Large, detailed but rather mysterious navigation chart of the Lesser Antilles

THE CARRIBBEE ISLANDS. [No place, no date, but mid-19th century.]
Engraving[?], 38”h x 25 ½”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Lined with linen, stitched selvage. Mild-moderate foxing and staining, small flap of paper overhanging small area of left margin (should be removeable if so desired).

Striking mid-19th century navigation chart of the Lesser Antilles extending from Puerto Rico to Trinidad with the mainland coast of South America.  

The chart gives soundings, prevailing winds, aids and hazards to navigation, and anchorages around and between many of the islands, the information particularly dense around Trinidad and the South American cost. Considering the relatively small scale, the chart shows good terrestrial detail, with the topography of the major islands shown with precision. The modern use of Guadeloupe for both Basse Terre and Grand Terre, is unusual, because most maps in 1800s referred to Basse Terre (only) as “Guadeloupe”, separate from Grande Terre. Stylistically, the chart was probably published in the 1840s.

This appears to have been a working chart. It is lined with canvas in anticipation of heavy use, and there are what appear to be contemporary manuscript annotations around the Virgin Islands, with navigational lines apparently shown for transit thorough the islands from St. Thomas to St. Kitts.

The chart is untitled, unsigned, and without imprint or copyright line, which makes dating and attribution difficult. It is likely that it was constructed as part of a larger chart of the South American littoral, with one of the other sheets bearing the publication details, but the presence of engraved borders on four sides indicates it was also intended to stand on its own.

In view of the superior engraving and execution, an obvious candidate is the London engraver, chartmaker and publisher John Stratton Hobbs, who was employed by the chart-publisher Charles Wilson, successor to John William Norie, the great English chart-maker of the early part of the nineteenth century. The buff cloth edging and backing is certainly reminiscent of other charts signed by Hobbs.

An outside candidate is the New York engraver and hydrographer Charles Copley (1800-1880) who, as Charles Cobley, was trained as an engraver in his native London. Cobley’s charts, some of which were engraved for the Blunt family, have a “London feel” in their execution, quite different from the effect achieved by Blunt’s own engravers.