Matthew Carey’s Philadelphia edition of the Atlas Minimus

J[ohn] Gibson [and Emanuel Bowen], ATLAS MINIMUS; OR, A NEW SET OF POCKET MAPS, Of various EMPIRES, KINGDOMS, and STATES, WITH Geographical Extracts relative to each. Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, April 14, 1798.
90pp plus 41 engraved maps. Recently rebound in full goat. 24mo (3 ½”h x 4 5/8”w). Some minor offsetting throughout, minor foxing and chipping to preliminaries and flyleaves, a few leaves reinforced at edges. Early ink ownership inscription of Sam B. Wylie on title.

 A scarce and charming miniature atlas of the world published by Matthew Carey in Philadelphia in 1798. The small (“pocket”) format, and presumably its corresponding affordability, suggest both the increasing mobility of Americans and a growing thirst for geographical knowledge among the middle classes.

Carey’s work is based closely on the atlas of the same name issued by John Gibson and Emanuel Bowen in London in 1758. That had a total of 52 maps of the world, continents, and countries, including several focusing on Great Britain’s American colonies. It was sufficiently successful that it was reissued with the same compliment of maps in 1759, 1774 and again in 1792.

Carey had most of Bowen and Gibson’s maps copied by American engravers, though many were adapted for the American market by shifting the prime meridian to Philadelphia. The one exception was the map of France, which was new, necessitated by that country’s 1790 reorganization into departments by the National Assembly. Carey also omitted the 11 regional maps of North and Central America that had been included in the London editions, which he explained as follows in the Preface:

“The Editor having published an Atlas of the United States [i.e., Carey’s American Pocket Atlas (1796)], intended to accompany this work, has not introduced here any state maps, and therefore refers the reader to the above publication, in which those maps are given on a larger scale than any in this collection.”

One wonders what Carey’s customers thought of this omission!

Another interesting feature of the atlas is the profusion of engravers involved in the project. Why he did so is not clear, but Carey farmed out the engraving work to at least four parties: Joseph T. Scott did the lion’s share of the work, but William Barker, Francis Shallus and J. Roche each signed at least two maps.

Carey’s Philadelphia edition of the Atlas Minimus is scarce on the market: I find record of only three sales at auction in the past quarter century.

English Short Title Catalogue #W18358. Evans, American Bibliography, #33794. Wheat & Brun, Maps And Charts Published In America Before 1800, #R.169. Phillips, Atlases In The Library Of Congress, #691.