1884 Imray Blueback Chart of Spice Islands w/ Voyages Noted

East India Archipelago [Eastern Passages to China and Japan] [Chart No. 5]. - Main View

1884 Imray Blueback Chart of Spice Islands w/ Voyages Noted


Surveying the Spice Islands.


East India Archipelago [Eastern Passages to China and Japan] [Chart No. 5].
  1884 (dated)     51 x 41 in (129.54 x 104.14 cm)     1 : 1100000


A large-format 1884 James Imray blueback chart of a portion of the Spice Islands, along with Palau and parts of Mindanao and New Guinea, centered on the Halmaheira (Halmahera) Sea.
A Closer Look
Coverage ranges from the southeastern corner of Mindanao south to Buru (Boero) and Ceram Islands, and from the easternmost portion of Celebes (Sulawesi) at left to Palau and New Guinea at right. Soundings, hazards, shoals, anchorages, bottoms, and other information are provided in coastal areas. On land, topography is illustrated, and elevation given for peaks when possible. Notes throughout provide additional help for the navigator, such as 'safe channel,' 'fresh water,' and 'active volcano.' A note below the title urges caution, as these waters were only 'cursorily surveyed,' and at various points, parenthetical notes admit that the available geographic / hydrographic information is uncertain or even doubtful. Pencil annotations record the daily location at noon of a vessel that traversed these waters twice in 1899.
Blueback Charts
Blueback nautical charts began appearing in London in the late 18th century. Bluebacks, as they came to be called, were privately published large format nautical charts known for their distinctive blue paper backing. The backing, a commonly available blue manila paper traditionally used by publishers to wrap unbound pamphlets, was adopted as a practical way to reinforce the low-quality paper used by private chart publishers in an effort to cut costs. That being said, not all blueback charts are literally backed with blue paper. The earliest known blueback charts include a 1760 chart issued by Mount and Page, and a 1787 chart issued by Robert Sayer.

The tradition took off in the early 19th century, when British publishers like John Hamilton Moore, Robert Blachford, James Imray, William Heather, John William Norie, Charles Wilson, David Steel, R. H. Laurie, and John Hobbs, among others, rose to dominate the chart trade. Bluebacks became so popular that the convention was embraced by chartmakers outside of England, including Americans Edmund March Blunt and George Eldridge, as well as Scandinavian, French, German, Russian, and Spanish chartmakers. Blueback charts remained popular until the late 19th century, when government subsidized organizations like the British Admiralty Hydrographic Office and the United States Coast Survey began issuing their own superior charts on high quality paper that did not require reinforcement.
Publication History and Census
This chart was published by James Imray and Son in 1882, while the blue stamp near the title suggests corrections to 1884. The top and bottom margins include the text 'Sheet 10' and 'Sheet 9,' respectively, suggesting that two sheets were joined to produce this chart (as does a relatively dark strip running left-right at center). It was the fifth chart in a series titled 'Eastern Passages to China and Japan' (a related series titled 'Western Passages to China and Japan' was also published). The only known example of this chart in institutional collections is an 1864 edition held by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.


James Imray (May 16, 1803 - November 15, 1870) was a Scottish hydrographer and stationer active in London during the middle to latter part of the 19th century. Imray is best known as a the largest and most prominent producer of blue-back charts, a kind of nautical chart popular from about 1750 to 1920 and named for its distinctive blue paper backing (although not all charts that may be called "blue-backs" actually have a blue backing). Unlike government charts issued by the British Admiralty, U.S. Coast Survey, and other similar organizations, Imray's charts were a private profit based venture and not generally the result of unique survey work. Rather, Imray's charts were judicious and beautiful composites based upon pre-existing charts (some dating to the 17th century) and new information gleaned from governmental as well as commercial pilots and navigators. Imray was born in Spitalfields, England, the eldest son of a Jacobite dyer also named James. Imray did not follow his father profession, instead apprenticing to William Lukyn, a stationer. He established himself as a bookseller and bookbinder at 116 Minories Street, where he shared offices with the nautical chart publisher Robert Blanchford. In 1836 Imray signed on as a full partner in Blanchford's enterprise, christening themselves Blanchford & Imray. At this time the Blanchford firm lagged far behind competing chart publishers Norie and Laruie, nevertheless, with the injection of Imray's marketing savvy the firm began a long rise. James Imray bought out Blanchford's share in 1846, becoming the sole proprietor of the chart house, publishing under the imprint of James Imray. Relocating in 1850 to larger offices at 102 Minories, Imray was well on track to become the most prominent chart publisher in London. In 1854, when Imray's 25 year old son, James Frederick Imray, joined as a full partner, the firm again changed its imprint, this time to James Imray and Son. The elder Imray was a master of marketing and was quick to respond to trade shifts and historic events. Many of his most successful charts were targeted to specific trade routes, for example, he issued charts entitled "Cotton Ports of Georgia" and "Rice Ports of India". Other charts emerged quickly following such events as the 1849 California Gold Rush. Imray's rise also coincided with the development of governmental mapping organizations such as the Admiralty and the U.S. Coast Survey, whose work he appropriated and rebranded in practical format familiar to navigators. Imray's death in 1870 marked a major transition in the firm's output and began its decline. Though Imray's son, James Frederick, excelled at authoring pilot books he had little experience with charts and issued few new publications. Most James Frederick Imray publications issued from 1870 to 1899 were either revisions of earlier maps prepared by his father or copies of British Admiralty charts. Charts from this period are recognizable as being less decorative than the elder Imray's charts following the stylistic conventions established by the Admiralty. The Admiralty itself at the same time began to rise in prominence, issuing its own official charts that were both cheaper and more up to date than those offered by private enterprises. By the end of the century the firm was well in decline and, in 1899 "James Imray and Son" amalgamated with the similarly suffering "Norie and Wilson", which was itself acquired by Laurie in 1904. Today it continues to publish maritime charts as "Imray, Laurie, Norie and Wilson". More by this mapmaker...


Good. Some pencil markings. Light soiling.


Royal Museums Greenwich G258:8/1 (1864 edition).