1817 Thomson Map of Arabia, Egypt, and Abysinnia

Arabia, Egypt, Abyssinia, Red Sea & c.

1817 Thomson Map of Arabia, Egypt, and Abysinnia


One of the finest maps of Arabia to appear in the 19th century.

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Arabia, Egypt, Abyssinia, Red Sea & c.
  1817 (undated)    20.5 x 23.5 in (52.07 x 59.69 cm)


This is an exceptionally fine example of John Thomson's 1817 map of Arabia, Egypt, and Abyssinia. Centered on the Arabian Peninsula, Thomson's map covers from the eastern Mediterranean to the Horn of Africa, and from the Libyan Desert to Persia. The whole of this map is beautifully engraved in the minimalist English style pioneered in the early part of the 19th century. Relief is shown by hachure with towns, caravan routes, cities, and major topographical features identified.

Engraved in 1817, this is the second edition of Thomson's Arabia map and, due to its extraordinary size and detail, is one of the finest maps of Arabia to be published in Europe during the early 19th century. The overall quality and depth of Menzies' engraving is altogether extraordinary and this particular example offers a fine crisp impression, suggesting an early strike off the plate. To create this map Thomson drew information from various sources including earlier maps and contemporary excursions into the region. He identifies several important pilgrimage routes across the Arabian Desert to Mecca, the great Caravan routes from the Nile Valley into the interior of Africa, and the Caravan route from Basra to Aleppo. The 1789 route of the frigate Venus through the Red Sea is especially noteworthy. Vice Admiral Rosily and the Venus explored the Red Sea thoroughly and declared it a practical and navigable avenue for European trade. Previously, the Red Sea had a reputation as dangerous to navigate and was thus largely avoided by the larger European trading vessels. This map deviates from previous versions with regard to the inclusions of more information in the Arabian Peninsula and in the Nile Valley – most of which was most likely drawn from the 1814 – 1816 excursions of John Lewis Burckhardt throughout the region.

This map is a steel plate engraving by J. and G. Menzies, and was prepared by John Thomson for inclusion in the 1817 edition of Thomson's New General Atlas.


Thomson's New General Atlas was first published in 1817 and continued to be published until about 1821. This is the first of Thomson's major cartographic works and the atlas for which is most celebrated. The New General Atlas follows in the Edinburgh School, which eschews excessive decoration in favor of a more minimalized fact -based cartographic vision, as established by John Pinkerton and others in the previous decades. The maps are notable for their massive scale, heavy stock, elegant color work, and easy-to-read typefaces. Although the atlas stopped being published after 1821, Thomson continued to offer 'supplementary' maps that could be tipped into the atlas as late as 1830, when he declared bankruptcy. The maps in the Thomson Atlas were engraved by Thomas Clerk, William Dassauville, Nathaniel Rogers Hewitt, James Kirkwood, Robert Kirkwood, John Menzies, George Menzies, Edward Mitchell, John Moffatt, Samuel John Neele, Robert Scott, and James Wyld.John Thomson (fl. 1804 - 1837) was a Scottish cartographer, publisher and bookbinder active in Edinburgh during the early part of the 19th century. Thomson is generally one of the leading masters of the Edinburgh school of cartography which flourished from roughly 1800 to 1830. Thomson & his contemporaries (Pinkerton & Cary) redefined European cartography by abandoning typical 18th century decorative elements such as elaborate title cartouches and fantastic beasts in favor of detail and accuracy. Thomson's principle works include the Thomson's New General Atlas, published from 1814 to 1821 and his Atlas of Scotland. The "Atlas of Scotland, a work of groundbreaking detail and dedication would eventually bankrupt the Thomson firm in 1830. Today Thomson maps are becoming increasingly rare as they are highly admired for their monumental size, vivid hand coloration, and superb detail.


Thomson, J. A New General Atlas, (Edinburgh) 1817.    


Very good condition. Original centerfold exhibits some minor discoloration. Some offsetting. Original plate mark visible. Blank on verso.


Rumsey 1007.050. Phillips (Atlases) 731. Newberry Library: Ayer 135 T4 1817.