1815 Thomson Map of China and Taiwan


1815 Thomson Map of China and Taiwan


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  1815 (dated)    23 x 20.5 in (58.42 x 52.07 cm)


This fascinating hand colored 1815 map depicts China with its provinces color-coded by hand. Interestingly, the map shows the course of the British 'Macartney Embassy' or 'Mission' of 1793. Escorted by the Royal Navy gunship H.M.S. Hindoostan, the H.M.S. Lion transported Lord George Macartney to China for a meeting with Emperor Qianlong. Macartney attempted, unsuccessfully, to ease trade restrictions between the two nations. Maccartney's failure was largely based on incompatibilities between the European and Chinese world views. The Qianlong Emperor operated on the assumption that all nations were in fact tributary to China whether they knew it or not and returned a letter to King George III commanding him to 'Tremblingly obey and show no negligence!' The episode aroused the imagination of the British public and generated interested in the lucrative China trade in general. Taiwan or Formosa Island, appearing in the lower right quadrant, is woefully misshapen.

The whole is beautifully engraved in the minimalist English style pioneered in the early part of the 19th century. Relief is shown by hachure with towns, cities, and major topographical features identified. Thomson maps are known for their stunning color, awe inspiring size, and magnificent detail. Thomson's work, including this map, represents some of the finest cartographic art of the 19th century. This beautiful map was engraved in 1815 by R. Scott, Edinburgh, for inclusion as plate 33 in Thomson's New General Atlas Edinburgh, 1817.


John Thomson (1777 - 1837) was a Scottish cartographer, publisher and bookbinder active in Edinburgh during the early part of the 19th century. Thomson apprenticed under Edinburgh bookbinder Robert Alison. After his apprenticeship he briefly went into business with Abraham Thomson. Later the two parted ways, John Thomson seguing into maps and Abraham Thomson taking over the bookbinding portion of the business. Thomson is generally one of the leading masters of the Edinburgh school of cartography which flourished from roughly 1800 to 1830. Thomson and his contemporaries (Pinkerton and 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 Thomson's New General Atlas, published from 1814 to 1821, the New Classical and Historical Atlas of 1829, and his 1830 Atlas of Scotland. The Atlas of Scotland, a work of groundbreaking detail and dedication would eventually bankrupt the Thomson firm in 1830, at which time their plates were sized.. The firm momentarily recovered in the subsequent years allowing Thomson to recover his printing plates in 1831, but filed again for bankruptcy in 1835, at which time most of his printing plates were sold to A. K. Johnston and company. 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) 1815.    


Very good condition. Original centerfold exhibits some light toning . Light soiling to outer margins. Original platemark visible. Blank on verso.


Rumsey 1007.042. Phillips (Atlases) 731. Newberry Library: Ayer 135 T4 1817.