Unrecorded Civil War-era edition of Colton’s Stream of Time

“Revised and continued by R. S. Fisher, M.D.,” after Friedrich Strass, STREAM OF TIME, OR CHART OF UNIVERSAL HISTORY, FROM THE GERMAN OF STRASS. New York, NY: G.W. & C.B. Colton & Co., 1866.
Lithograph on two sheets joined, 48 ¾”h x 29 ¾”w plus margins, original wash color. Backed on original linen and affixed to wooden dowels.

An unrecorded Civil War-era edition of the Stream of Time, an extraordinary chronological chart employing intermingling stream systems as an extended metaphor for the flow of time

The chart commences with 11 streams emanating from storm clouds at the top, most representing a nation or people such as “Greeks,” “Jews,” “Egyptians,” or “Chinese.” The streams flow downward, comingling, dividing and occasionally terminating, with new ones entering in places, and ultimately 37 individual streams terminating at the base in the year 1865. The explanation at the bottom of the chart reads in part:

“Each Nation is represented by a stream, which is broken in upon or flows on undisturbed as it is influenced by the accession of Territory or the remaining at Peace…. The various smaller streams attached to the sides of larger steams show, by flowing upwards, conquests; downwards, losses.”

Not all the streams depicted represent nations or peoples: The leftmost is entitled, “Eras, Founding of Cities, Discovery and Settlement of Countries &c.” The two at far right depict “Inventions Discoveries Remarkable Events” and “Great Characters &c,” beginning respectively with the Creation and Adam, Eve and Cain.

Well before 500 B.C. four new streams enter the flow, while some earlier ones have already been terminated, divided, or absorbed. Around 150 B.C. the Germans appear ex nihilo, while by 100 A.D., the vast majority of streams empty into the Roman Empire, which eventually breaks down into various sizable streams, such as the “Western Empire” (encompassing Spain and Italy), Britain, “Eastern Empire,” and so on. The most continuous stream is that of the China, though it is shown—not entirely accurately—as absorbing the Mongols in the 13th century. The stream of United States history begins with “English Colonies Settled,” starting in “[160]7 Jamestown Virginia” and flows to “[18]65 Richmond taken. Pres. Lincoln assas.d. Andrew Jackson. Nevada, Colorado.”

Joseph Hutchins Colton published editions of The Stream of Time in 1842 and 1845, both adapted from Strass’s work by one Daniel Haskell, and another edition in 1860 bearing revisions by R. S. Fisher. This 1866 edition, published by Colton’s sons George Woolworth and Charles, is further revised by Fisher and includes among many others references to Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union Pacific Railroad (1864), and the second trans-Atlantic cable (1865). This edition appears to be entirely unrecorded. 

Friedrich Strass and Der Strom der Zeiten
The Coltons’ chart is based closely on Der Strom der Zeiten, a pioneering image by Austrian chronologist Friedrich Strass, who in turn owed much to the historical charts of English natural philosopher Joseph Priestley. Strass however departed from the Priestley’s linear format in favor of one in which “events ebb and flow, fork and twist, run and roll and thunder.” (Grafton and Rosenberg) To my eye at least, Strass’s more naturalistic approach provides a far more apt metaphor for the flow of history.

Strass’s chart would prove to be seminal, versions or adaptations appearing in America, England, France and likely elsewhere. Its influence may be seen for example in the work of American women’s rights activist and educator Emma Willard (1787–1870), in particular, her 1835 Picture of Nations or Perspective Sketch of the Course of Empire.

OCLC lists J.H. Colton editions of the Stream of Time for 1842, 1845, 1860, but not this G.W. & C.B. edition of 1865. Rumsey #1704 (1842 edition). Grafton and Rosenberg, Cartographies of Time, pp. 143, 144–45, 147. Schulten, Mapping the Nation, pp. 31–33. Schulten, “Emma Willard and the graphic foundations of American history,” at sciencedirect.com.


Better than very good, with minor scuffing, and a half inch split and bit of faint staining in sky at upper left.