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1854 Mitchell Map of Africa

Africa. - Main View

1854 Mitchell Map of Africa


Africa just prior to Speke, Livingstone, and Stanley.



  1854 (dated 1850)     12.5 x 15.5 in (31.75 x 39.37 cm)


A fine example of Thomas Cowperthwait and S. A. Mitchell's 1854 map of Africa and Liberia. Details the continent of Africa on the cusp of the great exploratory expeditions of the mid-19th century undertaken by Speke, Livingstone, and Stanley. Much of the interior remains unknown, even speculative. The 'Supposed Mountains of the Moon' stretch across the continent – a relic 5th century B.C. speculations regarding the source of the Nile. The course of the Niger is speculatively mapped along what is roughly its correct course. Lake Malawi, near Mozambique, appears in embryonic form, no doubt drawn from indigenous and missionary reports, but gives some hint of the great Rift Valley lakes soon to be discovered. European colonies and outposts dot the coastlines and the great Arab caravan routes across the Sahara are noted. In the lower left quadrant there is a detail of Liberia drawn from Gurley's report. Liberia, which had been founded in 1821 as a refuge for free blacks from the United State had, just a few years previous in 1847, become an independent state and was an object of curiosity for Mitchell's largely American audience. The whole is engraved in Mitchell's distinctive style with green border work and vivid pastels. Political and topographical features are noted and color coded with elevation rendered by hachure.

This map was prepared by S. A. Mitchell for publication by the Philadelphia firm of Thomas Cowperthwait & Co. as plate no. 71 in the 1854 edition of Mitchell's New General Atlas. Dated and copyrighted, 'Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1850 by Thomas Cowperthwait & Co. in the Clerk's office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.'


Samuel Augustus Mitchell (March 20, 1792 - December 20, 1868) began his map publishing career in the early 1830s. Having worked as a school teacher, Mitchell was frustrated with the low quality and inaccuracy of school texts of the period. His first maps were an attempt to rectify this problem. In the next 20 years Mitchell would become the most prominent American map publisher of the mid-19th century. Mitchell worked with prominent engravers J. H. Young, H. S. Tanner, and H. N. Burroughs before attaining the full copyright on his maps in 1847. In 1849 Mitchell either partnered with or sold his plates to Thomas, Cowperthwait and Company who continued to publish the Mitchell's Universal Atlas. By about 1856 most of the Mitchell plates and copyrights were acquired by Charles Desilver who continued to publish the maps, many with modified borders and color schemes, until Mitchell's son, Samuel Augustus Mitchell Junior, entered the picture. In 1859, S.A. Mitchell Jr. purchased most of the plates back from Desilver and introduced his own floral motif border. From 1860 on, he published his own editions of the New General Atlas. The younger Mitchell became as prominent as his father, publishing maps and atlases until 1887, when most of the copyrights were again sold and the Mitchell firm closed its doors for the final time.


Mitchell, S. A., A New Universal Atlas Containing Maps of the various Empires, Kingdoms, States and Republics Of The World, (Thomas Cowperthwait & Co., Philadelphia) 1854.    


Very good condition. Blank on verso.


Rumsey 0537.069 (1846 edition). Phillips (Atlases) 814.