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1855 Colton Map of Washginton D.C. and the Chesapeake Bay Region

Colton's Georgetown and the city of Washington the Capital of the United States of America. / Colton's Map Showing Part of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey & New York. - Main View

1855 Colton Map of Washginton D.C. and the Chesapeake Bay Region


One of only four known examples.


Colton's Georgetown and the city of Washington the Capital of the United States of America. / Colton's Map Showing Part of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey & New York.
  1855 (dated)     15 x 27 in (38.1 x 68.58 cm)


A highly unusual discovery, this is an independently issued c. 1862 map of Washington D.C. and the Chesapeake Bay area by the American cartographer J. H. Colton. Our research has only been able to identify three known examples of this map, two in the Library of Congress and one in the collections of Stanford University. Most known examples are found in the papers associated with important 19th century political figures. Curiously, this map is that it is clearly a composite, printed on two sheets and then joined with a unifying and elaborate decorative border by the publisher. Moreover, the map is backed on linen, printed on mid-weight paper, and shows no signs of folding. This approach itself is unusual, suggesting an exceptionally small run – possibly a prototype map or a map made at the request of a few potent political figures. The engraver, whose name is attached to the map as a whole is Lang & Liang, of 117 Fulton Street, New York. The Lang & Liang firm is associated with several military themed Colton maps issued in New York in 1862, at the height of the American Civil War. Though the map is dated 1855, the use of Lang & Liang, as well as the subject matter – which focuses on the Sea of the Civil War between Richmond and Washington D.C. – confidently suggests it must have been published in 1862.

essentially two maps in one, the left most map details Washington D.C. at the street level and corresponds with Colton's atlas work dating from 1855. Covers the city in incredible detail from Georgetown (Georgetown University, then College, shown) in the upper left quadrant to Alexander's Island in the south and as far east as Magazine Warf. Hand colored in pink, green, yellow and blue pastels with considerable detail at the level of individual streets and buildings. The map as a whole reflects Pierre L'enfant's brilliant city design, showing the iconic grid and ray street layout. Individual buildings such as the Smithsonian, the White House, the Capitol, the Arsenal, Penitentiary, Naval Yard, Poor House, Asylum, and Post office are all indicated. Features three inset engravings: The Smithsonian Institution, the Capitol, and a preliminary plan for the Washington Monument. Dated and copyrighted to J. H. Colton, 1855.

The right hand map focuses on the Seat of the Civil War, centered on the Chesapeake Bay and the disputed corridor between the warring capitals of Richmond and Washington D.C. While the attached Washington D.C. plan is clearly drawn from Colton's atlas maps of the period, this regional map does not correspond to any of Colton's Atlas maps. It is most likely a fragment derived from one of Colton's wall maps, or possibly from his New Topographical Map of the States of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, which covers a similar area, on a similar scale, and was also engraved by Lang and Liang in the same year, 1862. On this map the sites of important cities contested during the Civil War, including Washington D.C., Richmond, Baltimore, Annapolis, and Harper's Ferry are underlined in red.

All in all a fine map and a unique opportunity to own an extremely rare Civil War publication.


Joseph Hutchins Colton (July 5, 1800 - July 29, 1893), often publishing as J. H. Colton, was an important American map and atlas publisher active from 1833 to 1897. Colton's firm arose from humble beginnings when he moved to New York in 1831 and befriended the established engraver Samuel Stiles. He worked under Stiles as the 'Co.' in Stiles and Co. from 1833 to 1836. Colton quickly recognized an emerging market in railroad maps and immigrant guides. Not a cartographer or engraver himself, Colton's initial business practice mostly involved purchasing the copyrights of other cartographers, most notably David H. Burr, and reissuing them with updated engraving and border work. His first maps, produced in 1833, were based on earlier Burr maps and depicted New York State and New York City. Between 1833 and 1855 Colton would proceed to publish a large corpus of guidebooks and railroad maps which proved popular. In the early 1850s Colton brought his two sons, George Woolworth Colton (1827 - 1901) and Charles B. Colton (1832 - 1916), into the map business. G. W. Colton, trained as a cartographer and engraver, was particularly inspired by the idea of creating a large and detailed world atlas to compete established European firms for the U.S. market. In 1855, G.W. Colton issued volume one the impressive two volume Colton's Atlas of the World. Volume two followed a year later. Possibly because of the expense of purchasing a two-volume atlas set, the sales of the Atlas of the World did not meet Colton's expectations and so, in 1856, the firm also issued the atlas as a single volume. The maps contained in this superb work were all original engravings and most bear an 1855 copyright. All of the maps were surrounded by an attractive spiral motif border that would become a hallmark of Colton's atlas maps well into the 1880s. In 1857, the slightly smaller Colton's General Atlas replaced the Atlas of the World, which lacked the border. Most early editions of the General Atlas published from 1857 to 1859 do not have the trademark Colton spiral border, which was removed to allow the maps to fit into a smaller format volume. Their customers must have missed the border because it was reinstated in 1860 and remained in all subsequent publications of the atlas. There were also darker times ahead, in 1858 Colton was commissioned at sum of 25,000 USD by the government of Bolivia to produce and deliver 10,000 copies a large format map of that country. Although Colton completed the contract in good faith, delivering the maps at his own expense, he was never paid by Bolivia, which was at the time in the midst of a series national revolutions. Colton would spend the remainder of his days fighting with the Bolivian and Peruvian governments over this payment and in the end, after a congressional intervention, received as much as 100,000 USD in compensation. Nonetheless, at the time it must have been a disastrous blow. J. H. Colton and Company is listed as one of New York's failed companies in the postal record of 1859. It must have been this that led Colton into the arms of Alvin Jewett Johnson and Ross C. Browning. The 1859 edition of Colton's General Atlas lists Johnson and Browning as the 'Successor's to J. H. Colton' suggesting an outright buyout, but given that both companies continued to publish separately, the reality is likely more complex. Whatever the case may have been, this arrangement gave Johnson and Browning access to many of Colton's map plates and gave birth to Johnson's New Illustrated (Steel Plate) Family Atlas. The Johnson's Atlas was published parallel to Colton's atlas well in to the 1880s. The Colton firm itself subsequently published several other atlases including an Atlas of America, the Illustrated Cabinet Atlas, the Octavo Atlas of the Union, and Colton's Quarto Atlas of the World. They also published a large corpus of wall maps, pocket maps, and guides. The last known publications of the Colton firm date to 1897 and include a map and a view, both issued in association with the Merchant's Association of New York. Alice M. Colton married August R. Ohman (May 3, 1859 - April 22, 1934) on January 5, 1897. In 1898, Ohman joined the Colton firm, which continued to publish as Colton, Ohman & Co. until 1901. More by this mapmaker...


Very good. Even overall toning. Backed with old linen. Minor spot, top center.


Library of Congress, Adams Family Papers, MSS10199. Library of Congress, Adams Family Papers, MSS57240. Library of Congress, John Spencer Bassett Papers, MSS81299. Stanford University Libraries, Oscar I. Norwich Collection.