Carolina (London, 1711), which itself was based on surveys conducted by Maurice Mathews and John Love. The inset depicting Charleston, South Carolina, further to the right, is also based on Crisp. The inset in the lower left corner, detailing the southeast, from Louisiana to Florida, also appeared on Crisp's map and is predicated on a manuscript map done by the English adventurer Captain Thomas Nairn.

Herman Moll (1654-1732) was one of the most important cartographers working in England during the late 17th and early 18th Century. Originally from Germany, he immigrated to England in 1678 and made his name as an engraver among the likes of Christopher Browne, Robert Morden and Philip Lea. His first publication in his own name to feature maps was A System of Geography (1701).

This was followed by Fifty-six new and accurate maps of Great Britain (1708) and the Atlas Geographus (1711-17). His greatest masterpiece, The World Described (1715), contained 30 large maps and ran into numerous editions. Highlights of the atlas included the "Beaver Map" and the "Codfish Map" (an edition of which was also made by Grierson).

Notably, Moll made close friends in the naval and maritime community, such as the pirate-adventurers, William Dampier and Woodes Rogers. From this, Moll developed a particular fascination with British overseas trade and privateering, lending his maps a unique and fascinating flavor.


George Grierson's edition of the "Beaver Map" is a major monument in the history of cartography printed in Ireland and a fine example of one of the period's most beloved maps. The map in any state is exceedingly rare and we are not aware of any other examples as having appeared on the market during the last 25 years, with the exception of a proof state we offered, lacking the Beaver scene.

Condition Description
Laid on linen. Printer's crease at lower right corner.
Cf. (on Grierson): J.R.H. Greeves, 'Two Irish Printing Families' (Belfast, 1955).
George Grierson Biography

George Grierson (c.1678 - 1753) was one of the most important publishers, editors and mapmakers in 18th Century Ireland. Born in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, he immigrated to Ireland as a young man and in 1703 founded a printing house in Dublin at "The Sign of the Two Bibles" on Essex Street.

Dublin was then one of the most important cities in the British Empire, being a bustling port and a financial and services center. However, it had a relatively underdeveloped publishing sector. Up to this point, printing had been hampered by ongoing political instability throughout the 17th Century, with a relatively strict regime of official censorship and the overwhelming market dominance of London printers. Especially with respect to cartographic printing, Dublin's footprint was minuscule, with even most surveys of Ireland being printed in England. Grierson boldly stepped into the void and more than any other figure transformed Dublin into a major printing hub.

Much misinformation has been written about Grierson. Indeed, from reading much of the material written in catalogs and on the internet, one gains the erroneous impression that he was an intellectual property "pirate" and some sort of disreputable fly-by-night journeyman printer. In reality, he was the leading publisher in Ireland, a highly respected member of the Dublin upper sets, as well as innovative and a risk-taking entrepreneur. While he printed works originated by others, he always did this within copyright laws and always with attribution. In this sense, he was no different than any mapmaker who issued their own edition of a map previously issued (a common and well-accepted norm).

Grierson started out printing Bibles and other religious texts but eventually moved into printing classics and literature. He produced important editions of Milton's Paradise Lost and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. His series of affordable pocket-sized books, Grierson's Classics, were bestsellers of the era.

At one point in the 1720s, he hired Constantia Crawley (1705-32), a young and exceptionally brilliant classical scholar and poet. They were married in 1727 and the charismatic Constantia did much to improve the public reception of the hardworking but comparatively taciturn Scotsman. Following Constantia's untimely death, Grierson solidified his dominance of Irish publishing upon marrying Jane Blow, the daughter of James Blow, Belfast's leading printer.

In 1729, Grierson was appointed to become the "King's Printer" for Ireland, a highly lucrative and honorific post, in which capacity he was responsible for printing all parliamentary and government papers.

His first major foray into cartography was his publication of the first Irish edition of Sir William Petty's atlas of Ireland (1732), originally issued in London in 1685.

Following the death of Herman Moll, in 1732, Grierson set about producing Irish editions of Moll's maps which were no longer under copyright.

As noted by Dennis Reinhartz in The Cartographer and the Literati - Herman Moll and his Intellectual Circle:

"…two editions of [Moll's Large Atlas] The World Described... were done by the Dublin publisher George Grierson... all of the maps in the Irish editions were completely re-engraved, even to the point of understandably having been rededicated to contemporary Irish notables. The Grierson atlas had new and/or changed cartouches, dedications, details, and comments. It also showed obvious erasers and additions, and some of the maps were updated."

Many of these maps (such as the present map) were exceedingly large and preparing the copper-plates was a major technical undertaking never before attempted in Ireland. This explains why some of Grierson's editions may appear to be somewhat crude in style compared to the London editions. Far from being due to carelessness, these imperfections are due to the growing-pains of attempting something bold and ambitious in a new setting.

While his editions of Moll's maps were likely also issued separately, Grierson issued complete editions of Moll's atlas, The World Described. Ashley Baynton-Williams, the foremost authority on maps published in the British Isles, reports that only two examples of the Grierson edition of The World Described are recorded. One example is to be found in the collections of the Royal Geographic Society (London) and the other at the Library of Trinity College (Dublin), although it is not known if these atlases are complete.

Grierson followed this up with his own edition of Mount & Page's sea atlas, The English Pilot (1749), being the first sea atlas printed in Ireland.

Grierson succeeded in greatly expanding the ambitions and technical capabilities of the printing industry in Ireland, which in turn assisted the flourishing of Irish writers and artists in the decades to come. George Grierson died in 1753 and was succeeded in the business by his son Boulter Grierson, who notably reissued his father's edition of The English Pilot in 1767. The Grierson firm continued to operate for the next three generations.