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An Early Sea Chart of the Coast of California with Manuscript Annotations From Early Use at Sea

Striking large scale blue-backed sea chart of the California, significantly revised and improved from the 1849 edition.

Visually striking and rare sea chart, first issued in 1849 and therefore pre-dating the first American published charts of the West Coast and almost certainly the best available chart for gold seekers coming to the Gold Regions by Sea. The chart is a working blueback chart depicting the California coast from Cape Corrientes in Mexico northward to Trinidad Bay, California. Two of the land profiles depict approaches to San Francisco, and another is for Monterey.

The present example was issued in 1862, revised from the1854 edition. The Bancroft reportedly holds an 1851 edition.

The present example shows the significant improvements and updates from the first edition, including:

  • A very early appearance of the Puebla of Los Angeles
  • Significantly improved coastal details, soundings, etc.
  • Updated Catalina Islands
  • 6 new profile views
  • Light houses shown in San Diego, Santa Barbara, Pt. Concepcion, Monterey and 3 at the mouth of San Francisco Bay

During the first half of the nineteenth century, as the popularity of the sea atlas declined, the rolled blueback chart, issued by private British publishers, became one of the standard navigational aids. Although published privately, cartographic and hydrographic information was obtained from official sources, primarily the British Admiralty. The firm of James Imray & Son was the foremost publisher of these charts, and the present chart is an outstanding example of the firm's craftsmanship.

The large blueback chart was intended to be consulted at sea. Mounted on tough blue paper, and rolled for ease of storage and spreading out on the charting table, it was a working navigational aid, frequently consulted and often marked with notes from prior voyages. Such blueback charts are especially scarce because of their ephemeral use. Once obsolete, it was dangerous not to destroy an outdated sea chart. Most working charts did not survive beyond the publication of the next edition.

This private chart would have been sold to British sea merchants and others plying the Pacific Coast, including the international rush of gold-seekers in 1849. There was also a very active trade between California and Hawaii in the 1840 and 1850s, as well as use along the old routes of the Manila Galleon Trade.

This chart was published and sold in London by James Imray (1803-1870), who owned and operated a "Navigation Warehouse & Naval Academy," the foremost publisher of sea charts. Imray originally was in the stationery and account book publishing business. In 1836 he joined with Michael Blachford, a sea chart publisher based in London. The partnership flourished and soon began to compete with the larger firm of Norie and Wilson. In 1846 Imray bought out Blachford, taking over as sole proprietor. The firm, later led by descendants, survived into the 20th century and is active today.

Condition Description
Linen backed. Minor soiling. Minor tears at left edge of map and a longer split southwest of Cabo San Lucas.
James Imray Biography

James Imray was a publisher specialized in nautical charts. He started one of the most successful blue-back chart-selling companies of the nineteenth century; it is still in business today. Imray’s father was a dyer and he was born in Spitalfields, London, an area known for its garment industry. James did not want to enter the garment trade, however, and instead apprenticed to Stationer William Lukyn in 1818. Imray began his business as a book publisher and seller; however, he shared premises with Robert Blachford, a chartseller. Imray entered into business with Robert’s successor, Michael. He turned the business into a success and bought Blachford out in 1846, publishing under the imprint of James Imray. In 1854, son James Frederick joined as a partner and the imprint changed to Imray & Son. They thrived thanks to targeted marketing and excellent compilation charts that focused on trade routes. The busines entered in a long decline after the death of James Sr. in 1870. In 1899, Imray & Son amalgamated with Norie & Wilson. This conglomerate was bought by the Laurie firm in 1904 and today the business trades as Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson.