Rare Marine Atlas Expected to Fetch up to $120,000 at Auction - 29/11/2017

An extremely rare copy of the atlas that broke Britain’s final symbolic grip on America following the Revolution is expected to sell for up to $120,000 at Swann Auction Galleries in New York on 5 December 2017.

The American Pilot: Containing the Navigation of the Sea-Coast of North-America, originally published in 1791, was instrumental in the United States taking control of its own mapping – a service previously dominated by the British – and at last gave the New England commercial fleets the charts they needed to navigate East Coast waters under American control.

Although published in a number of editions between 1791 and 1816, The American Pilot is one of the rarest of all American atlases, partially because it was designed for use on board ships, where many would have been lost or destroyed. It is thought that less than a dozen survive from all of the editions.

Assembled and engraved by John Norman (1748-1817) and based on contemporary surveys, it followed the first American marine atlas, Matthew Clark’s A Complete Set of Charts of the Coast of America, published in 1790, for which Norman engraved two of the charts before deciding to produce his own atlas. The title reflects its challenge to The English Pilot, The Fourth Book, a British publication of 1775 charting the same waters, thus indicating the new supremacy of the United States.

The number of charts varies between 9 and 12 among the editions, covering the coastline and waters between Maine and Georgia. This 1810 issue features 11 charts. The estimate is $80,000 to $120,000.

“These charts of the coastline from Maine to Georgia were significant, offering accurate sailing directions to the growing fleets of commercial pilots in the post-Revolutionary War period,” said Swann specialist Caleb Kiffer. “With the loss of the war, Britain also lost much of its long-held authority of mapping in America. This left an American printer such as Norman the opportunity to succeed at a new enterprise, meeting the demands of the day with charts produced from the newest and most accurate surveys.”

Last updated: 23/07/2019