Rare and attractive physical atlas by James Reynolds

James Reynolds, A SERIES OF LARGE COLOURED DIAGRAMS ILLUSTRATIVE OF PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY, Compiled from the best Authorities… London: James Reynolds, [1868?].
Six, hand-colored physical maps of world, each ca. 17 ½”h x 27 ½”-27 ¾”w at neat line plus margins. Accompanied by 16pp pamphlet of “Descriptive” notes. All mounted on guards and bound into printed gray-green wraps, the whole 20 ½”h x 15 ½”w. Maps with minor foxing largely confined to margins, and some dog-earing and other marginal wear; pamphlet excellent; wraps dusty and soiled, with some edge tears and other wear. About very good overall.

A rare and most attractive physical atlas by prolific science and engineering publisher James Reynolds, whose work reflects both the Victorian fascination with infographics and the high quality of contemporary British publishing.

The atlas consists of six large, hand-colored world maps, titled “Physical Features of the Land”, “Movements of the Waters”, “Distribution of the Winds”, “Distribution of the Rain”, “Distribution of the Climates”, and “Volcanic System of the Globe”. The same Mercator-projection map serves as the base for each, with hand coloring and overprinted symbols and text illustrating the phenomenon in question. The large size of each map, coupled with Reynolds’ use of a palette blending vivid pastels and somber grays, makes for a striking presentation. Not being a physical scientist I cannot comment on the accuracy of the maps, but certainly the most visually impressive is “Movement of the Waters”, which depicts not only the great currents animating the oceans, but the ways these currents are both fed and given form by the continents.

The atlas is undated, but the front wrap touts the “Prize Medal Awarded for Reynold’s Educational Diagrams, Class XXIX, International Exhibition, 1862”. The “James Reynolds” imprint suggests a terminus ante quem of 1870, in which year I first find the imprint “James Reynolds & Sons”. The British Library gives a date of 1868 for its copy.

James Reynolds (1817-1876)
The son of a London printer, Reynolds was in business for himself on The Strand no later than 1851. Over the next quarter century he had a wildly prolific output, emphasizing educational atlases, books, charts, and maps, in both large and small formats, on a wide range of topics including astronomy, engineering, geography and geology. One of his “product lines” was diagrams that could be purchased individually or in thematic sets, enabling purchasers to compile their own personal collection on subjects of their choice.

“Reynolds’ publishing business in London printed an enormous output over his approximately 30-year career, responding to the popular demand for information on science and engineering developments. Reynolds worked with several cartographers and engravers, but one of his main collaborators was Emslie. Together, they produced numerous infographics and maps, and were both elected to England’s Royal Geographical Society…. The appeal and charm of their work comes from a combination of formal cartographic techniques, scientific knowledge, and artistic flair.


“Reynolds was an adept and re-active publisher, who constantly revised his various publications, and provided them in a number of different and flexible formats to meet demand. His works vividly reflect the growing flowering of ‘infographics’ that emerged during the Victorian era, as the industrialisation of printing made it easier and cheaper to create books with detailed colour illustrations.” (Lauren Young, “The Stunning Early Infographics and Maps of the 1800s,” Atlas Obscura, March 30, 2017)

For a sampling of Reynolds’ work, see the David Rumsey Map Collection, which holds a number of Reynolds portfolios. As mentioned previously, his sons (and daughter) joined the business around 1870, and after the firm survived into the 21st century.

OCLC 558065707 (British Library, dating to 1868) and 495100988 (Bibliotheque nationale) only, as of March 2021. Not in ESTC; Phillips and Le Gear, Atlases; or Rumsey; and Rare Book Hub makes no mention of its having appeared on the antiquarian market.