The Unique Map of California

E. McD.  Johnstone / Dickman-Jones Co. Lith., THE UNIQUE MAP OF CALIFORNIA. San Francisco: Southern Pacific Company and the State Board of Trade of California, [ca. 1888.]
Multi-stone lithograph, printed area 25 ½”h x 18 7/8”w plus generous margins. Mends to a few fold separations, minor marginal soiling, lined on verso.

A very scarce map of California, combining attractive color, imagery, thematic and persuasive elements to yield a decorative and promotional tour de force.  

This remarkable promotional map depicts each California county, along with its acreage, primary agricultural products and extractive industries.  Superimposed on the map are no fewer than 20 pictorial vignettes emphasize both the state’s natural beauty and its agricultural and industrial potential.  A small inset at top right depicts the Sierra Nevada range in profile, along with the elevations of its major peaks.

Of particular interest are two small inset maps.  One at lower left demonstrates the sheer vastness of California by showing how ten other states could fit rather nicely within its boundaries.  The inclusion of population figures for each of these ten states—more than 13 million in all—contrasts with the relative emptiness of California, where huge tracts of land could be had relatively inexpensively.  The inset map at top right uses color shading to divide California into five zones—the low-lying “cereal belt,” “the great foot hill fruit belt,” “timber and grazing lands,” “the highlands embrac[ing] the grandest scenery in North America,” and the desert in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevadas.  According to Johnstone even this last zone has great potential:  “Some of this territory is doubtless arid lands, but portions of it once considered irreclaimable are now yielding enormous crops.”

Publication history and citrus controversy
Johnstone was a California author and illustrator who produced a number of maps and guide books, including the “Climatic Map of California.”  Rumsey dates his “Unique Map” to ca. 1885 based on the presence of del Norte and Sen Benito Counties, though I’d put it rather later, as it is first mentioned in the California press in early 1889. When the map appeared it provoked a certain amount of controversy, apparently because of perceptions that it gave short shrift to southern California’s fast-growing citrus industry.

“Some of the papers down in “South California” are mightly wrathy over the publication of a “unique map of California, by the State Board of Trade and endorsed by the S. P. railroad people…. The Riverside Press says, that the map states that San Bernardino county produces “figs, almond-[sic], honey and cereals” while Butte grows oranges and cereals” and Placer produces cereals and other fruits. The papers down at the South end say this is a deliberate attempt to rob their section of the brightest jewel of its crown and they propose to with-draw from the State Board. Well, this is a little rough but probably it was an oversight, Butte is getting so famous for its oranges that they probably forgot San Bernardino.” (The [Oroville] Weekly Mercury for Jan. 18, 1889, p. 3)


“Southern California papers are savagely criticizing the State Board of Trade—and especially a map called “The Unique Map of California, published under the auspices of the Southern Pacific Company and the State Board of Trade.” The Board of Trade rises to repudiate the map, as also does the Southern Pacific Company, but the Redlands Citrograph refuses to be thus cajoled and remarks with the utmost frankness: “The fact remains, however, that both organizations had nothing to say about it until South California commenced its vigorous war upon the ‘unique’ fraud. And this latter fact is what makes us so made over it.” (Santa Cruz Surf for Jan. 24, 1889, p. 2)

Indeed, it appears that early editions of the map, such as this example at the Library of Congress, mention orange cultivation in Butte and Placer Counties but not in San Bernardino County. On the example offered here, “Oranges and Raisins” have been added in San Bernardino. There may have been similar howls of outrage elsewhere: for example, I note that the earlier edition fails to mention “Nuts” in Ventura County, which have also been added here.

These tweaks, not previously remarked on, brings the total number of known variants to four:

  1. With the imprint “published under the auspices of the  Southern Pacific Railroad and the State Board of Trade of California”, without “Oranges and Raisins” in San Bernardino County or “Nuts” in Ventura
  2. With the SPRR / Board of Trade imprint, and the addition of “Oranges and Raisins” in San Bernardino County and “Nuts” in Ventura (this example)
  3. Lacking the SPRR / Board of Trade imprint, but with “Oranges and Raisins” in San Bernardino County and “Nuts” in Ventura
  4. As in #2, but overprinted in red, “With Compliments of Kohler & Van Bergen, San Francisco and New York, California Wines and Brandies”

The “Unique Map” is quite scarce: RareBookHub lists only two having appeared on the antiquarian market, while OCLC lists perhaps 15 held in institutional collections, though it is not possible to tease apart who holds which variants.

In all, a very scarce, eminently displayable California map, with a somewhat controversial publication history.

Rumsey #4093 (variant 3). OCLC #52716981, 57213136, et al.