First map to illustrate the Louisiana Purchase in full

Bourne Sculp., NORTH AMERICA, Published the 12th of August 1804. London: R. Wilkinson, August 12, 1804.
Engraving, 22”h x 26”w at neat line plus margins, outline and wash color heavily retouched to style.

A rare cartographic landmark, including the earliest depiction of the Louisiana Purchase in its entirety and a late depiction of the proposed State of Franklinia. Owned in partnership with Barry Ruderman Antique Maps and High Ridge Books.

Issued in August 1804, this is the first published map to show the entire Louisiana Purchase as part of the United States (A note on Abraham Bradley’s June 2, 1804 Map of The United States makes it the first to mention the cession, but that map shows only a small portion of the Louisiana Territory just west of the Mississippi River.) It is also mentioned in a table at lower right listing the possessions of the United States, Great Britain and Spain: “Province, Ceded by France 30 Apr. 1803, Louisiana.” That table rather oddly lists Vermont as an “allied state” and Maine, Indiana, Kentucky, Franklinia, Tennessee and the Western Territory as “subject states.” It is also worth noting that Indiana does not here designate the future state north of the Ohio River but rather the northwestern segment of Virginia. I do not recall this feature appearing on another printed map.

The sources of the map are varied. Wilkinson largely follows Arrowsmith’s Map Exhibiting all the New Discoveries in the Interior Parts of North America (1802) in the Rocky Mountain and the Oregon River areas, but introduces much detail (real and conjectural) in the Great Plains as well as new settlements and place names along the northwest coast. The degree and nature of the detail in central and western Canada goes beyond that on the Arrowsmith map and is likely derived from MacKenzie’s Voyages from Montreal (1802). In the unexplored American West Wilkinson still leans heavily on the often fanciful geography of Lahontan, at that point over 100 years old. Other interesting notes include the location of Santa Fe based upon the astronomical observations given by Vancouver, the numerous Indian nations depicted, and to the east, the short-lived and never-recognized proto-state of Franklinia in eastern Tennessee.

The map was issued by Wilkinson in his large-folio General Atlas—not to be confused with his quarto-sized General and Classical atlases–which seems to have been issued in parts between 1808 and 1823. The atlas is extremely rare, so much so that it is not noted in Phillips’ Atlases. A second state of the map was issued in 1823 and a third in 1826, the only changes being to the date and Wilkinson’s address (Some years ago I also handled an impression on linen issued by R. Gray in Glasgow in 1811.) Evidence for the rarity of our 1804 map is provided by Carl Wheat, who—though usually quite thorough–was aware only of the 1823 state, which seemed to him bizarrely outdated:

“And in 1823 R. Wilkinson, in London, got out perhaps the strangest, most atavistic map of North America. New Albion covers the Great Basin and the Pacific Coast north of California, but vies with “quivira or Moosemlek [of Lahontan] Indians much civilized having 100 towns and sailing with large vessels.” Since this legend appears in what is today Nevada, one wonders!)” (Transmississippi West, Vol. II p. 77)

Wheat goes on at some length in this vein, concluding “One could say much more, but words seem inadequate.” His comments would of course make perfect sense, had the map first been issued in 1823—after seminal maps by Lewis & Clark, Pike, Long and others–rather than 1804, just after the consummation of the Louisiana Purchase.

But for the rarity of the map, it would unquestionably have received much greater attention among collectors and scholars.  Until a Sothebys sale of December 2008, no impression of this map had appeared at auction since the Streeter Sale.

David Rumsey Collection #5156. Stevens & Tree, “Comparative Cartography,” #62a. Streeter Collection, vol. 6 #3793. Wheat, Mapping the Transmississippi West, #357 and vol. II:77 (2nd state of 1823 only).


A few neatly-mended tears extending into image. Small portion of lower-left margin reinstated, not affecting printed area.