Monumental 1831 world map by Henry Tanner

Henry Schenck Tanner / Engraved by Edward B. Dawson, A NEW AND AUTHENTIC MAP OF THE World Embracing All The RECENT DISCOVERIES, and exhibiting particularly the Nautical Researches of the most Distinguished Circumnavigators FROM THE LATEST & BEST AUTHORITIES; with numerous Corrections & Additions, BY H.S. TANNER. Philadelphia: H. S. Tanner 831.
Engraving on six sheets joined, 35 ½”h x 66 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, original wash and outline color. Expertly restored, including removal of original varnish and linen, reinstatement in blank and facsimile to scattered small losses in image area, and reconstruction in the margins and a few areas of the printed border.

A remarkable wall map of the world by the remarkable Henry Tanner and arguably the culminating cartographic achievement of his career. “The object of Mr. Tanner was not to make a reprint of any former map, but to incorporate into one splendid effort, the correct delineations of existing publications with the late discoveries of Ross, Franklin, Parry, Kotzebu, Humboldt, Pike, Long, Rutland, &c. on the western hemisphere” (United States Gazette, March 29, 1831) One of four known examples.

Tanner prepared the map on a stereographic projection, which he viewed as best-adapted for the subject matter.

“[The projection] obviates that distortion of countries situated in the eastern and western extremities of each hemisphere, which is presented by the globular, and most other developments of the sphere. This projection is the only one which preserves a just configuration of those parts … exhibiting the countries, seas, lakes, mountains, &c in their true proportions …” (Philadelphia National Gazette, December 1, 1829).

The map itself bears little information about the sources that Tanner used in its compilation, but it was described extensively in contemporary Philadelphia newspapers, which wrote at length of his use of the most up-to-date sources. There is much one could say about the map, but rather than getting lost in the weeds, Tanner’s focus seems to be on documenting the findings of recent European explorations, the current state of European imperialism worldwide, and opportunities for further acquisition, particularly in Africa and Oceana.

The map features the tracks of numerous explorers and tables and diagrams of the “Comparative Lengths of the Principal Canals in the World”; “Statistics” for North America, South America, the West Indies, Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Europe; the “Heights of Mountains”; and “Vertical Sections of North America”, among others. The decorative impact is greatly enhanced by by the elegrant calligraphic title and border of acanthus leaves and scrollwork.

Visually there is a similarity with the map’s immediate predecessor, David Vance’s equally-monumental world map (Philadelphia: Anthony Finlay, 1826). However, closer inspection reveals numerous improvements, most obviously in the treatment of the North American Arctic and the African interior, and less-obvious changes such as the addition of Austin, Texas. In its accuracy and use of the most modern sources Tanner’s map also compares favorably with the best of the contemporary European productions (See for example James Gardner’s map of 1825, one of the very few large-format world maps produced in Europe in the decade prior to Tanner’s.)

Publication history
The death of the great cartographer and publisher John Melish in 1822 left a void in American map publishing, into which stepped Henry Schenck Tanner. Over the next decade he was central to the production and publication of most of the most important American maps and atlases, among others The American Atlas (1822) and the state atlas of South Carolina, 1825; official or semi-official state maps of New York State (1818), South Carolina (1822), Virginia (1827), Tennessee (1832), North Carolina (1833) and Louisiana (1834); as well as a superb map of the United States (1829) and Stephen Austin’s Texas (1830).

Tanner’s stock included a wall map of the world (1819) and, at some point, he acquired the plates for the Philadelphia editions of Aaron Arrowsmith’s four seminal maps of the continents (1812). He was however faced with direct competition from another Philadelphia publisher, Anthony Finley, who produced a sequence of wall maps – of the United States (1825), David Harris Vance’s world (1826), Asia (1828), South America (1829), Africa and Europe (both 1830).

In response, Tanner prepared updated editions of the Arrowsmith wall maps in 1830 (Philadelphia National Gazette, March 19, 1830). He also announced his intention to produce a completely new map of the world,

“… embracing all the recent Discoveries, &c. The great mass of fresh materials which has accumulated within a few years, and the highly important and extensive discoveries lately made, render a new Map of the World not only desirable, but absolutely necessary to a clear understanding of the subject of general geography as it now exists.


“During the execution of the American Atlas and the New Map of the United States, just published by the author of the proposed Map, all the recent additions to the stock of geographical information on the known world, have been collected: these, together with the abundant and valuable materials previously on hand, will form the proposed map, to which the recent discoveries and surveys, viewed in connexion with the parts known and fixed, will impart an entirely new aspect and an increased importance.” (Philadelphia National Gazette, Dec. 1, 1829)

The intention was to publish the map by subscription – “delivered to subscribers, mounted on rollers and varnished, at $6 50 each” – to be published as soon as 500 subscribers signed up.

The map was announced as nearly ready in April 1830, and again in May and August, but in November Tanner felt compelled to apologize to subscribers:

“in consequence of the important discoveries in various quarters, especially those in Africa, the geography of which has assumed a new aspect from the late accessions to our stock of materials, its publication is unavoidably deferred until January next, when it will certainly be issued. Desirous of rendering this Map every way acceptable to his subscribers, the publisher has spared neither trouble nor expense in perfecting it — all the recent discoveries in both hemispheres have been incorporated … These facts are stated to show that although much time has elapsed since the subscription for the Map was opened, the delay will be amply compensated by the circumstance, that the work will be rendered infinitely more perfect than its hasty execution would allow.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, November 19, 1830).

Publication was finally announced on March 21 1831, the price now listed at $8, comparable to Finley’s listed prices for his wall maps. Reviews were unfailingly positive, one noting

“To persons who have become familiar, with the old delineations afforded by most existing maps, the numerous and important accessions to the stock of knowledge on modern geography, which are embodied in the present one, will be particularly striking. By viewing Mr. Tanner’s map in connexion with most other works of a similar class, the improvements and additions are rendered quite obvious.” (Philadelphia National Gazette, March 24, 1831).

The subscription proposals suggest that Tanner was hoping for five hundred subscribers. While there is no indication of how many were actually sold, a modern census suggests that the project was not terribly successful. I find institutional holdings only at the Library of Congress and the American Philosophical Society, the latter presented by Tanner on April 15 1831, and am aware of a third in private hands. OCLC currently lists a third institutional example, at the Watertown (Massachusetts) Public Library, but that was recently de-accessioned and is one and the same as the map offered here.

There is a reference to a possible second state, published in 1834, listed in Dictionnaire des hommes de lettres, des savans, Vandermaelen Institute, 1837. I have been unable to trace any examples.

OCLC 9599470 (Watertown Public Library—this example, recently de-accessioned). Phillips, Maps of America, p. 1098. American Philosophical Society, Realms of Gold, #81. Not in Rumsey.