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Joseph Hutchins Colton (1800-1893) was one of the leading American mapmakers and engravers of the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century. His earliest employment was for a sequence of map engraving firms, and he may originally have trained as an engraver, working for Vistus Balch, Samuel Stiles and Neziah Wright, first as “Balch, Stiles & Co.” (1828-1831), and then “Balch, Stiles, Wright & Co.” (1831-1833). When the partnership ended in 1833, he joined “Samuel Stiles & Co.”, which, in 1836, became the short-lived partnership of ‘Stiles & Colton’, map-engravers, a parallel business to his map-publishing house, “J. H. Colton & Co.”, established in 1833. In 1837 Stiles left and formed ‘S. Stiles, Sherman & Smith’ with George Edwin Sherman and John Calvin Smith, this engraving partnership closely associated with Colton’s earlier maps. Colton himself focussed on mapmaking and publishing, building the firm up to being the largest in New York.

For much of his career he was indeed the leading American map-publisher, from the slow decline of the Henry Schenck Tanner business from the mid-1830s to the expansion of the Samuel Augustus Mitchell business in the late 1850s.

His son George Woolworth Colton (1827-1901) joined the firm in 1850, and Charles Burnham Colton (1832-1916) in about 1855. George left the firm in 1859, returning in 1865, at which time the father took a step back from the firm, his sons trading as ‘G. W. & C. B. Colton’, while also using ‘J. H. Colton & Co.’, up to 1897 when the family finally sold their interest in the firm.

Although the firm is best known for its various atlases, individual maps from which were also sold as pocket maps, the family produced a remarkable, and wide-ranging series of important wall maps and separately-issued maps, particularly of New York City, North America and the United States, but also of individual states, commencing with David Hugh Burr’s wall-map of New York State, John Farmer’s maps of Michigan and Wisconsin, and many others.

Some highlights of Colton’s huge body of work are Topographical map of the city and county of New-York (1836), Map of the United States, the British provinces, Mexico &c. (1849); Map of the United States of America, the British Provinces, Mexico, the West Indies and Central America, with part of New Granada and Venezuela (1849); Colton’s illustrated & embellished steel plate map of the world on Mercator’s projection (1855); Norman’s chart of the lower Mississippi River (1858); Colton’s new topographical map of the states of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, showing also eastern Tennessee & parts of other adjoining states, all the fortifications, military stations, rail roads, common roads and other internal improvements (1862) and J. H. Colton’s map of the state of Louisiana and eastern part of Texas (1863).

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J. Calvin Smith, MAP OF LONG ISLAND with the ENVIRONS OF NEW-YORK AND THE SOUTHERN PART OF CONNECTICUT, COMPILED FROM Various Surveys & Documents. New York: J.H. Colton & Co., 1856.

Smith and Colton’s spectacular map of Long Island

The largest, most significant, and most attractive map of Long Island, New York to be issued in the 19th century.  Embracing the entirety of Long Island, the map also takes in the Long Island Sound, New York City and adjacent New York counties, southern Connecticut and northeastern New Jersey. Topography is indicated by hachuring, residences […]

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1866 Colton Stream of Time

Unrecorded Civil War-era edition of Colton’s Stream of Time

An unrecorded Civil War-era edition of the Stream of Time, an extraordinary chronological chart employing intermingling stream systems as an extended metaphor for the flow of time.  The chart commences with 11 streams emanating from storm clouds at the top, most representing a nation or people such as “Greeks,” “Jews,” “Egyptians,” or “Chinese.” The streams […]

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