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An English Rarity

Rare separately published map of the Island of St. Helena, published by John Seller in London.

This is the first map of St. Helena to be published in English and initially appeared in Seller's Atlas Maritimus . . .  in 1675.  The map was engraved by John Oliver (Io. Oliver fe). The text in the title cartouche states that "The Body of this Island lyeth in 16 deg. South lat." 

Seller's map is the earliest printed map of St. Helena to provide evidence of some of the earliest manmade structures to appear on the island. From early on in the English occupation, attempts were made to fortify the island against attack. The map illustrates the first permanent defenses built in Jamestown in 1660 and along with Banckes Platford, Bearkleys Platforme and Munden's Point.

As noted on the map, the Dutch successfully took the island in 1672, followed by a British retaking of the island, under the command of Sr. Richard Munden in the HMS Assistance in 1673.

Copies of Seller's atlases typically were made to individual order and the contents consequently vary widely between copies. In fact, later editions of the Atlas Maritimus have a smaller plate of Seller's St. Helena map, a 1682 edition having a plate titled The Island of Saint Hellena by Iohn Seller (plate 14, 145 × 110 mm). 

In about 1703, the map was completely re-engraved by Samuel Thornton, an inset map of Trinidad is added and the title and title cartouche are substantially altered.  The large coat of arms in the top left corner was also removed by Thornton.  The topographical details and style in the interior are also significantly different.


Seller's map is very rare on the market.  We note only a single copy at auction (Sothebys) and no examples in dealers catalogs in the past 30 years.

John Seller Biography

John Seller was one of the most notable map and instrument makers in England in the late-seventeenth century. He was especially known for the sea charts, many of which featured in his influential English Pilot and Atlas Maritimus. Seller was born in London in 1632. His father was a cordwainer and John was apprenticed to Edward Lowe, of the Merchant Taylors’ Company. He was made free of that company in 1654. Later, he also was made a brother of the Clockmakers’ Company, which housed several instrument makers. He started business as a compass maker but expanded his offering to include navigational instruments and charts.

Seller’s career was halted temporarily, and fantastically, when he was tried for high treason in 1662. He was accused of involvement in a plot led by Thomas Tonge. While Seller likely only unwisely repeated rumors, he was convicted. The other conspirators, who did admit some degree of guilt, were executed, but Seller maintained his innocence and, via insistent petitions, he eventually secured his release from Newgate Prison.

This episode did not seem to slow Seller’s rise too much, however. Seller was granted a royal license to publish English-language maritime atlases. This gave him a near-monopoly and led to his being named hydrographer to the King in 1671. Although the point of the project was to produce English charts of Dutch dominance and bias, Seller ended up using many Dutch plates as his base material. The first volume of The English Pilot was published in 1671, followed by more volumes as well as The Coating Pilot (1672) and the Atlas Maritimus (1675). Seller was commercially successful, but some of his projects required further support. The English Pilot was eventually taken over by John Thornton and William Fisher, for example, and his proposed English atlas only produced maps of six counties.

Seller’s sons, John and Jeremiah, followed in their father’s profession. Seller also apprenticed several promising young men, including Charles Price, with whom his sons partnered. Through Price, Seller can be seen as the founding figure of an important group of London mapmakers that included Price, John Senex, Emanuel Bowen, Thomas Kitchin, and Thomas Jefferys.