An unrecorded edition of the superb Henry Tanner map of North America, issued in 1845 as President Polk was bringing disputes over Oregon and Texas to a boil.
Setting its prime meridian at Washington, D.C., the map depicts North America in its entirety, with much attention given to the continent’s river systems and topography. Heavy red lines indicate boundaries–actual, proposed or notional–between American, British, Spanish and Russian territory; states, territories and provinces are picked out in wash color; and tiny symbols indicate “capitals,” “important towns,” “villages,” “stations where the Provincial Council of Mines assemble,” “gold or silver mines,” and, oddly for a map of this scale, “houses.” There is much worthy of comment here, but of particular note are the aggressive northern boundary of the “Oregon District” at 54° 40’; the truncated boundaries of the Republic of Texas; and the boundary with Mexico along the Arkansas River and 42nd parallel, shown just a year before the Mexican War transferred much of the Southwest to American control.
The map is adorned by a very large etched cartouche at lower left, featuring Niagara Falls, Virginia’s Natural Bridge, and representative American megafauna. The subject matter emphasizes the vast scale and majesty of North America and its denizens, perhaps a subtle dig at Buffon and other European naturalists who had argued for the degraded state of the continent.
Henry Tanner first issued his map of North America in 1822, in the fourth installment of his five-part New American Atlas. For its time it was the best map of the continent, drawing as it did on dozens of sources including both obvious ones such as Humboldt, Lewis & Clark, Long and Pike, as well as more obscure ones such as Darby’s Map of the Environs of Detroit and Bernardo de Orta’s Plan of the Port of Vera Cruz. In keeping with this commitment to rigor, Tanner early on conceived the plan of revising the individual maps as new information became available, the maps to be offered both separately and in updated editions of the New American Atlas. Accordingly the Map of North America has been recorded in editions of 1822, 1823, 1825, 1828, 1829 and 1839, often with significant updates.
Offered here is a hitherto unrecorded 1845 edition, issued some six years after the hitherto last-known edition of 1839. It seems likely the publication reflected an effort by Tanner to capitalize on the election of the aggressively-expansionist James Polk, which further heated up disputes with Great Britain over Oregon and with Mexico over Texas. It was advertised in the New York Herald for July 17, 1845.
“H.S. Tanner, No. 237 Broadway… has just completed new and greatly improved editions of the following works:
“Map of North America, with all the recent discoveries and exhibiting Oregon and Texas, in connection with the United States, Mexico and the British possessions, 5½ feet long and 4 feet high, price $6. …”
Despite the assertion that the map was “new and greatly improved,” Tanner made relatively few changes to the previous (1839) edition: The most notable are the new date below the title, the redrawing of the northern Maine border to reflect the compromise reached in the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty and the addition of Austin, Texas and a number of other cities and towns throughout the map.
Henry Tanner (1786-1858)
Tanner was active as a map maker, engraver, and publisher during the first half of the 19th century. His prolific and high-quality merit an entire chapter in Ristow’s American Maps and Mapmakers, where he is described as “a principal contributor to the golden age [of American cartography] and one of the most productive and successful cartographic publishers of the period.” (p. 191)
Born in New York City but based in Philadelphia, Tanner’s career of more than four decades was almost entirely focused on cartographic work. Early on he partnered with his brother Benjamin of New York and Philadelphia engravers John Vallance and Francis Kearney. Under this umbrella he did extensive work for Philadelphia map publishers John Melish and Samuel Harrison, Fielding Lucas of Baltimore, and others, the most famous project being the engraving of Melish’s 1816 Map of the United States.
In 1818 Tanner convinced his partners to finance the compilation of the New American Atlas. The partnership dissolved in or around 1821, but Tanner persisted, and the atlas was sold by subscription and issued in parts between 1819 and 1823, with updated editions appearing through 1839. One of the pinnacles of 19th-century American mapmaking, it was commended in its day as “one of the most splendid works of the kind ever executed in this country.”
Tanner had by this time become the most active and influential map publisher in the United States. Around 1832, recognizing the market for a less cost prohibitive atlas, Tanner began work on the smaller format New Universal Atlas. This popular and important atlas went through numerous editions before being bought out by Carey and Hart, and then, in 1846, by Samuel Augustus Mitchell, who would rise to become the preeminent map publisher of the next generation. In addition to these important atlases, Tanner also issued numerous travelers guides, pocket maps, and large-format maps including the Map of North America offered here.
This edition of the map unrecorded in OCLC; Phillips, Maps of America; Rumsey; Wheat, Trans-Mississippi West or elsewhere, and neither Antique Map Price Record nor Rare Book Hub list any examples having appeared on the antiquarian market.
For an extensive discussion of Tanner’s sources for the map, see the pp. 1-11 of the “Geographical Memoir” in his New American Atlas. For a discussion of the map’s significance for the Pacific Northwest, see James V. Walker, “Henry S. Tanner and Cartographic Expression of American Expansionism in the 1820s” at swaen.com. For an account of Tanner’s career and output, see Ristow, American Maps and Mapmakers, pp. 191-206 (with the North America map discussed briefly on p. 193).