BUELL, Abel (1742-1822). A New and Correct Map of the United States of North America Layd Down from the Latest Observations and Best Authorities Agreeable to the Peace of 1783. Humbly Inscribed to his Excellency the Governor and Company of the State of Connecticut By their Most Obedient and Very Humble Servant Abel Buell. New Haven: Abel Buell, 1784.
Hand-colored engraved map on four joined sheets, image 1094 x 1228 mm (43 x 48¼ inches), sheet 1152 x 1286 mm (45¼ x 50¾ inches). (Some small losses at sheet edges, a few small holes affecting some letters, a few other repairs.) Archivally mounted, matted and framed. Provenance: William L. Dayton (1807-1864), Senator from New Jersey and Minister Plenipotentiary to France under Abraham Lincoln, purchased in Paris, 1862 and given to; The New Jersey Historical Society (see below).
ABEL BUELL'S MONUMENTAL WALL MAP OF 1784: AMERICA'S FIRST NATIONAL MAP -- A LEGENDARY RARITY
Abel Buell's "A New and Correct Map of the United States of North America" represents numerous "firsts" in the cartographic history of the United States: in addition to being THE FIRST MAP OF THE UNITED STATES PUBLISHED IN AMERICA, it is the first map printed in America to show the flag of the United States and the first map to be copyrighted in the United States. Despite these important attributes, and the grandeur of its production, it is known in only a handful of copies, with the New Jersey Historical Society's ranking among the finest in condition and state of preservation. Paul Cohen, whose recent study of the map brings Buell's cartographic work into full light, notes that "Because Buell's map is unobtainable to collectors, it has become one of the most coveted of all American maps. None has been reported in private hands, and only three examples have changed hands in the past 120 years. If one were for sale today, it would command the highest price of any map printed in America."
ABEL BUELL: CONNECTICUT SILVERSMITH, TYPEFOUNDER AND ENGRAVER
Both before and after Buell created "one of the most important American cartographical documents," he led a varied and complicated entrepreneurial life (Stokes & Haskell). A native of Killingworth, Connecticut, Buell gained early notoriety in his state as a counterfeiter. In 1764, when he was just 22 years old, he was convicted of altering currency of the colony from two shillings six pence to thirty shillings. Caught in this act of counterfeiting, he was sentenced to the mandatory punishment of "imprisonment, cropping and branding," though his prosecutor was restrained: "The tip only of Buell's ear was cropped off: it was held on his tongue to keep it warm till it was put on his ear again, where it grew on. He was branded on the forehead as high as possible. This was usually done by a hot iron, in the form of a letter designating the crime" (John Warner Barber, Connecticut Historical Collections, 2nd ed., New Haven, 1836, pp.531-32).
Buell moved to New Haven in 1770. Within a short time, he had established his own business there as the leading copper-plate engraver in the state. Lawrence C. Wroth, Buell's only biographer, characterized him as "a restless, unstable, inventive genius" and his many inventions and career changes bear this out. Adding to his list of firsts is that of type maker: he was the first to make printing types cut and cast in America. He invented a machine for grinding and polishing precious stones (making him the first Connecticut resident to receive a patent), and another for processing cotton. After the Revolutionary War ended, Buell used the minting machine he had invented to cast the State of Connecticut's first official pennies. And he is remembered well by decorative arts collectors as a silversmith, the art in which he first apprenticed. Somehow, with all his accomplishments, Buell could not maintain his business, had an often tumultuous family life and various poor business ventures cost him his financial security. He died in 1825 in the New Haven Almshouse.
A MONUMENTAL MAP OF THE EMBRYONIC NATION
A master of self-promotion, Buell advertised the just-completed map in the Connecticut Journal for March 31, 1784: "the first ever compiled, engraved, and finished by one man, and an American." Paul Cohen notes: "It should be pointed out that maps had been published in colonial America since 1677, but a new chapter in American cartography began after the formal establishment of the United States. After the Revolutionary War, new boundaries were determined, albeit imprecisely, at the Definitive Treaty of Peace, and proper maps of the country could then be published. Buell's was the first of the thirteen states to be published after the Congress of Confederation ratified the Treaty on January 14, 1784, but it was not the first to use the words 'United States,' as a few European publishers had employed them on maps before the ratification of the treaty." Connecticut was the first state to establish a copyright law and Buell's map is found in a 28 October 1783 petition to the Connecticut General Assembly. The copy at the New York Public Library does not contain the copyright information in the imprint and is therefore considered the first state. The remaining known copies, including the present, represent the second state, which in terms of its primacy of position as copyright holder gives it special consideration.
An earlier map had been proposed by William McMurray in the 9 August 1783 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet. Murray's manuscript map "United States According to the Definitive Treaty of Peace" was on display in the Coffee House at Philadelphia, but subscriptions came slowly. Buell had the advantage of being a printer, and beat McMurray to the honor. Credit was not given to Buell until much later though, since the Library of Congress lacked (and still lacks) a copy. P. Lee Phillips, Chief, Division of Maps and Charts, stated in 1917 that McMurray's map (which the Library possessed) "may be called the first official map of the United States." In 1924, he realized the error: "Buell's map, as far as the actual printing is concerned, comes before that of McMurray by [eight] months."
Buell synthesized a great deal of cartographic information in the short time he took to prepare his wall map. The key sources were John Mitchell's famous map of North America and Lewis Evans's of the Middle British Colonies (both 1755). Mitchell's had been a source for the negotiations at the Treaty of Peace after the Revolutionary War. Thomas Hutchins' map of the Trans-Allegheny region was another important source, as was Jonathan Carver's map of his explorations of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River. "Buell, adept in cartographic synthesis, incorporated the geography of Carver into his map as well. When Buell added the prime meridian, he ignored convention by not intersecting it with the Azores, London or Paris. Instead, he chauvinistically drew the line through the capital city of the United States, thus orienting the earth from Philadelphia" (Cohen).
State borders were highly confused and poorly established at this time. Buell's own state of Connecticut is seen as the widest in the country, as it claimed lands that crossed the Hudson River, Pennsylvania and through the middle of the Northwest Territory before stopping at the Mississippi River. New York State is "swallowed up in Connecticut's mammoth landmass and is not named on the map" (Cohen). Buell was aware of the map's inaccuracies, and petitioned to have exclusive rights to update it for seven years. Given his continually wandering spirit, he never fulfilled this plan.
Amos Doolitte (the skilled printmaker who later assisted Buell's wife when Buell fled to Florida to again avoid some legal entanglements) appears to have assisted Buell in the printing of his grand wall map. Measuring 43" x 48" and printed on four sheets, its scale and presentation impress upon the viewer both the grandeur of the new nation and the skill of the engraver. The unusually dramatic engraved lettering cascades across its surface in varying sizes and directions, creating a dynamic visual field.
Within the large cartouche is found the FIRST FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES on a map printed in America. It carries thirteen stars, and is lit by the morning sun. Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war, blows her trumpet. Next to the title is Liberty, her staff supporting her liberty cap. "The globe in her hand shows the fledgling nation facing onward, and at Liberty's feet, the date of the first Independence Day is boldly engraved on a scroll" (Cohen).
The Buell map has been at the New Jersey Historical Society since 1862. William L. Dayton (1807-1864), senator from New Jersey from 1842 to 1850, sent the copy from Paris, France that year while serving as Abraham Lincoln's minister plenipotentiary to France. Dayton spent his leisure time in Parisian bookstores and bookstalls looking for books and maps to donate to the New Jersey Historical Society. Though his family had founded Dayton, Ohio, he was "to the core a Jerseyman" (Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, 1860-64, quoted in Cohen). William A. Whitefield, the Society's secretary, received word from Dayton that he was to receive "some old foreign maps of the United States and other countries of North America." Buell's map was sent to the society with an atlas by Antoine de Sartine, and since both were found in Paris, it is presumed Dayton took both to be foreign publications.
The gift of the map was recorded accurately in the 1862 Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society: the first accurate bibliographical citation for the map. It remained, however, unknown to scholars - including Phillips, Wroth, Stokes and Evans - until the Society's 1961 exhibition on cartography, Early Maps of North America. This was the first time that a Buell map had ever been in an exhibition. "As soon as the NJHS copy entered the bibliographical record for the second time, scholars recognized that, despite the chipping around its margins, it was one of the best examples, largely because it had never been varnished and had lain undisturbed for so long" (Cohen). The Society's copy is that most often illustrated in books and periodicals. Some acclaim followed the exhibition, and the Society published a monograph and color facsimile in 1963. Upon receiving the publication, the British Library notified the New Jersey Historical Society of the copy in their collection.
EXCEEDINGLY SCARCE: Only two copies of Buell's map have been sold in the twentieth century: I.N. Phelps purchased his copy in 1915 (now in the New York Public Library) and the American Geographical Society sold its copy to Yale in 1952. Both of these copies were varnished at the time of publication, a treatment that has caused oxidation and the paper to become brittle. It should be noted that several bibliographies have erroneously reported a copy in the collection of the New York Historical Society. The following census describes the 7 located copies.
CENSUS OF COPIES:
State I (lacking the copyright line in the imprint):
1. New York Public Library
State II (with the addition of the copyright line in the imprint):
3. Connecticut Historical Society
4. New Jersey Historical Society (the present)
5. British Library
6. Public Records Office, London (now The National Archives, Kew Gardens)
7. Spain: one copy separated between the Biblioteca National de España (three sheets) and the Archivo Histórico Nacínal, Diego de Gardoqui papers (one sheet)
Paul E. Cohen, "Setting the Record Straight on America's First National Map: Abel Buell's Map of the United States," unpublished essay, 2010.
Robert M. Lunny, Early Maps of North America, p.41; Barbara Backus McCorckle, New Engand in Early Printed Maps 1513 to 1800, 784.3; Philip L. Phillips, "Notes on Bernard Romans," pp. 33-34; Seymour I. Schwartz and Ralph E. Ehrenberg, The Mapping of America, p. 205; I.N. Phelps Stokes & Daniel C. Haskell, American Historical Prints, 1783 A-6; J.C. Wheat & C.F. Brun, Maps & Charts Published in America Before 1800, 109 (state I), 110 (state II). Lawrence C. Wroth, Abel Buell, pp. 63-70.
Christie's thank Paul E. Cohen for his assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.