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Description

The First National Atlas of the United States. The Exceptionally Rare 1783 Edition of Jeffery’s American Atlas.

Thomas Jefferys' American Atlas was one of the four great atlases of the Colonies available during the Revolution - along with Faden's North American Atlas, Des Barres' Atlantic Neptune, and Jefferys and Sayer's A General Topography of North America - and it was certainly the most actively published and used.

This edition is of particular interest, as it is the first national atlas issued after the cessation of hostilities to proclaim the existence of the United States. Although the title page is dated 1782, in actuality it was almost certainly issued after the June 20, 1783 iteration of the Treaty of Paris, but before August 15, 1783. The operative maps are Stevens & Tree's numbers 4(e) [map 1]; 49(h) [maps 5-6]; and 51(d) [map 7], all of which rank among the very first English-language maps to include "United States" (or some allusion thereto) in the title.

Sayer & Bennett were quick to update the American Atlas to conform to the developments across the Atlantic and with the negotiations at Versailles (indeed they went to press before the thing was officially settled), however demand for the book must have been far weaker than it was during the actual fighting, and examples of this edition are rarer than their wartime counterparts. P1169 is a 1782-but-1783 issue, although that example wants the important seventh map declaring the United States. The next post-war edition of the atlas would come more than a decade later, in 1794, when resurrected by Laurie & Whittle.

Other than the incomplete Library of Congress copy, we have found only the Newberry Library (Ayer 135 .J46 1782) copy of the 1782-but-1783 edition of the Atlas.

Provenance: William Pyne; Frederic Bronson.

Condition Description
Folio. Half calf, contemporary marbled boards, expertly rebacked and recornered to style. Spine in eight compartments, separated with raised bands, gilt-lettered title piece in the second. Gilt-lettered red morocco title piece onlaid to front cover: “UNITED STATES ATLAS”.

Title, index, and 23 engraved maps on 30 sheets, many of which folding and with old outline hand-color.

A few minor faults expertly mended.
Robert Sayer Biography

Robert Sayer (ca. 1724-1794) was a prominent London map publisher. Robert’s father was a lawyer, but his older brother married Mary Overton, the widow of prominent mapmaker Philip Overton and the proprietor of his shop after his death. Mary continued the business for roughly a year after her marriage and then, in early 1748, it passed to Robert. Robert became a freeman of the Stationers’ Company later that year; his first advertisement as an independent publisher was released in December.

Sayer benefited from Overton’s considerable stock, which included the plates of John Senex. In the 1750s, Sayer specialized in design books and topographical prints, as well as comic mezzotints. In 1753, he, along with John Roque, published a new edition of Thomas Read’s Small British Atlas, the first of several county atlases that Sayer would publish.  

Sayer’s business continued to grow. In 1760 he moved further down Fleet Street to larger premises at 53 Fleet Street. In 1766, he acquired Thomas Jefferys’ stock when the latter went bankrupt. In 1774, he entered into a partnership with John Bennett, his former apprentice. The pair specialized in American atlases, based on the work of Jefferys. They also began publishing navigational charts in the 1780s and quickly became the largest supplier of British charts in the trade.

Bennett’s mental health declined, and the partnership ended in 1784. As Sayer aged, he relied on his employees Robert Laurie and James Whittle, who eventually succeeded him. He spent more and more time at his house in Richmond. In 1794, he died in Bath.   

Thomas Jefferys Biography

Thomas Jefferys (ca. 1719-1771) was a prolific map publisher, engraver, and cartographer based in London. His father was a cutler, but Jefferys was apprenticed to Emanuel Bowen, a prominent mapmaker and engraver. He was made free of the Merchant Taylors’ Company in 1744, although two earlier maps bearing his name have been identified. 

Jefferys had several collaborators and partners throughout his career. His first atlas, The Small English Atlas, was published with Thomas Kitchin in 1748-9. Later, he worked with Robert Sayer on A General Topography of North America (1768); Sayer also published posthumous collections with Jefferys' contributions including The American Atlas, The North-American Pilot, and The West-India Atlas

Jefferys was the Geographer to Frederick Prince of Wales and, from 1760, to King George III. Thanks especially to opportunities offered by the Seven Years' War, he is best known today for his maps of North America, and for his central place in the map trade—he not only sold maps commercially, but also imported the latest materials and had ties to several government bodies for whom he produced materials.

Upon his death in 1771, his workshop passed to his partner, William Faden, and his son, Thomas Jr. However, Jefferys had gone bankrupt in 1766 and some of his plates were bought by Robert Sayer (see above). Sayer, who had partnered in the past with Philip Overton (d. 1751), specialized in (re)publishing maps. In 1770, he partnered with John Bennett and many Jefferys maps were republished by the duo.

John Bennett Biography

John Bennett (fl. 1760-d. 1787) was a London printer best known for his role in the successful partnership of Sayer & Bennett. In 1760, Bennett became a servant of Robert Sayer (ca. 1724-1794), the prominent print and map seller, and was apprenticed to him in 1765. In 1774, Bennett became a free journeyman and entered into a partnership with Sayer. They issued joint advertisements and publications. In 1777, Bennett owned 1/3 share in the business. The partnership was likely to continue fruitfully, but in 1781 Bennett began to show signs of mental illness. In 1783, he was admitted to an asylum for nine months and, in 1784, Sayer filed papers to dissolve their business partnership. Bennett died in 1787.