A superlatively-rare Richard Patten chart of Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles

Richard Patten / Engraved by J. Ridley & W. Sim, Richard Patten’s NEW CHART OF THE CARIBBEE OR WEST INDIA ISLANDS From Porto Rico to Trinidad Inclusive WITH PART OF THE SPANISH MAIN Fromm the Latest and best Authorities. New York: Richard Patten, Feb. 3rd 1818.
Engraving on two sheets joined, the upper 39”h x 27 ½”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Cleaned, with brilliant reconstruction to areas of loss in margins, but now an excellent overall appearance.
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Only the second example located of this finely-engraved and chart of the Lesser Antilles, the sweep of islands from Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands south to the Trinidad and the Spanish Main, issued by Richard Patten, an all-but unknown American chart maker and publisher active in New York City into the early 1830s.

This geographical extent adopted by Patten was commonly used by European chart-makers, and later Americans, from at least the 1650s onwards, and in the 1810s English charts of the region by makers such as Delarochette, Holland, Moore, Heather and Columbine remained in circulation.

What is clear is that the Patten chart seems to represent a next-generation improvement on these important charts. Generally, at even this small scale, the improvements to the coastlines of the many islands are visible. Another notable feature is the insertion of topography inserted within the various islands, including the hills, useful as landmarks. Similarly, there are seven inset coastal profiles as an aid for navigators approaching land.

However I have not yet identified a possible prototype for either Patten’s main chart or his improved delineation of the Virgin Islands, which is a marked advance on the Laurie and Whittle 1797 chart of the same. The chart is evidently recently compiled or revised, as it notes an unnamed “Shoal”, “Discovered July 18, 1817” north of Porto Rico, raising the possibility that Patten was working with New York-based mariners trading to the region.

Patten announced the chart’s publication in New York in February 1818:

“WEST INDIES. THIS Day published by Richard Patten, and for sale at his Navigation Warehouse, No. 184 Water-st. a new and correct Chart of the WEST INDIES, from Porto Rico to Trinidad, inclusive, with part of the Spanish Main, on an enlarged scale; with a large plan of Tortola and surrounding Islands, and ten handsome views — the whole taken from the latest Spanish and English authorities, and executed in the handsomest manner. The Publisher in submitting the above to his nautical friends and the public in general feels confident in saying it is equal if not superior to any Chart extant.” (New York Mercantile Advertiser, no. 8358 (Feb. 10, 1818), p. 2)

Richard Patten
Patten (1792-1865) was one of the great American instrument-makers of the first half of the nineteenth century, sufficiently prominent to have been appointed manufacturer of Mathematical Instruments to the United States Government. He established his business in New York City in 1813, selling nautical books and charts, and domestic and imported instruments for use at sea and on land, advertising on an early trade card as “the only manufacturer of sextants & quadrants” in New York.

Patten also advertised as a chart seller, publishing between about 1817 and 1832, with a good reputation. A contemporary magazine noted,

“Mr. R. Patten, also of our city, has likewise published a great variety of elegantly finished charts, and has nearly completed an extended map of the city, embracing an extent considerably larger than the city itself, especially to the northward and southward, including also the western bank of Hudson river, and part of Long-Island. This gentleman has likewise acquired a high reputation as an artist, in the manufacture of nautical instruments, particularly azimuth compasses; his circumferenters and theodolites for land surveying, it is thought, have never been excelled” (Ladies and Gentlemen’s Diary, vol. II (1821), p. 90)

Despite his contemporary reputation, Patten is today entirely overshadowed by the contemporary, and more commercially successful, publisher Edmund March Blunt (1770-1862), with whom Patten had a long-running feud. This feud was first properly evidenced when Patten gave evidence against Blunt in a libel action brought by Blunt against another rival, Isaac Greenwood, in 1822. It culminated in a copyright action brought by Blunt in 1828 against Patten for plagiarism, which Blunt won, when a jury concluded that Blunt could copyright the location of the South Nantucket Shoals, which he had paid to chart, and found Patten guilty of plagiarism (This was an extraordinary decision running contrary to established (British) case law and, apparently, never re-litigated in American courts. Richard Patten’s New Chart of the North Eastern Coast of the U. States, the chart at the centre of the copyright claim, is not known to survive.)

Patten’s output has hitherto been considered as meagre, based on the small number of surviving charts, most of which are recorded in a solitary example. These include charts of the Gulf of Florida, Bahama Banks and part of the Gulf of Mexico (1817), Caribee or West India Islands (1818) (this item), Atlantic Ocean (1819), South Atlantic (1819), western seaboard of South America (1820) and companion western seaboard of central American and Mexico (1825), West Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi & Alabama (1823), West Indies (1825), another chart of the Bahama Banks (1825) Southern Coast of the United States (1826), North Eastern Coast of the U. States (1827), and Brazil (1831). He also published Edward W. Bridges’ Map of the City of New York in 1829.

Unfortunately for Patten, but fortuitously for map historians, in 1828 he was beset by financial problems, perhaps related to the Blunt case. To raise funds, he was compelled to mortgage his map plates to Benjamin and Samuel Demilt, then subsequently defaulted on the mortgage. The plates were then offered by the Demilts at auction and itemized in the auction paperwork, which survives.

This lengthy list, calling for no fewer than 80 copperplates, transforms our knowledge of Patten’s publications and the depth and geographical spread of his output. The sheer volume certainly places him on a par with—if not ahead of—Blunt and his associate William Hooker. It forms a basis for a re-evaluation of Patten’s importance as a chart maker and his contribution to American chart publishing, even if only a very small percentage of actual charts survive for the modern historian to examine.

Rarity and references
Not in OCLC, and I find no record of another having appeared in trade. The only other known example is housed in the chart collections of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Background on Patten from CompleatSurveyor.com (accessed Oct. 2022) and Worms & Baynton-Williams, American Map Engravers (forthcoming).