One of the Great Rarities of 19th Century American Atlas Collecting.
An unusually fine example of J.H. Colton's iconic 1857 Advertising Atlas of America, today one of the rarest atlases produced by that firm.
Because the atlas was produced and distributed specifically for hotels and similar businesses, where the atlases were paged through constantly and used by many, the book rarely survives today complete and in good condition, making the present example quite exceptional. The atlas is particularly fantastic for its snapshots into 18th-century business, with advertisements for heavy machinery, homewares, pharmaceuticals, book binderies, and more. Chief among these is the full-color gilt-illustrated advertisement for Allsop's East India Pale Ale, lithographed by Day and Son in London.
Joseph Hutchins Colton first published his two-volume General Atlas in 1855. The following year, the atlas would be consolidated to a single volume, which would be published until the 1880s. In 1856, the firm also issued a single volume "Atlas of America", which consisted of only the American maps from the larger work. Shortly thereafter, the firm began issuing a variant of the American Atlas, entitled Colton's Atlas with Business Cards of the Prominent Houses in Philadelphia. Commercial Edition, which included advertising, which would be "distributed gratuitously, for the interest of the advertisers therein, to leading Hotels and Steamers, throughout the country…" The atlas was sufficiently successful that in 1857 Colton created Colton's Advertising Atlas of America, which is perhaps best known for the elaborate print for the New York agent of Allsop's Pale Ale, a print lithographed by Day & Son of London.
The Advertising Atlas was unique for its time in that combined local and national advertisements with what was at the time the most successful commercial atlas of the period. The advertisements were often for businesses and services, such as railroads, hotels, manufacturing and insurance companies. The Advertising Atlas was typically distributed to hotels and similar establishments for use by guests, travelers and local businesses. They were placed strategically opposite the maps to ensure that they would be seen by the people using the atlas. The advertising content is said to have varied based upon the region in which it was distributed. This may be true, as the number of advertisements varies from copy to copy. This copy nearly matches the advertisements found in the Rumsey copy, although that copy does not appear to have the Allsop's advertisement.
Interestingly, one of the advertisements (opposite the map of Baltimore), is for Cushings & Bailey, Booksellers & Stationers. This is the firm that would acquire the rights to Mitchell's Universal Atlas in 1860 from Charles DeSilver of Philadelphia, publishing several vary rare editions which are now among the most sought-after mid-19th-century American atlases.
The last complete example of Colton's Advertising Atlas that we trace to be offered by itself was sold at PBA in 2006 and made $9,200. Another complete example appears to have been offered in 2016 alongside Colton's atlas of the world, although the condition and specifics of the copy are unclear.
G. W. & C. B. Colton was a prominent family firm of mapmakers who were leaders in the American map trade in the nineteenth century. Its founder, Joseph Hutchins Colton (1800-1893), was a Massachusetts native. Colton did not start in the map trade; rather, he worked in a general store from 1816 to 1829 and then as a night clerk at the United States Post Office in Hartford, Connecticut. By 1830, he was in New York City, where he set up his publishing business a year later.
The first printed item with his imprint is dated 1833, a reprint of S. Stiles & Company’s edition of David Burr’s map of the state of New York. He also printed John Disturnell’s map of New York City in 1833. Colton’s next cartographic venture was in 1835, when he acquired the rights to John Farmer’s seminal maps of Michigan and Wisconsin. Another early and important Colton work is his Topographical Map of the City and County of New York and the Adjacent Country (1836). In 1839, Colton began issuing the Western Tourist and Emigrant’s Guide, which was originally issued by J. Calvin Smith.
During this first decade, Colton did not have a resident map engraver; he relied upon copyrights purchased from other map makers, most often S. Stiles & Company, and later Stiles, Sherman & Smith. Smith was a charter member of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, as was John Disturnell. This connection would bear fruit for Colton during the early period in his career, helping him to acquire the rights to several important maps. By 1850, the Colton firm was one of the primary publishers of guidebooks and immigrant and railroad maps, known for the high-quality steel plate engravings with decorative borders and hand watercolors.
In 1846, Colton published Colton’s Map of the United States of America, British Possessions . . . his first venture into the wall map business. This work would be issued until 1884 and was the first of several successful wall maps issued by the firm, including collaborative works with D.G. Johnson. From the 1840s to 1855, the firm focused on the production of railroad maps. Later, it published a number of Civil War maps.
In 1855, Colton finally issued his first atlas, Colton’s Atlas of the World, issued in two volumes in 1855 and 1856. In 1857 the work was reduced to a single volume under the title of Colton’s General Atlas, which was published in largely the same format until 1888. It is in this work that George Woolworth (G. W.) Colton’s name appears for the first time.
Born in 1827 and lacking formal training as a mapmaker, G. W. joined his father’s business and would later help it to thrive. His brother Charles B. (C. B.) Colton would also join the firm. Beginning in 1859, the General Atlas gives credit to Johnson & Browning, a credit which disappears after 1860, when Johnson & Browning launched their own atlas venture, Johnson’s New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas, which bears Colton’s name as the publisher in the 1860 and 1861 editions.
J.H. Colton also published a number of smaller atlases and school geographies, including his Atlas of America (1854-56), his Illustrated Cabinet Atlas (1859), Colton’s Condensed Cabinet Atlas of Descriptive Geography (1864) and Colton’s Quarto Atlas of the World (1865). From 1850 to the early 1890s, the firm also published several school atlases and pocket maps. The firm continued until the late 1890s, when it merged with a competitor and then ceased to trade under the name Colton.