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1856 Charles Desliver Pocket Map of the United States

A New Map of the United States of America. - Main View

1856 Charles Desliver Pocket Map of the United States


Guide map for transcontinental emigrant travel in the antebellum period.



A New Map of the United States of America.
  1856 (dated)     17 x 27.5 in (43.18 x 69.85 cm)     1 : 875000


An unusual example of Charles Desilver's 1856 pocket map of the United States. The map covers the United States from coast to coast during the post-Mexican American War / pre-Civil War Period - a era of incredible national optimism, Indian Wars, the California Gold Rush, and rapid westward expansion. This map is from the first Desilver edition of Mitchell's Traveller's Guide, and is the first map in that series to illustrate the United States from coast to coast. An inset map in the lower left details the California Gold Region - the final destination for many of the travelers who would be using this map.

An Emigrant Guide

As an emigrant guide, the focus of the map are the transcontinental routes available to the contemporary traveler. As of 1856, the transcontinental railroads had not yet been completed and the main railroad routes could take a traveler no farther than Omaha City or Independence, Missouri From there, travelers would begin the long and arduous overland voyage along a number of possible trails, including the Santa Fe Route, the Oregon Route, one of two southern routes passing through Oklahoma and Texas, or a northern route following the Missouri River to Washington. The map makes some attempt to illustrate topography, particularly as it pertains to the difficult transit of the Rocky Mountains, but is mostly a trail map focusing on rivers, canals, railroads, and covered wagon routes.

The Great Pacific Railroad

Many of the overland routes extending westward from Missouri follow various routes proposed for a planned transcontinental railroad, as described in a long annotation situated in the Gulf of Mexico. The proposed 'Great Pacific Railroad' had three possible routes along with numerous variations: the northern route, shown here following the Missouri River; a Central Route, generally following the 1853 surveys of the Gunnison-Beckwith expedition, passing through the Rocky Mountains near Great Salt Lake; and a more southerly route passing along the Mexico-US border through lands acquired in the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. The nation's great plans for a trans-continental railroad were sadly 'derailed' by political squabbling and the onset of the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). Nonetheless, construction began on January 8, 1863 and the 'Golden Spike' was driven in on May 10, 1869, at last achieving the great ambition of the prior 20 years.

An Emerging Nation

Politically there is much of interest. The lands to the west of Missouri were generally massive and only partially explored territories. Nebraska extending from the Kansas northern boarder to the modern Canada southern border, embraces much of modern day Nebraska, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Utah Territory includes all of modern day Utah and Nevada. Although by this time the Mormons had made great progress developing Salt Lake City, Fillmore, further south, remained the territorial capital. Both Oregon and Washington extended from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains. Arizona, as yet, had not appeared, with New Mexico extending from California to Texas, with its capital at Santa Fe. Texas, following the Compromise of 1850, appears much as it does today.

American Cartographic History

Cartographically, the map is derived from an earlier map engraved by J. H. Young and published by Samuel Augusts Mitchell Sr. in 1849. Variants of this map appeared in many editions of Mitchell's Universal Atlas and Mitchell's General Atlas (Published by Thomas Cowperthwait) until 1856, when the Mitchell atlas plates were purchased by Charles Desilver. Desilver hired the engravers J. L. Hazzard and E. Yeager to retool the old Mitchell plates with significant new information, updated physical and political geography, an elaborate acanthus leaf border, and additional explanatory annotations. He also added a distinctive new color scheme marked by bright reds, oranges, and blues, that would later become the hallmark of Samuel Augusts Mitchell Jr.'s maps, published after he reacquired the Mitchell trademark and map plates form Desilver in 1859.

This map accompanied the first Desilver edition of Mitchell's Traveller's Guide. The Mitchell's Traveller's Guide, first published by S. A. Mitchell in 1841, is iconic as the quintessential American trail guide. Versions of the Mitchell guide accompanied the Mormon Pioneers on their historic voyage to Salt Lake, countless 49ers heading west in search of wealth, missionary explorers, and other emigrants. Earlier editions of the guide typically featured a different map focusing on that part of the United States east of Arkansas and Missouri. Desilver expanded the coverage with this new, coast to coast, map, to reflect both the needs of westward migrants and the grand scope of the newly enlarge nation.


Charles Desilver (fl. c. 1850 - 1862) was a little known American map publisher active in the middle part of the 19th century. Desilver began is cartographic career as a partner in the firm Thomas, Cowperthwait and Company, the publisher of Samuel Augustus Mitchell's popular New Universal Atlas. In 1856, Desilver acquired Mitchell's copyrights and began publishing his own variant on the New Universal Atlas. Desilver revised Mitchell's maps with a new grillwork border, his own color scheme, new titles, and some updated political data. Despite a noble pedigree, Desilver's maps did not sell well - possibly because they followed the long and very popular run of Mitchell's own atlases. Desliver continued to publish his atlas until 1859 (though we have heard that he also published an 1862 edition). In 1859 he resold the Mitchell copyrights and printing plates to S. A. Mitchell's son S. A. Mitchell, Jr. The younger Mitchell again updated the plates with his own border and color scheme. He began publishing his own successful atlas in 1860. Learn More...

James Hamilton Young (December 18, 1792 - c. 1870) was a Scottish-American draughtsman, engraver, and cartographer active in Philadelphia during the first half of the 19th century. Young was born in Avondale, Lanark, Scotland and emigrated to the United States sometime before 1817. Young was a pioneer in American steel plate engraving, a process superior to copper plate engraving due to the increased durability of steel. His earliest known maps date to about 1817, when Young was 25. At the time he was partnered with William Kneass (1780 - 1840), as Kneass, Young and Company, an imprint that was active from 1817 to 1820. He then partnered with with George Delleker, publishing under the imprint of Young and Delleker, active from 1822 to 1823. Young engraved for numerous cartographic publishers in the Philadelphia area, including Anthony Finley, Charles Varle, and Samuel Augustus Mitchell, among others. His most significant work includes maps engraved for for Anthony Finley and later Samuel Augustus Mitchell. Mitchell proved to be Young's most significant collaborator. The pair published numerous maps from about 1831 well into the 1860s. Young retired sometime in the mid to late 1860s. In 1840 he registered a patent for an improved system of setting up typography for printing. ˆˆ Learn More...

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. Learn More...


Desilver, C. Mitchell's New Traveller's Guide through the United States and the Canadas, (Philadelphia: Charles Desilver) 1856.    


Very good. Removed from but accompanied by original travelers guide. A few minor verso reinforcements at fold intersections.q


OCLC 456486736.