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Plan of the City of New York, in North America surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767
Plan of the City of New York, in North America surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767
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Plan of the City of New York, in North America surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767

BERNARD RATZER, 1776

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Plan of the City of New York, in North America surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767
Bernard Ratzer, 1776
RATZER, Bernard. Plan of the City of New York, in North America surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767. London, Publishd according to Act of Parliament Jany. 12, 1776: by Jefferys & Faden, Corner of St. Martins Lane, Charing Cross, 1776.

New York City on the eve of Revolution. The only privately held copy in full contemporary color of the "finest map of an American city and its environs produced in the eighteenth century" (Cohen & Augustyn, Manhattan in Maps). The map itself is a highly accurate delineation of the bustling seaport of some twenty thousand people as it existed in the late 1760s at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. Cultivated fields, forests, and salt meadows are interspersed with large estates, offering the first meaningfully detailed view of the countryside surrounding the growing city: “No earlier map provided such a detailed view of the predevelopment topography of Manhattan” (Ibid). This expansive view of Manhattan from the Battery to present-day 50th Street, as well portions of Long Island, New Jersey and the islands of Upper New York Harbor, is complimented by an elaborate, panoramic view of New York City as seen from Governor's Island after a 1760 watercolor by Lt. Thomas Davies.

At the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, Great Britain found itself in control of most of North America, and the government in London dispatched its most capable topographical engineers and mapmakers to survey the hard-won spoils. Several of the most significant maps of America were created during the years between the French and Indian War and the Revolution. Ratzer’s New York is considered the jewel of this remarkable period of mapmaking. In his landmark Iconography of Manhattan Island, I. N. Phelps Stokes described this map as “one of the most beautiful, important and accurate plans of New York.”

This map's remarkable accuracy is rooted in the circumstances of its production—it was the expansion of a military survey ordered by General Thomas Gage in the wake of the Stamp Act Riots that rocked New York in the fall of 1765. A little more than a decade later, the British captured Manhattan and the island and harbor served as their base of operations during the entire war. The Razter map would prove to be a key reference for planners on both sides of the War of Independence. Today it reminds us of New York’s often overlooked, central role in the story of the American Revolution.

Extremely rare. Bernard Ratzer’s Plan of the City of New York is widely considered a cartographic masterpiece, and this is the finest example known in private ownership. Copies in contemporary color are exceedingly rare—the only other identified example belonged to George III and now is in the British Library. The present copy was unknown until 1997 when it appeared in Manhattan in Maps (Rizzoli) and had been part of a cartographic collection that included six manuscript maps of General Lafayette’s battles. Now at the Library of Congress, they were all in the hand of Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy, the youthful general’s aide-de-camp and personal mapmaker. De Chesnoy’s working copies of printed maps of America rounded out the rest of the collection and included this Ratzer. They provided the cartographer with the best maps available of areas that would become battlefields. London engraver Thomas Kitchen first published the Ratzer Map in 1770 (only three examples survive from that printing), with heightened interest in the American conflict, Jefferys & Faden reissued it in 1776. Once Capitaine du Chesnoy acquired this second state, he had it superbly colored in the same manner as the others in his collection. All were mounted on matching linen and have manuscript labels in the same hand.

Since its appearance in Manhattan in Maps, this copy has been featured in New York: A Documentary Film, directed by Ric Burns, and is reproduced in New York An Illustrated History (Knopf, 1999), the volume that accompanied the documentary. This Ratzer is also reproduced in American Cities (Assouline, 2002).

Copperplate engraving with contemporary hand-coloring, in three sheets, joined, dissected into 30 panels and laid down on 18th century French linen. 1200 x 890mm. Title set on lower left corner of map with decorative cartouche and list of references, one compass rose, inset scale bar, and dedication to Sir Henry Moore, Governor of New York at the upper left corner. Manuscript label on verso (“No. 26 Plan de la ville de New-york et les Environs”). (Occasional light toning, mild edge wear.)

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Sallie Glover
Sallie Glover Associate Specialist, Americana
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