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Rare Large Map of North America from a Royal Library

Fine example of the circa 1850 (our dating) edition of Wyld's massive map of North America, which includes the extra panel at the bottom, adding Central America, first issued in 1824.

John Wyld was one of the most prolific publishers of separately issued maps during the 19th Century. His 6 (and later 7) sheet map of North America is a testament to Wyld's publishing acumen. First published in 1823, the map was periodically updated to incorporate new discoveries. However, Wyld had the curious habit of frequently leaving older information on the map, making for a very curious mix of geographical details.

The evolution of Wyld's map of North America is truly fascinating and reflects Wyld's commercial savvy. The map was periodically updated in the 1820s and 1830s. With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Wyld issued a special 4-sheet edition of the map (eliminating the top 2 sheets and the bottom central America sheet), with a new title ( Mexico the British Possessions in North America and the United States . . . 1846), which included a number of geographical revisions in the regions depicted and focused on the battlegrounds of the Mexican American War. Following the resolution of the Mexican-American War, Wyld re-issued his map of North America, showing the boundaries as established by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and with significant updates in the polar region, Alaska and northern Canada.

In 1849, with the discovery of Gold In California, Wyld again saw a commercial opportunity. Wyld again issued a section of his 7-sheet map of North America, under the title The United States Of North America With Part of the British Possessions And Mexico . . . 1849. For this map, Wyld completely re-worked California and incorporated for the first time the information from John Fremont's seminal map of Oregon and Upper California. The following year, Wyld would again release a revised edition of his 7 sheet map of North America, retaining the changes made in the US Gold Rush map of 1849, but with additional updates in both the US and again in the northern sections of the larger North America map which had not been offered as part of the US Gold Rush map of 1849.

While we have not attempted a complete cataloging of all of the later editions, we note that Wyld issued editions of his map of North America in 1860 and again in 1875. We suspect, although we have not made the analysis, that some of the Civil War maps issued by Wyld during the early 1860s are probably again fragments of his larger map of North America.

This undated edition, which we have dated 1850 because of its relationship to the1846 4-sheet map of Mexico . . . , the 1848 edition of the 7-sheet map (which we have dated 1848 because of the differences in the map which place it chronologically between the 1846 map and the 1849 US Gold Rush Map) and the 1849 US Gold Rush Map, has been significantly updated from these 3 maps. Among the more noteworthy additions are as follows:

North West Sheet: Significant new River System in northern Alaska, which reaches into Canada and an extension of the northernmost river feeding into Norton Sound. Significant new River System in northwestern Canada, west of the MacKenzie River. which incorporates one river that had been floating without an eastern or western terminus or source on earlier editions.

North East Sheet: A massive new bay has been added below Cumberland near the Davis Strait. The coastline at the north end of the Hudson Strait has been completed.

Central West Sheet: No significant changes

Central East Sheet: Many new towns and roads in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

South West Sheet: Ft. Mormon appears. Utah Lake added. New Salt Lake added east of Timpanogos. Mormon settlements shown for the first time. Weber River System shown in Utah. Old S. Buenaventura R. removed in north. New Springs are shown south of Lake Timpanogos. Rio Sacto and tributaries are added. Pyramid Lake and the Humboldt River System are added. Owens Lake and River are added. Walker River appears. Details east of the San Joaquin River are added and updated and drainage from the Sierras is improved. Rio S. Felipe is removed. Los Angeles is named for the first time. Mission San Miguel is added. Major revisions to the road systems. Long's Peak, south of St. Vrain's is added. Several updates in the Colorado Mountains, including South Park and Bayou Salada. Directionality and location of Mexico-California boundary is changed, with the border moved farther south of San Diego (Many of these changes appeared in the 1849 US Gold Rush Map and are incorporations of Fremont's map).

South East Sheet: Western border of Missouri moved 1 degree west to its correct location.

Rumsey notes:

The first edition, listed in Phillips but not by Stevens and Tree or Wheat [was published in 1823] . . . A large impressive map showing with great accuracy the recent discoveries in the north west passage, but wildly off in the American southwest - Wheat: "a large and beautiful map, excellent in all respects save for its southwestern geography." In the southwest, Wyld adds many mountain ranges that were purely speculative - probably just to fill in blank spaces in the map (unlike Arrowsmith). In northwestern Texas is a curious note on the topography of the area attributed to "Mellish" which is copied from a pre-1822 edition of his large map of the United States. Comparing this edition to the derived map of 1846, "Mexico, the British Possessions...," ; one sees many changes in the northern areas and few in the southwest. Stevens and Tree list editions of 1824, 1827/8, 1838, and 1851/56.

In addition to the editions listed by Rumsey, we note editions identified by OCLC as having been published in 1854, in the 1860 and "1870s." The Rumsey collection also includes an 1875 edition of the map.

Provenance:  The map was purchased at auction in Vienna from a sale which contained a number of other maps which came from the Library of Princess Sissi (Empress Elisabeth of Austria (born Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria (1837 – 1898), the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary by marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I.

James Wyld Biography

James Wyld Sr. (1790-1836) was a British cartographer and one of Europe’s leading mapmakers. He made many contributions to cartography, including the introduction of lithography into map printing in 1812.

William Faden, another celebrated cartographer, passed down his mapmaking business to Wyld in 1823. The quality and quantity of Faden’s maps, combined with Wyld’s considerable skill, brought Wyld great prestige.

Wyld was named geographer to Kings George IV and William IV, as well as HRH the Duke of York. In 1825, he was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was one of the founding members of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830. Also in 1830, his son, James Wyld Jr., took over his publishing house. Wyld Sr. died of overwork on October 14, 1836.

James Wyld Jr. (1812-87) was a renowned cartographer in his own right and he successfully carried on his father’s business. He gained the title of Geographer to the Queen and H.R.H. Prince Albert. Punch (1850) described him in humorous cartographic terms, “If Mr. Wyld’s brain should be ever discovered (we will be bound he has a Map of it inside his hat), we should like to have a peep at it, for we have a suspicion that the two hemispheres must be printed, varnished, and glazed, exactly like a pair of globes.”