A remarkable geographic chart, with huge moveable volvelles

William Bicknell, Jr. / S.N. Dickinson, Printer, A GEOGRAPHIC CHART TO WHICH ARE ADDED Extracts of the Constitution of each of the States, and the Constitution of the United States, with many USEFUL TABLES- - -upon a NEW PLAN, which brings the answer to the Question, that both may be seen at the same Time. Being designed for Schools and Families. Hartford, Maine, 1833.
Stereotyped (and wood-engraved?) chart, 43”h x 38 1/4”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Varnished, backed with linen, and mounted on dowels. The chart with three cutouts for viewing three rotating volvelles (all present) each to be attached to the chart by means of a brass pin and held in place by ribbons (also present). The volvelles stereotyped, 36 ¼”, 18 ½” and 18 ½” in diameter respectively, and backed with linen as issued.

A remarkable, even somewhat bizarre, mid-19thcentury geopolitical educational chart by William Bicknell, Jr. of Hartford, Maine.

Bicknell (ca. 1804-1887) was a long-time educator in the Hartford, Maine school district. Accord to the Osher Map Library, he “wrote extensively on a variety of political topics, supporting women’s suffrage and opposing the death penalty.”  For a time he also had a side gig designing and publishing educational materials such as this most unusual wall chart, which

“may be hung up in the school-room, the sitting-room of the family, the office, or the work-shop; and while it may be used for the daily instruction of the young in one of the most useful of the sciences, a single look will enable persons of all ages and classes to fix some important fact in the mind.”

Though titled A Geographic Chart,the contents range far beyond what we would think of as geographic. To be fair, prominent at top are maps of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres; long columns of text describing the inhabited continents and the islands of the Americas, Polynesia and elsewhere; a table of distances in the United States, surmounted by an appealing cut of a stagecoach; and another table, adorned by a cut of a steamboat, listing the “principal rivers on the globe.” But much space is taken up by the text of the United States Constitution, along with two charts of statistical data regarding the “canals, rail-roads, and post-roads” in America and abroad. The chart’s visual appeal is enhanced by corner vignettes corners bearing allegorical images of the Continents as well as an intricate ornamental border featuring a Greek-key motif and other elements.

So far, so good.  But the great novelty lies in the three wedge-shaped cutouts in the chart, through each of which are viewed volvelles bearing further geographic and statistical data.  The volvelles are designed to be mounted to the back of the chart by pins, such that each can be rotated individually to reveal different “wedges” of information. The largest volvelle is visible through the upper cutout and is divided into 28 wedges describing each of the (at the time) 27 states plus the District of Columbia. The two smaller volvelles, viewed through the lower cutouts, address respectively the other countries of the Americas and those of Africa, Asia and Europe.

Flanking each cutout are a long series of questions, enabling the user to quiz him- or herself or others.  For instance, beside the cutout at top are questions and prompts about the states: “What is the capital, &c?,” “What products of the state are sold in other states of the Union?” “Describe the climate,” and so on. To check one’s answers, the user would rotate the volvelle to reveal the wedge describing the state under discussion. In practice, the design of the chart must have made rotating using the chart a very awkward proposition.

The great size and rather clumsy format of Bicknell’s chart must have ensured that few were produced and fewer sold.  For those that did enter service in homes or schools, the size, tenuous manner of connecting the accompanying volvelles, and hard use and careless storage ensured a very low survival rate. Indeed, I find mention of but two other examples, one in the John Caldwell Calhoun Papers at Clemson and another, in dreadful condition, that went unsold at Fairfield Auction in 2014 and whose whereabouts are not known.

It is worth noting that the example in the Calhoun Papers is described as an 1833 “second edition,” whereas ours bears the same date but no such statement. A year later Bicknell issued an illustrated broadside titled “A Concise View of the Globe” in 1834. (Bibliography of the State of Maine, vol. I #1018)

In all, a most unusual example of an early experiment in geographic education, and a remarkable survival.

Not in OCLC or Williamson, Bibliography of the State of Maine (Portland, 1896).


Chart restored, with some repair and restoration primarily along edges but with scattered image loss, new varnish, and replacement linen. Volvelles a bit soiled stained, and cockled, with some scattered surface loss particularly along edges, at present not attached to chart. Withal, about very good after restoration.