Neely’s New Reversible Historical Chart, with a fantastic infographic of American political history

Rand, McNally & Co., Engr[aver]s, NEELY’S NEW REVERSIBLE HISTORICAL CHART, Political Map AND UNITED STATES MAP COMBINED. PRICE (with United States map on Back) $5.00. Chicago: F.T. Neely, 1892.
Lithograph, 44”h x 66”w at sheet edge, printed color. Backed with linen at an early date, thus obscuring a United States map printed on the verso, and mounted on thin wooden dowels. Varnish somewhat toned and scuffed in places, with a couple of cracks and minor paper loss near top center. Faint area of discoloration at lower right. Entirely original condition, about very good for its type.

Neely’s New Reversible Historical Chart is a geopolitical compendium, highlighted by a masterpiece of an infographic rendering centuries of American political history into a single, digestible timeline.

First the more mundane aspects: The lower half of the image features maps of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres and large-scale maps of Persia & Afghanistan, Abyssinia (Ethiopia), Southern Africa, Central America and Alaska. Below these are a variety of charts, including “The Comparative Strength of the Armies of the Principal Countries of the World,” “The Creeds of the World,” and a “Diagram Showing the Tonnage of the Navy of Various Countries.”

The star of the show is the “Diagram of the History of Political Parties” occupying the top half of the image. This charts the evolution and interrelationships of American political parties from the Colonial era to 1892, with the parties depicted as rivers and streams flowing in to and out of one another. For example the Federalist “stream” is shown merging with the Democratic-Republicans around 1820, though by the Election of 1828 the Republicans are shown diverging into Democratic and National Republican streams. Later, in the Antebellum era, an entirely new Republican Party is shown emerging from the remnants of the Whigs and a disaffected offshoot of the Democrats. For 21st-century observers, conditioned as we are to think of the two-party system as inevitable, the overarching message about the mutability of American politics is clear and striking.

Augmenting the diagram are dozens of captions highlighting the parties’ major principles, positions, and legislative accomplishments. The diagram is flanked above by portraits of each President and a list of their cabinets and congressional leaders, and below by the results of every Presidential election through 1892.

The political diagram, without the maps and charts, was first issued in 1880, as a large, folding illustration in Walter R. Houghton’s Conspectus of the History of Political Parties and the Federal Government (Indianapolis: Granger, Davis & Co.). Then in 1890 Chicago publisher F. T. Neely updated it to the Election of 1888 and incorporated it into Houghton’s New Reversible Political Map and United States Map Combined. Our 1892 chart is a reissue of that work, with essentially identical content but a new name and some changes in formatting. Neely issued it once again in 1893 and perhaps again in 1896, with the elements once again reformatted and the diagram further updated to reflect Grover Cleveland’s victory in the Election of 1892.

To my knowledge, the Houghton-Neely diagrams are the first in which a naturalistic “stream” metaphor was applied to political history. They do however have deep antecedents, going back at least to Friedrich Strass’s 1803 Strom der Zeiten, which applied the metaphor to the rise and fall of peoples, nations and empires. The Strom der Zeiten was updated and reissued in a number of languages, including by Colton as late as the Civil War. The metaphor was adapted for a variety of religious and secular topics throughout the 19th century, and it seems plausible that Hougton was inspired by one or another of these works.

Neely’s New Reversible Historical Chart and its variants are very rare: In the past 15 years I have handled one example of the 1890 and two of the 1893 editions, and I know of no others having appeared on the market. OCLC locates a total of only six holdings of all editions.

In all, a colorful, striking, informative and exceedingly rare American political infographic.

OCLC 34700810 (Massachusetts State Library, 1890 ed.); 1081043353 (Newberry Library, 1890 ed.); 945724131 (Tennessee State Library, 1891 ed.); 960914919 (American Antiquarian Society, 1891 ed.); 878551527 (Boston Public Library, 1893 ed., acquired from this firm some years ago); and 1024147387 (Newberry again, 1896 ed.) Not mentioned in Grafton and Rosenberg, Cartographies of Time.