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1855 Imray Nautical Map of the East United States: New York to Florida

Chart of the East Coast of North America, Extending from New York to the Strait of Florida, including Plans on a Large Scale of the Principal Harbors, Drawn chiefly from the Surveys made by order of the United States Government. - Main View

1855 Imray Nautical Map of the East United States: New York to Florida


One of only three known examples of this important early chart covering Florida, Virginia, Georgia, New Jersey, and the Carolinas.


Chart of the East Coast of North America, Extending from New York to the Strait of Florida, including Plans on a Large Scale of the Principal Harbors, Drawn chiefly from the Surveys made by order of the United States Government.
  1855 (dated)     41 x 78 in (104.14 x 198.12 cm)     1 : 750000


An extremely scarce, highly decorative, and monumentally proportioned 1855 sea chart or maritime map detailing the eastern coast of the United States from New York City to southern Florida (roughly around Palm Beach). The map was prepared by the British chart publisher James Imray and Son in their distinctive expansive style. In a broad spread, it includes the coasts of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. The Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, New York Harbor, the Bahama Banks, and the Outer Banks are rendered in beautiful detail. The chart is presented on a Mercator Projection with latitude measured from Greenwich, England. Like most nautical charts, the cartographer offers very little inland detail, but a wealth of maritime data. This includes the identification of various ports and harbors, coastal topography, shoals and other undersea dangers, and countless depth soundings in fathoms.

This chart further features six large insets in the upper right quadrant offering detailed charts of 'Tybee Bay and the Mouth of the Savannah River', 'Cape Fear River and Frying-Pan Shoals', 'Cape Hatteras', 'Charleston Harbor', the 'entrance of the River Delaware', and the 'entrance to Chesapeake Bay'. The cartography of the insets generally follows the preliminary work of the U. S. Coast Survey in their respective regions.
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 warp 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. 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, like most maps published by James Imray before his death in 1870, this chart is extremely scarce with only two known examples appearing in institutional collections and none in private hands. James Imray's Son, James Frederick Imray, did publish a similar far more common chart, covering roughly the same region but following the minimalist stylistic conventions of the British Admiralty, in 1883.


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...


Very good, remarkably so. Minor soiling, right side. Minor verso repair, left side. Occasional manuscript annotation and additional soundings added in pencil. Is much cleaner than image above suggests due to difficulties in imaging such a large piece.