A magnificent Boston pictorial map: Blake and Olsen’s 1926 “ Colour of an Old City ”

Designed, drawn and coloured by Edwin Olsen and Blake Clark, The COLOUR of an OLD CITY[:] A map of Boston decorative AND historical. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1926.
Lithograph printed in colors, 28”h x 37 1/8”w at neat line plus narrow margins. With original illustrated envelope.
$1,750

For its size, vibrant color, and rich supply of both information and wit, arguably the finest pictorial map of Boston.

This charming map was the product of the collaboration of Blake Everett Clark (1900-1979) and Edwin Birger Olsen (1902-1996), two young American draftsmen & architects. In the mid-1920s, they came together to this map and similar pictorial maps of Philadelphia and Washington D.C., all published in 1926 by Houghton Mifflin Co. According to Stephen Hornsby’s Picturing America, work on the Boston map began in September 1925 and entailed six months of “exhaustive study and incessant sketching,” with much research being undertaken in the Boston Public Library & Boston Athenaeum. Houghton Mifflin’s publicity described it as “a model of excellence in this quaint & contemporaneously popular decorative art,” and it proved an immediate success. It is also something of a landmark, as one of the first separately published color-printed pictorial maps to be published in the United States

Clark and Olsen’s Boston pictorial map includes the core of downtown, roughly from Massachusetts Avenue east, and encompasses the Charles River with parts of Cambridge and Charlestown, as well as the Harbor, Fort Point Channel (“South Bay”) and part of South Boston. The borders are embellished with vignettes depicting historic scenes, buildings and monuments. Boston’s coat of arms appears at top center, while six inset historical maps and views depict the city and its environs at different points in its history. Biplanes swarm above the Charles while numerous vessels ply the vibrantly-colored surrounding waters. Lyrical quotations praising the city dot the map, while an open book at lower center displays a ditty entitled “What It’s All About!” The map’s title appears on the sail of an incongruous Norse longboat floating above Albany Street… perhaps a homage to persistent theories that the Norse had visited the Charles River centuries before the arrival of the Puritans.

As Elisabeth Burdon has highlighted, Colour of an Old City and its companion maps shared features with Max Gill’s 1914-24 London Wonderground map [1914-24], including their substantial size, vibrant color, graphic design, and use of a presentation envelope. It seems likely that Clark and Olsen were influenced by Gill: Examples of his 1924 Wonderground map were exported to American retail outlets, and Clark travelled extensively in Europe and visited Great Britain in the early 1920s, as he started out on his artistic career. So one or both men may have encountered Gill’s work before collaborating on Colour of an Old City.

In all, an early and particularly vivid example of the pictorial map genre.

References
Rumsey 7947. Stephen J Hornsby, Picturing America, pp.16-21 & pl.47 (pp.120-121). Elisabeth Burdon, “The Cartographic Impact of MacDonald Gill’s Wonderground Map of 1913,” at abaa.org.

Condition

Map excellent, some moderate wear to envelope.