The Magnificent Colton – Burr Map of New York City

Topographical Map of the City and County of New-York

Topographical Map of the City and County of New-York, and the adjacent Country: With Views in the border of the principal Buildings and interesting Scenery of the Island. https://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/TopographicalMapNewYork-colton-1840

When I started my business, this was the map I wanted above all others. I quickly discovered that it was a near unobtainable object with almost no contemporary market history. After nearly 20 years as a rare map dealer, I finally found one, and just as quickly, it disappeared again, passed on to a deserving and enthusiastic collector. (Click on the image above to go out our main website page for the map and double click on that image for a high-resolution zoom.) What I discovered in researching this magnificent map is that very little scholarship was available on the well-known map, so, although the map has been sold, here is what we discovered:

Known as ‘The Colton Map,’ this is an unrecorded state of a 1840 map of New York City (Manhattan) by David H. Burr and John Hutchins Colton considered to be the finest and most decorative map of the city to appear in the 19th century. According to map historian I. N. Phelps Stokes, Colton’s map is

one of the most beautiful nineteenth-century plans of Manhattan, and full of information … the best example of really artistic mapmaking as applied to Manhattan Island

 

The map covers all of Manhattan Island as well as part of adjacent Brooklyn, Newark, Weehawken, Jersey City, and Hoboken. It starkly contrasts the development in southern Manhattan south of 30th Street with the topographically wild uplands extending northwards and dotted with gentlemanly estates, forests, hills, rivulets, and marshland. The city’s future is iterated by the street grid, which is superimposed upon the topography according to the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan as far north as 155th Street.

Detail of the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 showing Broadway (Bloomingdale Road) being eliminated. http://thegreatestgrid.mcny.org/interactive-1811-plan

It is of note that, while the Commissioner’s Plan attempted to do away with Broadway, being offended by its irregular course, Colton and Burr, recognizing the ancient American Indian road as a popular and practical artery, included it on their grand map. The fact that Broadway, here identified as Bloomingdale Road, is represented not as a ghosted path, as on the 1811 Commissioner’s Plan or the 1829 Burr Map, but rather as a major street, leads to the first cartographic indication of several major squares that arose due to Broadway’s awkward intersection with the grid, including Union Square, Madison Square, and Times Square.

It is generally believed that this map was prepared for Colton by David H. Burr due to a promotional advertisement that appeared in the July 16, 1833 edition of the New York Commercial Advertiser, which reads

J. H. Colton and Company, No. 9 Wall Street, publish a new map of the city drawn by David H. Burr form the latest surveys of the city deposited in the street commissioner’s office from information obtained from several of the city’s surveyors.

It does resemble Burr’s 1829 map of New York City from the Atlas of New York in terms of coverage, orientation, and style. Nonetheless, the present map is far larger and grander, both being roughly twice the size of Burr’s atlas map, and far more detailed on every level. There is evidence that Burr began work engraving this map as early as 1832 or 1833, as a partial production proof of the central part of Manhattan, attributed to Burr, survives in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (accession 24.66.1492). That example curiously lacks the Receiving Reservoir (between 80th and 86th Streets.), which was planned in 1836, following the disastrous Great New York Fire of 1835. The Receiving Reservoir did not begin to function as such until 1842, but all examples of this map, aside from the fragment noted above, show the reservoir as well as the underground route of the Croton Pipeline, then under construction.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a partial steel engraved proof of a portion of this map in their archives. Attributed to Burr.

The map offers much else of interest on nearly every level. It illustrates of the early estates of the wealthy above 30th street. Several early boundary lines, such as between New York and Harlem Commons and the ‘Original Divisions between New York and Harlem’ are shown as drawn from Randal’s surveys. The map identifies public schools, including Public School 9, located on 79th and Broadway. The sites of early roadside hotels, such as the Kingsbridge Hotel, in Marble Hill, where travelers could rest on their way into Manhattan from what is now the Bronx. The modern-day site of Columbia University was a Lunatic Asylum. Just west of the Receiving Reservoir, near 85th Street, some of the buildings and a graveyard associated with the African American community known as Seneca Village are illustrated. In Brooklyn, some of the emerging street structure is ghosted in, giving evidence to the growth of that, then separate, city. Similarly, Williamsburg, also a separate city, is noted on the opposite side of the Wallabout.

The map is surrounded by a host of illustrations both on the map and integrated into the double border. At bottom center, there is a dramatic engraving illustrating ‘Broadway from the Park’, the ‘park’ here being City Hall Park. St. Paul’s Chapel and the American Museum are evident in the background. To this right of this image is a controversial c. 1650 view of New York City under the Dutch West India Company. That view is here dated 1659, but this date is incorrect as it is based upon an earlier anonymous watercolor, now located at the Albertina Museum, from 1648. The view appears on the 1655 Vischer Map, Novi Belgii Novae que Angliae nec non partis Virginiae Tabula, after which it is commonly known as the ‘Vischer View.’

The double border features an inner border that represents a surveyor’s chain, and an outer, far more elaborate border, consisting of acanthus leaves framing engravings of regional fauna, and, from top left, counterclockwise, ‘Windmill, Jersey City,’ ‘Custom-House, Wall St.,’ ‘City Hall, Wall St.,’ sailing ships, the city seal, steamships, the Palisades, Columbia College, St. Thomas Church, the Protestant Episcopal Seminary, a Female Orphan Asylum (Bloomingdale), New York Harbor from the Battery, Cortlandt Street Landing, St. Luke’s Church, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York from Governor’s Island, Castle Garden, the Deaf and Dumb Asylum, Barclay Street Landing, and The Hall of Justice (the Tombs).

The first printing of this map appeared in 1836, making it one of J. H. Colton’s earliest works. There are at least three states. The first appears to have been issued in 1836 and lacks Madison Square Park, which was commissioned in 1837. A second issue, also bearing the date 1836, features the park, and likely represents the cartographer’s forward thinking. Map historian Daniel Haskell, who identifies it as ‘The Colton Map,’ lists 3 dated issues 1836, 1841, and 1845. The present printing bears the date of 1840, marking it as a previously unknown state. It differs from the 2nd 1836 edition with regard to the track of the Croton Aqueduct from the Receiving Reservoir on 80th street to the Distributing Reservoir on 40th Street. The earlier state, which predates the construction of the pipeline, assumes it will run along 6th Avenue. The later edition routes the pipeline along Middle Road, or 5th Avenue. The aspect of the Distributing Reservoir also changes, as by 1840, when this map was issued, more advanced plans were in place.

It was engraved by Samuel Stiles and Company of New York. Apparently, some of the plates survived at least until 1868, when the northern

1868 William Rogers’s Battle of Harlem Heights for Shannon’s Manual.
https://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/NYCHarlemHeights3-rogers-1868

plate was reused by William Rogers to create Map of the Upper Part of the island of Manhattan Above Eighty-Sixth Street arranged to Illustrate the Battle of Harlem Heights for Joseph Shannon’s Manual of the City and Corporation of New York. That map stands out from all of other lithograph prints in the manual as it is a steel plate engraving. All issues of the present map, with the exception of the partial proof at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are lithograph. This suggests that the original map was engraved on steel, probably by Burr. Burr probably abandoned the project when he took a position as the head topographer for the United States Postal Service, in 1833. Colton then struck Burr’s name from the plates and turned to Samuel Stiles to complete the engraving and transfer the plates to lithographic stones for publication in 1836.

Today this map is extremely scarce and exhibits no market history in the past 30 years. Intuitional examples are known in the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library, The New York Historical Society, and the Library of Congress. The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a partial working proof. One other example is part of the David Rumsey Map Collection. There are numerous citations on the OCLC but all reference the Rumsey digital resource. This is a once in a lifetime collecting opportunity.